No. 60, July 29, 2004

River Revival Bulletin

Produced by: River Revival, International Rivers
1847 Berkeley Way, Berkeley, CA 94703 USA

Editors: Elizabeth Brink & Wil Dvorak

table of contents











Sanmenxia Dam, Yellow River, China

Calls for removal of Socialist era dam

When the Sanmenxia Dam was completed in 1960, after three years in construction under Soviet supervision, it was hailed as a symbol of the new revolutionary China and its image printed on the country’s banknotes. The first dam on the Yellow River, it signaled man’s impending triumph over a nature that regularly brought floods to millions of villagers. Now, there is debate about whether the dam should be opened and the river waters allowed to run free. This argument is put by Professor Zhang Guangdou, the 92–year–old doyen of China’s hydraulic engineers, who said recently on national television that the dam should be pulled down before it caused more flooding upstream. "Sanmenxia was a mistake," said Professor Zhang, revealing that other Chinese experts had doubts about the project but were silenced because of reverence for Soviet leadership. One eminent hydrologist who attacked the project, Professor Huang Wanli, was denounced as a "rightist" and sent off for years of hard labor. The problem is the massive silt load of the Yellow River, 60 times greater than that of the Mississippi, from the soft earth found in the region upstream. Within four years of opening, the dam had lost 40 percent of its water storage capacity because of silt, and its Soviet–built turbines were clogged. It was cited in the vain opposition to the vastly bigger Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River, whose reservoir is now said to be turning into a toxic mix of human and industrial waste. Sanmenxia has become a case study in what can go wrong in a big dam; how dubious the claimed benefits are in some cases.

(McDonald, Hamish, "One dam mistake after another leaves $4.4bn bill," International Rivers, 22 May 2004.)


Switzerland’s rivers return to their old ways

Switzerland’s strategy of taming its rivers has caused serious ecological damage and increased the likelihood of flooding, sometimes with catastrophic consequences. Today, some 100 projects are underway to reverse the mistakes of the past by restoring waterways to their normal meandering routes. Between 1870 and 1940, Swiss rivers and lakes were subjected to major dam–building and canalization works. "In those days, most of the population still worked the land and water courses were rerouted and canalized to combat the danger of flooding and to cultivate swamp areas," said Ueli Sch?lchli, who is preparing a new river bed for a stretch of the Limmat near Zurich. "Once the larger rivers and lakes had been ‘corrected’, almost all other streams and brooks were forced into straitjackets over the past 50 years." The country has been paying the price in recent years. In 1999 and 2000, devastating floods killed 20 people and caused SFr1.5 billion in damage. "When there’s a storm, the water flows much more quickly downhill in canalized or concreted beds," explains Andreas Knutti, who is in charge of the water projects for the Swiss section of the WWF. "Very little water seeps into the ground, which is what happened before the correction work was undertaken." "In recent years floods have become much more frequent."

(Mombelli, Armando, "Switzerland’s rivers return to their old ways," Swissinfo, 26 June 2004.)

us – general

Dam removal increasing across country; scientists consider ramifications

The scope and pace of dam removal is picking up, but some scientists caution that we don’t know exactly what we are doing. In 2003, 57 dams were to be removed in the United States –– compared to the averages of 16 per year during the 1990s, 10 per year in the 1980s and two per year in the 1970s. "The number and size of American dams being removed are increasing," stated the Heinz Center’s 2002 Dam Removal Research Workshop report. "Currently information on dam removal is difficult to obtain and often limited in quality and comprehensiveness." Few studies have measured the effects of dam removal on fish reproduction, sediment dispersal and local economies, according to the report. The nonprofit American Rivers estimates that the nation’s waterways are constrained by more than 75,000 dams, at least as big as the one at Siloam north of Chambersburg. Maintaining the safety of those dams will cost about $1 billion over the next 20 years, according to the National Performance of Dams Program. By 2020 the vast majority of dams in the U.S. will have outlived their design life, according to a 2003 paper for the Ecological Society of America by Emily H. Stanley of the University of Wisconsin and Martin W. Doyle of the University of North Carolina. They wrote: "Because dam removal cannot be avoided, the challenge that lies ahead is to understand the relationship between the act of removal and ecological responses to this action."

