No. 83, May 14, 2007

Produced by: River Revival, International Rivers

Editors: Elizabeth Brink & Wil Dvorak

table of contents












Irrigation, private dams blamed for reduced water flows

A new report into the Darling Basin says irrigation and private dams are the main reasons for lower water flows through the system. The State of the Darling Interim Hydrology Report was released by the Murray Darling Basin Commission in March. It found there were a large number of hillside dams, causing high levels of evaporation. Commission chief executive, Wendy Craik, says the report also found irrigation extractions are having a big impact, but she is not sure what effect they will have in the future. "I think what we’ll see is it’s going to depend very much on what the prevailing conditions are and what we’re really trying to do is get a good handle on current use and extractions in the river," she said.

(ABC Online, "Irrigation, private dams blamed for reduced water flows,", 07 March 2007.)


Hydro dams emit greenhouse gases

Hydroelectric power is a clean source of energy the argument goes. However, Jack Etkin, an environmental activist recalls seeing reports a few years ago saying a dam can be responsible for releasing as much greenhouse gas as a coal fired generating plant does. Indeed, Philip Fearnside, a scientist based in Brazil, wrote in a January 2007, article on the Scitizen website ( that hydropower is not clean energy. "Greenhouse-gas emission represents a significant additional impact of many dams, especially in the tropics," he writes. By the time his own research had confirmed the problem in Brazil in 1995, he says, Canadian researchers had already shown that large amounts of greenhouse gases escape after an area is flooded even in northern latitudes. A spokesperson for BC Hydro, Elisha Moreno, says the crown agency is aware that hydroelectric dams emit greenhouse gases as plant material decomposes, but so far those emissions aren’t tracked or included in decision making. Surely if BC’s bright new green path is going to include building more dams, there are questions the agency at least needs to ask.

(MacLeod, Andrew, "Hydro dams emit gas," Monday Publications,, 07 March 2007.)


World Bank links funds for dams with modern irrigation system

The World Bank (WB) has linked its funding for five big dams announced by President Musharraf, with the overall improvement of the entire irrigation and water distribution system in Pakistan. In a panel interview with The News here at his residence in Islamabad, John Wall said that Pakistan has just begun its talks with the donors for meeting billions of dollars of requirements for constructing five major dams. Wall said that the economic affairs division (EAD) has just kicked off the loan negotiations, but that the WB has linked the credit with the improvement of whole irrigation systems, as the dams would not be able to deliver objectives, in case the whole water system did not improve. "This is the requirement of the Board of Directors of the World Bank," he explained and added that it is not realistic to talk about the construction of dams only as the entire irrigation system should also be modernized simultaneously to deliver the fruits of the dams to farmers, which are living at the tail end.

(Mustafa, Khalid, and Haider, Mehtab, "WB links funds for dams with modern irrigation system," The News,, 08 March 2007.)

united kingdom

Work to start on river restoration

Conservationists are celebrating getting the green light for a project to restore a Swindon river. Wiltshire Wildlife Trust has received planning permission for the third stage of the River Ray Restoration Project, which aims to improve the river and encourage more wildlife. Jo Sayers from the trust says, "We want people to connect with the river and improvements will reflect this. Phase three will include further work on the river itself -- adding more meanders to the channel and features such as pools and backwaters. But we will also be adding a river beach so people can access the river and enjoy it." The main thrust will be to improve the area to encourage reed buntings to make their home along the river. A natural floodplain will be restored along the banks, and it’s hoped that this will help the bunting, whose numbers are under threat, increase in numbers. There are already reed buntings living near the river, and it is one of the species targeted under the Swindon Biodiversity Action Plan. Kingfishers, otters and dragonflies have all flourished on the stretch of river that the trust has already worked on.

(Morton,Tom, "Work to start on river restoration." Swindon Advertiser,, 23 January 2007.)


Update: Bush’s big favor to PG&E: restore Hetch Hetchy Valley?

President George W. Bush wants to spend $7 million to study restoring the valley behind the dam. Tucked into the Bush administration’s Department of the Interior budget is a special allocation that just happens to match exactly what the state of California said it would cost for the next step in pursing dam removal in Yosemite National Park. Bush isn’t an environmentalist, and it’s hard to believe he really cares about creating a new wilderness area in California. But he supports almost anything that shifts public resources into the hands of private companies. Blasting the city’s water and hydropower dam would be a huge favor to one of the nation’s largest private electric companies, and a huge blow to public power efforts in San Francisco. Senator Feinstein points out that the dam provides fresh water to almost three million people in the Bay Area. And, it also provides electric power, not enough to light all of San Francisco, but enough to provide a nice solid base for a municipally owned electricity system.

(Editorial, "Bush’s big favor to PG&E; Why is the incredibly anti-environmental Bush suddenly keen to restore Hetch Hetchy Valley?" San Francisco Bay Guardian,, 14 February 2007.)

