No. 54, December 16, 2003

River Revival Bulletin

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

Editors: Elizabeth Brink and Wil Dvorak

table of contents










Indian bands threaten removal of dams flooding their lands

The Qu’Appelle Valley Indian Development Authority (QVIDA) issued an ultimatum to Canadian federal and provincial governments to return to the bargaining table and resolve the outstanding Qu’Appelle Valley land claim dispute or face the removal of the flood-control structures. The land claim dates back to 1942 when the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA) built flood-control structures on Echo, Crooked and Round lakes without consulting the five Indian bands located along the Qu’Appelle River whose lands are affected by flooding. QVIDA is seeking compensation for past flood damage as well as $12 million in annual fees for future flooding and a say in the co-management of the water flowing through its reserves. Ottawa wants the bands to accept a lump sum compensation package for past and future flood damage, while the province is only prepared to give First Nations advisory status on its water management board. Backed by a legal opinion, the Indian bands are within their legal right to decommission the structures because the federal government never had their permission to build the dams or flood their land. But before this can happen an environmental assessment and remedial plan must be developed, a process which could take up to two years.

(Kyle, Anne, “Back to bargaining, or else,” The Leader-Post, 20 October 2003.)

us - general

Dam removal speeding up

In the early to middle parts of the 20th century, the US went on a dam-building spree that has been dubbed the “golden age” of dam building. Now, many of those dams, often built to last for only a few decades, are beginning to show their age. In addition to repairs, some also need expensive upgrades to meet modern environmental and safety standards. The removal of smaller dams has been quietly going on for decades, and the pace is speeding up, particularly on the West Coast, in the Great Lakes region and in the Northeast. Molly Pohl, an assistant professor of geography at San Diego State University, has tallied 416 dam removals during the 20th century (36 in California) - and approximately three dozen more from 2000 through 2002. Pohl limited her study to dams that were at least six feet high or 100 feet long. Many smaller dams have been removed but didn’t find their way into her tally. Gordon Grant, a hydrologist with the US Forest Service in Corvallis, Ore., adds that 2000 was a watershed date for dam removals. That was the first year, he says, in which the US tore down more dams than it built. To scientists and advocates alike, the next few years promise to be particularly exciting. Nobody knows how many dams exist on US rivers, but if you count all of the small dams, weirs, and dam-like diversion structures, the tally mounts at least into the hundreds of thousands, many of which have outlived their purposes.

(Lovett, Richard A., “As more dams get removed, outlook muddies,” Sacramento Bee, 20 April 2003.)

us - california

**Cascades diversion dam, Merced River, CA**

Update: Plug Pulled on Yosemite Dam

Eighty-five years ago, the National Park Service dammed the Merced River with timbers, boulders and debris for a hydroelectric project that brought hot water and lights at the touch of a switch. Heavy equipment pounded the small hydro dam to pieces. The only dam between the Sierra crest and foothills on the Merced should be gone by 2004, officials said. “This will allow the river to return to its natural flow,” said project manager Mike Pieper. Yosemite visitors may not even know Cascades Diversion Dam and Hydroelectric Powerhouse exists. The low-profile dam can be seen in the river next to the junction of Highway 140 and Big Oak Flat Road on the far west end of Yosemite Valley. The dam, which often has water flowing over its top, is easily seen now with the Merced River’s puny November flow channeled around the structure. Officials want to get the dam out of the river before winter rain and snow begin filling the channel again. Though the dam will be gone next month, crews will work through April to complete restoration and roadside work on the $2.8 million project. The work is part of the $150 million of Yosemite Valley Plan projects scheduled for the next three years.

(Grossi, Mark, “Plug Pulled on Dam Yosemite visitors may not even know of hydroelectric project,” Fresno Bee, 13 November 2003.)