(Hook, Jim, "Dam removal increasing across country; scientists consider ramifications," Public Opinion, 19 June 2004.)

us – california

Iron Gate Dam, Klamath River, CA

Speakers protest Klamath River dams

Dozens of speakers told federal regulators that the electricity produced by dams on the Klamath River is less important than restoring salmon fisheries. More than 200 people came to a public hearing held by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to protest PacifiCorp’s dams on the river. "This is wrong, and this is a chance to right that wrong," Yurok Tribal Chairman Howard McConnell said, according to the Eureka Times–Herald. The Klamath Tribes have sued Portland, Ore.–based PacifiCorp for $1 billion, claiming the utilities hydroelectric operations in the upper Klamath Basin have caused losses of salmon. The lawsuit seeks damages to compensate for lost treaty rights in the headwaters of the Klamath River. PacifiCorp operates a 151–megawatt hydroelectric project on the river that includes five dams and generates enough power to serve about 77,500 homes. PacifiCorp has applied to the federal government for a renewal of its license, which expires in 2006. PacifiCorp said the project is important because it allows flexibility to meet peak summer energy demands. Conservationists and others argue the utility should not receive new licenses for an outdated hydropower operation built between 1908 and 1962. Migrating salmon stopped coming up the Klamath River following completion of the Iron Gate Dam in Siskiyou County. The dam is not equipped for fish passage. A 2003 report by the National Research Council recommended evaluating the removal of the dam to aid salmon recovery.

(Associated Press, "Speakers protest Klamath River dams," Eureka Times–Standard, 23 June 2004.)

Studies show Klamath dams could be razed on the cheap

Removing dams on the Klamath River might be better for their owner’s pocketbook and fish too, studies commissioned by conservation groups contend. The groups are pressing federal regulators to thoroughly examine razing the five dams on the Klamath’s main stem, and the studies suggest the analysis would be worth the work. California Trout, American Rivers, Trout Unlimited and the World Wildlife Fund asked three experts to weigh the costs and benefits of taking down the dams, and what effects releasing huge amounts of sediments stored behind the dams might have on the ecosystem. A study found that it would cost only $40 million to tear down the four lowest dams. Federal fisheries agencies could demand PacifiCorp provide passage for migrating salmon and steelhead to spawning grounds cut off by the dams. Depending on the means of moving the fish, that could cost $150 million or more. The lowermost dam, Iron Gate, blocks access to more than 300 miles of spawning grounds upstream. The six dams that are up for relicensing by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission produce 150 megawatts of power –– about 1 percent of that produced by PacifiCorp’s parent company ScottishPower. The California Energy Commission has suggested that other regional power projects would more than make up for the loss of 150 mw once they are on–line. Pressure is coming to bear from American Indian tribes, commercial and sport fishermen and environmentalists for ScottishPower and PacifiCorp to live up to the "green" image it portrays. Representatives from several groups and tribes visited Scotland for ScottishPower’s annual shareholders meeting in late July to draw attention to the Klamath.

(Driscoll, John, "Studies show Klamath dams could be razed on the cheap," Eureka Times–Standard, 28 July 2004.)

Watershed restoration volunteers up a creek

A law that would once again allow volunteers to work on creek restoration projects is being considered by the Legislature, but it may not come in time for efforts to restore Green Valley Creek near Forestville. The Department of Industrial Relations sent shivers through the environmental community last year when it fined a Redding environmental group that failed to pay people working on a creek–restoration project. Most habitat improvement projects rely heavily on volunteer labor, which allows sponsors to stretch their resources. In the Redding case, however, state officials ruled that any project that uses state money is a public works project, and public works projects must pay all workers prevailing wages. Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D–Berkeley, has introduced a measure that would establish a definition of "volunteer" with the intention of getting around the pay requirements. But it’s not clear if the change will come in time to help Forestville, where the Chamber of Commerce this summer had planned to restore 3 miles of Green Valley Creek, a salmon–bearing tributary of the Russian River. Michael Wellborn, president of the California Watershed Network, a statewide nonprofit group, said a dozen projects in Sonoma County and hundreds of projects statewide went on hold when the Department of Industrial Relations made its ruling.