Federal Judge rules against dams in Emigrant Wilderness

US Department of Justice attorneys representing the Forest Service have decided not to appeal a federal judge’s decision calling for the removal of 18 small dams in the Emigrant Wilderness. The court ruling issued in June says the check dams must decay naturally over time and that the Stanislaus National Forest can’t rebuild, repair or maintain any of them. The fate of the check dams appears to be final, bringing a close to a nearly two-decade-old debate over how the forest should manage the dams. Over the years, forest leaders have come up with a variety of plans for managing the dams, ranging from removing them all to repairing and operating some of them. More than three years ago, Stanislaus National Forest Supervisor Tom Quinn signed the Emigrant Wilderness Dams Record of Decision, under which the forest would have maintained 11 of the 18 check dams. But Wilderness Watch, a national conservation group based in Montana, filed a lawsuit challenging Quinn’s decision. This led to last year’s ruling that the dams should be left to deteriorate.

(Morris, Mike, "Forest won’t appeal dam decision," The Union Democrat,, 5 March 2007.)

Update: LA’s Concrete River to Be Given New Life

The LA River of today is an eyesore, a trash-filled channel encased in concrete. But this month, the City of Los Angeles unveiled a 25-year plan to turn its banks into a source of beauty and economic development at an estimated cost of $2 billion. In the 1930s, after two floods killed over 50 people, the US Army Corps of Engineers straightened the LA River and encased much of it in concrete. At a cost of about $5-billion (in 2007 dollars), the river that once teemed with flora and fauna was transformed into a grey, lifeless channel flanked by factories and railroad tracks. Based largely on input from 50 community meetings over 18 months the LA River Ad Hoc Committee has put together a comprehensive plan that includes building trails, bike paths, and parks, as well as housing and commercial development, along a 32-mile (50km) stretch of the river. Although it is dry much of the year, winter rainwater from the mountains can quickly create huge flows traveling at more than 20 feet per second. The LA River Revitalization Plan’s challenge will be to maintain flood capacity while eliminating concrete and bringing life back to the river.

(Gnaizda, Matt, "LA’s Concrete River to Be Given New Life," Epoch Times,, 15 February 2007.)

Update: California judge won’t lift sanctions in Owens River project

In a ruling earlier this week, Inyo County Superior Court Judge Lee E. Cooper determined that the city of Los Angeles hasn’t done all that had been required in the Lower Owens River restoration plan. Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo had asked Cooper to lift sanctions imposed on the city for failing to restore the river in a timely manner. Cooper denied the request and saying city water authorities had constructed only nine of 17 water-monitoring stations called for in the lower stretch of the river, and that the water measurements provided by the agency have been inadequate. Los Angeles agreed to the restoration project in 1997, and the city was sued in 2001 after critics complained it had missed more than a dozen project deadlines. The $29 million project would divert water from the Los Angeles Aqueduct to a 62-mile section of the river as well as to the Owens Lake delta more than 200 miles north of Los Angeles. The flow is expected to create hundreds of acres of wetlands and maintain area lakes and ponds.

(Associated Press, "Calif judge won’t lift sanctions yet in river restoration project,", 14 March 2007.)


A call for Great Lakes cleanup

US Representative Pete Hoekstra claims that Congress and federal agencies need to allocate much more money to clean up contaminated sediments in the Great Lakes, fight exotic species and deal with other problems facing the massive water bodies. There are a series of gatherings scheduled around the Great Lakes basin to celebrate completed pollution cleanups and environmental restoration projects and to focus public attention on remaining problems. Great Lakes United, a Buffalo-based environmental group, is coordinating the meetings. Representatives of West Michigan groups highlighted successful pollution cleanups in White Lake’s Tannery Bay, Muskegon’s Ruddiman Creek, efforts to control phosphorus pollution in Spring Lake and habitat restoration work in the Muskegon River at a meeting in February. But, there is an underlying message that much more work still lies ahead to reduce sewage overflows, clean up toxic leftovers of past industrial pollution and come to grips with a steady stream of exotic species that have plunged the Great Lakes ecosystem into chaos.

(Alexander, Jeff, "Officials: Lakes cleanup needs billions more," Muskegon Chronicle,, 21 February 2007.)

Rod and gun club helps begin Eau Galle River restoration

Members of the Elmwood Rod and Gun Club saw the deteriorating status of the Eau Galle River and decided to take action. Proceeds from their wildlife banquet in October will help go toward the renovation of the river, as the club will assist the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in the project. Club Treasurer Steve Galoff explained that because there’s a lot of sand in the banks, when high water comes, erosion results, which damages fish habitat in the river, specifically trout. Galoff added this is the club’s first attempt to help restore the river and members plan to make this a long-term solution. The first stretch they want to work on (with landowner permission) is the property behind the Elmwood Schools. "We gave the presentation and received very positive feedback," Galoff said. "We anticipate board approval [in February]." As a result, the club hopes to start restoration of that stretch July 1.

(Schulte, Jason, "Rod, gun helps begin Eau Galle River restoration," Pierce County Herald, 08 February 2007.)