**Klamath River dams, Klamath River, CA**

Update: Federal Panel suggests aggressive steps to save the Klamath including dam removal

After nearly two years of study, the National Research Council’s scientific committee suggested a series of aggressive steps ranging from reviving long-drained lakes and wetlands to better controlling erosion from logging, restoring coldwater flows into tributaries, shuttering a hatchery and toppling dozens of dams. The panel called for better fish studies as well as monitoring of water quality and other environmental conditions. Removal of Chiloquin Dam would open up 90% of the historic spawning habitat on Upper Klamath Lake. Removal of dams on the Klamath would restore the cold flow from several small creeks drowned by reservoirs. In particular, the council called for studies on removing Iron Gate Dam and Dwinnell Dam in Siskiyou County which blocks nearly a quarter of the historic salmon spawning grounds and valuable coldwater flows from the Shasta River. If implemented, the latter recommendation would drain Lake Shastina – a reservoir surrounded by hundreds of homes. Likewise, cold flows on other tributaries such as the Scott, Trinity and Salmon could be boosted by returning water to the system that is now diverted by farmers to grow alfalfa and other crops in California. Both sides in the debate welcomed the report’s call for solutions throughout the sprawling Klamath River watershed, which spreads from the Cascade Mountains of Oregon south into the dense northern woods of California.

(Bailey, Eric, “Panel Urges Large-Scale Approach to Protect Fish in Klamath Basin; Federal committee recommends a series of actions, from toppling dams to restoring lakes, to prevent threatened species from dying out,” Los Angeles Times, 22 October 2003.)
(Milstein, Michael, “Scientists offer Klamath remedies,” The Oregonian, 22 October 2003.)
(Leavenworth, Stuart, “Klamath basin overhaul is urged in report,” Sacramento Bee, 22 October 2003.)

Toxic dilemma in the Delta

An ambitious plan to restore wetlands in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is getting bogged down in a toxic swamp: Scientists say new wetlands could seriously worsen mercury contamination in the Delta and San Francisco Bay, endangering thousands of people who eat fish from those waters. Since 1996, a consortium of state and federal agencies called Cal-Fed has spent more than $50 million buying up farmland in the Delta. It’s the first step in a restoration scheme that ultimately could convert more than 140 square miles of farmland back into wetlands and wildlife habitat. But according to more than a dozen scientists interviewed by The Bee, state and federal officials acted hastily in purchasing some of that land. Eager to get on with the job of restoration, Cal-Fed officials overlooked studies showing that marshes and other wetlands can intensify problems with mercury, a potent neurotoxin that can cause brain damage. Specifically, microbial processes in wetlands can convert mercury into a more dangerous form - methylmercury - that is easily taken up by fish and passed up the food chain to humans. As a result, Cal-Fed is slowing down its restoration plans and has pumped $4 million into mercury studies.

(Leavenworth, Stuart, “Toxic Dilemma Plans to restore Delta and Bay wetlands could create a deadlier form of mercury passed up the food chain,” Sacramento Bee, 20 October 2003.)

Restoring the Mokelumne with Pete Bell

There is a behind-the-scenes effort underway to restore natural stream flows to many of the nation’s waterways. The poster child for this ground-breaking work is California’s Mokelumne River, which flows from high up in the Sierras through the gold country. Dams and diversions have reduced the river to a relative trickle, but that is changing, thanks in large part to the efforts of a gravel-voiced river lover. Pete Bell, 53, lives on a ridge near the tiny foothill town of Volcano, and he is passionate about restoring the river that flows near his home. The tool he’s using is a 1986 amendment to the Federal Power Act, which requires the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to consider environmental and recreational needs in the re-licensing of dams. That did not occur half a century ago when most dams gained their license. With some 100 dams coming up for re-licensing over the next 15 years in California alone, conservationists like Bell see this as a rare window of opportunity. The 1986 reform gave Pete Bell a voice, and he has used it to get three dams removed in the Mokelumne River watershed, and dramatically increase flows from nine other dams. During the 13-month round of re-licensing negotiations, Bell, who doesn’t fish or boat, was the only one at the table who spoke up for the river.

(Holt, Tim, “Pete Bell and the river,” The Denver Post, 16 November 2003.)