(Benfell, Carol, "Watershed restoration up a creek; Law banning volunteers may be amended by new legislation, but change could come too late for cleanup plan," Santa Rosa Press Democrat, 3 June 2004. Text at:

Matilija Dam, Matilija Creek, CA

Update: Environmental Impact Report backs up Matilija Dam removal

In the nation’s largest–ever dam removal project, the 15–story Matilija Dam would be dynamited and a vital waterway cleared, restoring the sand–starved Ventura coastline and creating an environment for the endangered steelhead trout to breed, a new report says. The 2,000–page environmental impact report details the steps for the $110 million project – tearing down the massive concrete wedge damming Matilija Creek and handling the 6 million cubic yards of sediment that have built up behind the wall since it was built in 1947. "Pulling this off will be remarkable," said Steve Bennet, chairman of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, which has championed the dam removal. "You have a completely useless dam that is causing a lot of problems for Ventura County. There are tremendous advantages to taking the dam out and no advantages from leaving the dam in place." According to the plan, workers would dredge about 2 million cubic yards of fine sediment from the shallow lake north of the dam, mix the sand with water to a gravy–like consistency and pipe the slurry south for spreading on 118 acres near Highway 150 and the Ventura River. The dam – 8 feet thick at the top and 35 feet thick at the base – would be blasted and the concrete trucked to a recycler. And behind the dam, designers would carve a winding channel through the remaining sand, gravel and rock to re–establish the creek flow.

The full report is available at

(Cavanaugh, Kerry, "Report backs up dam’s removal; Environment would benefit from clear waterway at Matilija Creek," Los Angeles Daily News, 24 July 2004.)

Update: Alameda Creek dams to be demolished

Plans to restore runs of ocean–roaming steelhead trout to Alameda Creek could get a boost with the removal of two dams in Alameda Creek between Fremont and Pleasanton. But before the century–old dams can be removed, California’s strict environmental laws require a study to make sure there are no unintended environmental consequences. The study will get under way Fremont, with a "scoping" meeting to determine what issues need to be looked at in an Environmental Impact Report. Potential issues include what to do with sediment, gravel and rock that have built up behind the dam over the years. But taking out the dams is just one component of a larger effort to remove barriers to fish migration in Alameda Creek. A task force of local water districts, government agencies and environmental groups began the process in 1999. The first barriers to fish are three inflatable dams operated by the Alameda County Water District, which gets up to half the water it supplies to Fremont, Newark and Union City from Alameda Creek. Another major barrier is a "weir," or dam–like concrete structure in Fremont, which protects BART tracks that cross Alameda Creek.

(Carter, Matt, "Alameda Creek dams to be demolished; Plans for restoration of steelhead move forward," Tri–Valley Herald, 26 July 2004.)

us – northwest

Chiloquin Dam, Sprague River, OR

Dam may be in final year

Removal of Chiloquin Dam from the Sprague River could begin as early as July 2005 under a plan being considered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The agency outlined the proposal during a public hearing in Chiloquin. About 25 people attended, including state and federal officials and other stakeholders who have been part of a group formed to help determine the fate of the 90–year–old dam. Located on the Sprague about a mile upstream from the Williamson River, the 21–foot–high, 220–foot–long concrete dam was built in 1914. The BIA is drafting an environmental assessment of the project. If no significant impacts that need to be remedied are found, the removal project could begin as early as July 2005. If complications arise, a more rigorous environmental impact statement may be required. Removal of the dam was recommended last year by a stakeholder group, which included officials from the Klamath Water Users Association, the Modoc Irrigation District and the Klamath Tribes. The Tribes said they will support the removal only if studies show it would help the restoration of endangered sucker fish spawning habitat upriver from the dam. Federal officials have also said they will only go along with the removal if it is proved to be beneficial for the suckers. President Bush proposed setting aside $2.1 for the removal project in his fiscal 2005 budget.

(Darlng, Dylan, "Dam may be in final year," Herald and News, 17 June 2004.)

Pelton–Round Butte Dam, Deschutes River, OR

Deal to restore fish runs heralded as national model

Soon after the final, 440–foot wall of rock was piled across the Deschutes River near Madras in 1964, the Pelton–Round Butte dam complex put an end to salmon runs in the upper reaches of three rivers that meet on Oregon’s dusty high desert. The project steamrolled past bitter opposition from salmon conservationists and fishers. Now, these former opponents are giving their blessing to the effort to relicense the electricity–generating project for another 50 years. In an agreement announced Warm Springs, dam owners Portland General Electric and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation have pledged to restore ocean–running chinook salmon and steelhead to the Metolius, the Crooked and the upper Deschutes rivers –– where they have not spawned since the last wild fish migrated to sea in 1968. It will require the construction of a massive underwater tower behind the dam to regulate water currents and guide fish to a collecting point for passage downstream. The parties, including the state of Oregon, also have committed to boosting water flow in the lower Deschutes, even if it means cutting off holders of lower–priority water rights in the upper basin. A total of 22 conservation groups, local governments, and state and federal agencies negotiated the agreement in the past 19 months.

(The Oregonian, "Deal to restore fish runs heralded as national model: The agreement by former foes, 19 months in the making, secures the future of hydro power and fish in Central Oregon," 13 July, 2004. Text at:

us – southwest

Update: Salt River restoration

The dust, rocky soil, and blazingly hot summers make it hard to imagine why anyone would have settled here before air conditioners and sprinkler systems. But a century ago, Phoenix was a riverside community, a settlement with sometimes flowing water and even an occasional flood as the Salt River ebbed and flowed with the desert seasons. Eventually, dams upstream tamed the water supply but dried up the riverbed, turning it into a barren ribbon punctuated by gravel mines, abandoned cars, and other junk. Now that is starting to change. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and local governments are working to return water to the riverbed and trees and vegetation to its banks. Sections of the Salt River in the metropolitan area, totaling some 40 miles, are in various stages of study or rehabilitation. "Our goal isn’t to establish it to presettlement conditions. It’s never going to happen," said Kayla Eckert, study manager for the Army Corps of Engineers. "We’re trying to create something that’s sustainable." That means the river would have seasonally flowing water and small pools and would be flanked by native trees such as willows, cottonwoods, and mesquite. Stretches of the Rio Salado project – Spanish for "Salt River" – in Phoenix and Tempe are under construction. Restoration has required the removal of tons of junk.

(Rushlo, Michelle Roberts, "Projects work to restore the river that once ran through a desert city," Associated Press, 23 June 2004.)

us – midwest

Restoring the Mississippi’s St. Anthony Falls with dam and lock removal

The stretch of the Mississippi River between St. Anthony Falls and its confluence with the Minnesota River is commonly known as the Gorge. The Mississippi through the Gorge drops 73.7 feet, the steepest drop found in the entire length of the Mississippi. In the 1800s the drop, combined with large blocks of eroded limestone, created seven miles of impressive whitewater rapids. The rapids were a critical spawning ground for a variety of river fish. But construction of the Ford lock and dam in 1917 and later the locks and dams at Lower and Upper St. Anthony Falls created what is known in Corps of Engineers’ parlance as Pool No. 1. Lock and dam construction, along with dredging the 9–foot barge channel, submerged seven miles of urban whitewater rapids, removed many islands, including the culturally significant Spirit Island at the foot of St. Anthony Falls, and enshrouded St. Anthony Falls in a concrete spillway. Restoration could be accomplished by removal of the Ford and Lower St. Anthony locks and dams, the lock at Upper St. Anthony and rebuilding the falls. Call it the Grand Restoration. Lamenting past mistakes is not particularly useful. The question before us now is: What are the costs and benefits, in economic, ecological and aesthetic terms, of maintaining the status quo versus restoring St. Anthony Falls and the seven downstream miles of urban whitewater rapids to a more natural state?