Water regulators insist Army Corps clean up all of Hansen illegal fill

Water regulators insist that the US Army Corps of Engineers must remove all the concrete and other debris it dumped in Hansen Dam reservoir rather than carrying out its plan for a partial clean-up. Although the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board has little authority to force the agency to act, members were adamant that the corps should be compelled to remove roughly 1,650 cubic yards of concrete and 2,200 cubic yards of dirt, weeds and garbage the agency deposited in the two lakes in 2002. “What I’m seeing is a serious record of foot dragging and denial of illegal dumping,” said board member H. David Nahai. “And this is a government agency.” Corps Lt. Col. John Guenther agreed the dumping was a mistake and an embarrassment to the agency, but he cautioned a complete clean-up would be costly and environmentally damaging. The corps would have to close the area to visitors and drain the lakes to remove the debris. The corps has proposed removing only the debris above the water line; reshaping the bank and replanting native vegetation on the larger lake; and removing some of the material forming a steep cliff on the smaller lake. Water regulators sided with Los Angeles City Council members and City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo, who have pushed the corps to removal all the debris as soon as possible.

(Cavanaugh, Kerry, “Regulators: clean it all up; US Army Corps of Engineers told to haul its trash out of Hansen dam,” The Daily News of Los Angeles, 3 October 2003.)

us - northwest

**Fifth Avenue Dam, Deschutes River, WA**

Update: Capitol Lake dam removal study OK’d

The state Capitol Committee threw its support behind a study to see if it’s possible to convert Capitol Lake into a Deschutes River estuary. The roughly $900,000 study will look at the pros and cons of removing the Fifth Avenue Dam to allow the river to drain freely into Budd Inlet and saltwater to flow in and out of the lower river with the tides. The lake versus estuary debate has been an issue of high public interest in South Sound for years, with no clear community consensus on which is the best approach. Backers like the idea of a naturally flowing river and the benefits to fish, wildlife and water quality that it would provide. “Olympia could be a model for the nation by having a vibrant estuary existing alongside the downtown urban core,” Olympia-area resident Krag Unsoeld said. “It could serve as an educational resource and as a tourist attraction.” Critics of an estuary don’t want to lose the 260-acre lake, which was created as a part of the state Capitol Campus in 1951. The state Capitol Committee vote was hailed as a major victory by the Squaxin Island tribe. “This has been a long time coming,” said Jim Peters, tribal natural resources director. “We’ve been trying to restore productivity to this system ever since the state of Washington dammed the Deschutes River.”

(Dodge, John, “Capitol Lake study OK’d,” The Olympian (Olympia, WA), 7 November 2003.)
(Staff, “Study will answer key questions,” The Olympian (Olympia, WA), 13 November 2003.)

Update: River users debate costs of hydropower dams in Idaho

Electric ratepayers and irrigation companies urged federal regulators to consider the costs before forcing Idaho Power Co. to reintroduce salmon protected by the Endangered Species Act to the Snake River above its Hells Canyon Dam. Meanwhile, some fish and river advocates said the only way to restore the health of the Snake River is to remove the three dams that generate enough electricity to light and power Boise. More than 70 people turned out as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission held its first of three days of hearings on Idaho Power’s application for a new license to operate the Hells Canyon, Oxbow and Brownlee dams for the next 30 years. Federal agencies, Indian tribes and environmental groups want the commission to consider ordering the company to restore passage through its dams, lost when they were built 45 years ago. Bill Latta, president of the Idaho Whitewater Association, said he dreamed of the day wild salmon and steelhead would return to the Boise and Payette rivers. Idaho Rivers United Executive Director Bill Sedivy said Idaho Power needs to restore balance this time. “ Just as the company expects us to pay our monthly power bills on time, we expect the company to pay its bill for using a public resource, Sedivy said.

(Barker, Rocky, “River users debate costs of hydropower dams,” Idaho Statesman, 19 November 2003.)

us - southwest

Albuquerque to collect water from river bed pipe screens, not dams

Construction workers are preparing to install two 500-foot-long screens that will lie about 20 feet beneath the Rio Grande.River bed. The work is part of a $25 million city project that collects river water for use on parks and other sites in northern Albuquerque. It’s intended to reduce depletion of the aquifer, the city’s underground water source. The diversion project is already running on a limited basis, with nine underground pipes that collect water. But the new 500-foot collector “screens” -- which look like pipes -- will be installed so that more water can be withdrawn. The Balloon Fiesta Park, Eastdale Little League fields and a golf driving range at the balloon park are irrigated with non-potable water now – almost entirely from the river diversion. ”It’s a little trickle compared to what we’ll have a year from now,” said James R. Chavez, senior engineer for Albuquerque’s Water Resources Division. Ultimately, the project will be able to divert 12 million gallons a day. It should be done by May or June. The pipes beneath the Rio Grande allow the city, for the first time, to collect some of the water it owns from the San Juan-Chama project, which diverts water from Colorado into the Rio Grande basin. The city releases San Juan-Chama water stored upstream and diverts it for use in Albuquerque.