(Bates, Brian, editorial, "Remove locks and dams on our stretch of the Mississippi," St. Paul Pioneer Press, 07 July 2004.)

us – northeast

West Henniker Dam, Contoocook River, MA

Update: West Henniker Dam came tumbling down

The obsolete West Henniker Dam came tumbling down in June, the first step in a process that dragged on for four years. People representing various interests lauded the move at a riverside ceremony overlooking the site. State Department of Environmental Services River Restoration Coordinator Stephanie Lindloff quoted former President Theodore Roosevelt to explain why it was time for the dam to go. "The public must contain the control of the great waterways," Roosevelt said in 1908. "It is essential that any permit to obstruct them for reasons and on conditions that seem good at the moment should be subject to revision when changed conditions demand." Anglers, paddlers, environmentalists and community members swarmed the dam site as a huge jack hammer mounted on mobile heavy equipment banged away at one end of the 10–foot high, 130–foot long concrete structure across the Contoocook River. The dam is one of more than 4,800 in the state. Many were built during the Industrial Revolution and have become obsolete and unsafe. The state has opted for a selective removal policy. More than 10 federal, state, local, and user groups banded together to support and fund the West Henniker Dam removal. "Rivers are truly the arteries of a healthy environment," said Michael Walls, assistant commissioner of the Department of Environmental Services.

(Cox, Joe, "In Henniker, dam’s demise is river’s fortune," The Union Leader, 30 June 2004.)

Embrey Dam, Rappahannock River, MD

Update: Dismantling dam to begin this fall

In September, heavy machinery will lumber down the Fredericksburg shore of the Rappahannock River to begin dismantling what’s left of Embrey Dam. Army divers in February blasted a 130–foot hole in base of the structure to allow passage of migratory fish for the first time in more than 150 years. But the biggest and heaviest job is yet to come––removing thousands of tons of concrete and steel that formed the dam. National Salvage and Service Corp. of Bloomington, Ind., will do the work for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is overseeing the project. NSSC won the contract with a low bid of $1.36 million. "The first thing they’ll be doing is constructing a haul road to the dam," said Brian Rheinhart, the corps’ project coordinator in Norfolk. Pieces of the dam will be hauled away via a causeway to be built from the shore into the river as the work progresses. It’ll be a big job: The steel–reinforced concrete dam is 770 feet long and 22 feet high. Its base sections and abutments are notched into bedrock. Embrey Dam is being removed because it is obsolete, a liability to the city and an impediment to migrating shad, herring and rockfish.

(Dennen, Rusty, "Dismantling dam to begin this fall; Concrete carted off by early ‘05,", 7 July 2004.)

us – southeast

Eco–impact of dam sediment and creek diversions considered by FERC

The federal agency charged with permitting hydropower systems has responded to public concerns over the environmental impacts of Duke Power’s seven dams straddling the Tuckasegee and Nantahala rivers. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is asking Duke to produce additional environmental data before it will consider granting the utility new 30– to 40–year permits to operate the dams. The additional data would address many of the concerns raised by those opposed to Duke’s original mitigation proposals. For example, the Jackson County Soil and Water Conservation District raised concerns that Duke had no plans for dredging silt that accumulates behind its dams. FERC apparently took note of sediment concerns in the region, quizzing Duke extensively about its sediment management. FERC also asked Duke to estimate the quantity of sediment backed up behind the dams and how much has been dredged from behind the dams in the past. FERC also wants to know how much sediment Duke plans to remove in the future and whether any releases of sediment downstream would jeopardize water quality standards or threaten aquatic life. Environmental groups have argued Duke has no intention of removing sediment from behind its dams and are eagerly awaiting Duke’s reply to these questions. One of the biggest complaints filed by environmental groups involves Duke’s "bypass reaches." The reaches are created when overland pipelines funnel water from natural creek beds to powerhouse generators, sometimes several miles away. The system often reduces the water flow in the original creek bed to a trickle.

(Johnson, Becky, "FERC requests in line with residents’ concerns; Feds review Duke Power’s application, ask for more data," Smokey Mountain News, 23 June 2004.)