(McKay, Dan, “River Project to Help Parks; Water Reduces Load on Aquifer,” Albuquerque Journal, 17 October 2003.)

Update: Deal ends fight over Colorado River water; reduces need for new dams

US Interior Secretary Gale Norton signed a historic deal to end years of bickering over the Colorado River and fulfill a promise that California made 70 years ago to limit its use of the river it shares with six other states. The agreement signed during a ceremony at the edge of the Hoover Dam secures the water future for fast-growing Southern California through the nation’s biggest transfer of water from farms to cities. ’What it really does is remove California as any kind of threat,’ said in Colorado River negotiations. ‘This is kind of the final step in getting California to live within its means.’ Colorado usually sends a surplus of water downriver, enough to quench the needs of 4 million Californians. Colorado officials, along with those from other states, have worried for years that California’s overdependence could turn into an entitlement that cheats Colorado out of the surplus water it will need to serve 2 million expected new residents in the coming decades. Jim Lochhead, who represents water agencies throughout Colorado, opposes Referendum A, a water-storage initiative on Colorado’s Nov. 4 ballot. Lochhead said this agreement removes one of the key arguments of proponents of Referendum A, that water projects are needed to ensure that California can’t get Colorado’s unused water. ‘That kind of takes the wind out of the sails of that argument,’ Lochhead said.

(Denver Post Staff and Wire Reports, “Deal ends fight over Colo. River Norton signs historic agreement on
sharing of water in parched West,” The Denver Post, 17 October 2003.)

us - midwest

“State of the Fox River Report” supports removal of dams

The leader of a Fox River environmental group is calling for the formation of a broad-based task force that would work to remove the Fox from a state list of environmentally deteriorating streams. The 2003 “State of the Fox River Report,” compiled by Friends of the Fox River, noted that the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency designated the entire 115 miles of the river through Illinois as “impaired” last year. The IEPA considered about 20 miles of the Illinois stretch of the Fox River “impaired” in 1998. The designation is given to streams that fail to meet quality standards in aquatic life and safety for swimming, boating and drinking, among other factors. Friends of the Fox River, established in 1990, is sending the report to lawmakers and locally elected officials. The group hopes it can mobilize sufficient public support to prompt Gov. Rod Blagojevich or Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn to appoint the task force, said David Horn, president of the group and assistant biology professor at Aurora University. The eight-page report reiterates the group’s support for removing dams along the Fox River, which has 15 of the structures between the Chain o’ Lakes to the north and Dayton in LaSalle County to the south. Advocates of dam removal note that water quality and habitat improve when water impounded in pools behind dams is allowed to flow freely.

For more information, visit Friends of the Fox River at, or call them at 815.356.6605.

(Gregory, Ted, “Group urges task force to improve Fox River,” Chicago Tribune, 11 November 2003.)

** North Avenue Dam, Milwaukee River, WI**

Dam removal crucial for return of sturgeon to Lake Michigan

Eight lake sturgeon, all but one with radio transmitters attached, were released into the Milwaukee River as part of a program to restore a self-sustaining population of the fish to Lake Michigan. “Sturgeon were native to a lot of tributaries to Lake Michigan, including the Milwaukee River,” said Brad Eggold, Southern Lake Michigan Fisheries Supervisor with the Department of Natural Resources, who is overseeing the project. “Pollution, loss of habitat and overfishing nearly extirpated them from Lake Michigan by about 1900.” Probably once numbering in the millions, Lake Michigan’s sturgeon population is now estimated at only about 1,000. Sturgeon are found in only two Lake Michigan tributaries today, the Manistee and Muskegon rivers, both in Michigan. The removal of the North Ave. Dam on the Milwaukee River in 1997 was crucial to the sturgeon restoration project, Eggold said. “It will allow the sturgeon to travel some 30 miles of the Milwaukee River and give then a chance to select a site to spawn,” he said. “It will be a significant step showing that the Milwaukee River is a healthy ecosystem to support these fish.” Eggold would like to see additional passage ways created at dams in Estabrook Park and Thiensville.

(Riepenhoff, Bob, “Sturgeon get a fresh start; Milwaukee River new home to eight,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 9 November 2003.)

us - northeast

**North Street Dam, Sebasticook River, ME**

Update: Newport fishway latest link in state renewal strategy

It took 165 years and more than $2 million, but the current commissioner of the Department of Marine Resources stood along Sebasticook Lake and celebrated the North Street Dam fishway, the latest link in a chain that creates the largest spawning and nursery habitat area in the Kennebec River watershed. As part of phase one of an ambitious statewide plan to remove dams, install fishways and restore native species to Maine’s lakes and rivers, the effort “has been a long road but one worthy of travel,” said Commissioner George Lapointe. “This is a great conservation success.” Full restoration of the Sebasticook River eventually will provide access to a potential alewife production of 4.5 million fish. Shad spawning and nursery habitat will result in a production of some 130,000 adult shad on the Sebasticook. Phase one of the state plan began with removal of the Edwards Dam on the Kennebec River in 1999, allowing anadromous fish to migrate, unimpeded, an additional 17 miles to the lower Sebasticook River. The Stetson and Plymouth projects followed the dam removal, then the three Newport projects. Dozens of representatives from government agencies and funding organizations gathered lakeside in the cool, morning air, each taking their turn at the podium and extolling the project’s virtues.

(Mack, Sharon Kiley, “Newport fishway latest link in state renewal strategy,” Bangor Daily News, 21 October 2003.)

Settlement includes dam removal and construction of fish ladders

Kaman Corp. is paying the state $420,000 to settle a lawsuit over alleged violations of environmental laws at its Connecticut plants between 1988 and 1998. The settlement includes a $100,000 fine, plus a $320,000 payout that will be used for general improvements to state rivers, Attorney General Richard Blumental said. The improvements include the removal of dams and the construction of fish ladders. ”The penalities are substantial, and they send a message that noncompliance with environmental laws, even from large, good corporate citizens, simply will not be tolerated,” Blumenthal said. The suit was filed three years ago by the state Department of Environmental Protection, which was represented in court by Blumenthal’s office. DEP spokesman Matt Fritz said Kaman is making significant progress in correcting the violations. Blumenthal said the case encompassed 101 violations. They include releases of lead, copper and zinc into the Moosup River in Plainfield, accidental spills of wastewater and fuel oil, inadequate handling of hazardous waste and a failure to keep proper records, he said. As part of the settlement, Kaman must do environmental compliance audits at its own expense for the next three years, Blumenthal said.

(Nagy, Barbara, “Kaman settling pollution case, will pay $420,000 to state,” Hartford Courant, 8 November 2003.)

us - southeast

Residents fear PCBs in dam sediments

A private company wants to mine sand from behind dams on Twelve Mile Creek, and some residents fear the operation could release PCBs. Cooper Sand and Gravel has applied for a state mining permit to mine sand from behind three dams on the creek, said Steve Cooper, who owns the 60-year-old family business. Chris Kempton, a member of Friends of Twelve Mile Creek, said his group and others are concerned that PCBs from contamination years ago may still be present. From the 1950s to 1970s, about 400,000 pounds of PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, were discharged into Town Creek at the former Sangamo Weston Inc. plant in Pickens, according to EPA Superfund records. Town Creek flows into Twelve Mile Creek, which flows into Lake Hartwell. The federal government banned PCBs in 1976 after they were linked to cancer, stomach ailments and liver damage. Remediation of PCB contamination in Lake Hartwell is to let sedimentation from Twelve Mile Creek cover the older sediment that contains PCBs. The dams include two in Cateechee and a third in nearby Norris. Once the sands are dredged and mined, the natural flow of the stream will be allowed to take its course to Lake Hartwell, Kennedy said.

(Simon, Anna, “Company wants to mine dams’ sand; Residents fear Twelve Mile Creek operation could release PCBs,” The Greenville News, 16 October 2003.)