Update: Fish passage activist challenges dam licensing

Fish passage activist Douglas Watts said he plans to take his case to court if the state doesn’t decide in his favor in a March hearing. Watts wants the Maine Bureau of Environmental Protection to modify permits held by the owners of four dams in order to require immediate fish passage along stretches of the Kennebec River through central Maine. The state-issued permits are illegal with the current language, and current practices threaten the several fish species by limiting their movements through the Kennebec River, Watts said. The Natural Resources Council of Maine, however, is saying that the current arrangement is the best possible compromise and is pushing for the arrangement to stand. "Look at what the original agreement has brought us. It brought the removal of the Edwards Dam, fish passage at the Benton Dam and the Burnham Dam, fish passage at the Lockwood Dam," said Council staff scientist Nick Bennett. "These are all very positive things that we don’t think would have happened without the agreement." Licenses held by dam owners require them to provide fish passage, but only if certain requirements are met such as a certain number of fish attempting to pass the dams.

(Elliott, Joel, "Dam permit issue spurs fish activist," Morning Sentinel,, 14 February 2007.)


Snake River dams, Snake River, ID/WA

Update: Bonneville Power disputes savings from removing the Snake River dams

The Bonneville Power Administration estimates Northwest electricity ratepayers could pay $400 million to $550 million a year to replace the power capabilities of the four lower Snake River dams if those dams were removed. BPA’s analysis of the value of the power capabilities of the lower Snake River dams differs from a report released in November by environmental and sport fishing groups. The authors of "Revenue Stream -- An Economic Analysis of the Costs and Benefits of Removing the Four Dams on the Lower Snake River" did not seek input from BPA, and their conclusions do not reflect the full value of the dams in terms of power capabilities, said the utility. "Revenue Stream" concludes ratepayers and taxpayers would be economically better off without the lower Snake River dams over a 10-year period. However, according to BPA’s analysis, the $79 million to $170 million in replacement power costs reported in "Revenue Stream" are too low. BPA is a not-for-profit federal agency that markets about 40 percent of the electricity consumed in the Pacific Northwest.

(Portland Business Journal, "BPA disputes savings from removing dams,", 2 March 2007.)

Elwha and Glines Canyon dams, Elwha River, WA

Update: State Ecology Department approves removing Elwha dams

The state Ecology Department has approved permits to remove two dams on the Elwha River on the Olympic Peninsula. The permits certify that the work will meet clean water standards. The National Park Service is removing the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams in order to reopen 70 miles of river habitat to salmon and trout. The dams were built in 1913 and 1927.

(Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "State Ecology Department approves removing Elwha dams,", 7 March 2007.)


Update: Florida river-restoration plan hits troubled waters

A $200 million restoration plan that includes Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers that it fouls with polluted runoff has hit troubled waters. Considered the premier environmental bill of the 2007 legislative session, the measure is being criticized for not going far enough to regulate development in the lake’s critical watershed near Orlando "The bill really doesn’t do anything to protect the lake or these estuaries," said Eric Draper, a veteran lobbyist for Audubon of Florida. Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee Chairman Burt Saunders, the bill’s sponsor, disagrees. Saunders is trying to hold together support from conservationists and developers while he prepares to fight for the money at a crucial committee stop in March. Adding a controversial measure that regulators say may not be necessary could sink the legislation, Saunders said. The proposal creatively designates the watersheds that drain into the lake "The Northern Everglades." That includes a vast swath of prime development land near Orlando. For the first time, the state would funnel about half of the money it spends on Everglades restoration north to the troubled, 730-square-mile lake. The plan also includes cleanup of the two river systems that are polluted by lake runoff.

(Ash, Jim "River-restoration plan hits troubled waters," , 12 March 2007.)


Reviving the Santa Fe River

The Santa Fe River has often been dry in the decades since reservoirs began trapping its headwaters east of the city. Workers in their teens and 20s have been taking a step toward reinvigorating the historically important waterway. Under a $186,000 city contract, the nonprofit Youthworks has had crews clearing the riverbed and shaping arroyos. The contract is one component in a larger plan. In the past year, City Hall has hired a coordinator to work on river restoration plans, reconvened a river commission filled with technical expertise and lobbied the Legislature for $2 million to fund river projects. The Army Corps of Engineers, the city and county are working on a combined study of the river, which stretches from its Santa Fe Canyon watershed to the Rio Grande. Coss, an avid environmentalist, has made river restoration an important theme in his administration and promoted the idea of establishing a youth conservation corps through Youthworks. The draft of the downtown master plan that has been under development for more than a year recognizes it as potential attraction for tourists, especially downtown. But its restoration, said Councilor Patti Bushee, is also about binding together people from various parts of town.

(Lopez, Henry M., "Reviving the river; Mayor touts effort to bring new life to the city’s historic waterway," The New Mexican, 13 March 2007,)

Glen Canyon Dam, Colorado River, UT

Update: New EIS Underway for Glen Canyon Dam

The Colorado River ecosystem has been deteriorating for more than four decades due to the 700-foot-high Glen Canyon Dam. In an attempt to comply with a settlement agreement reached last September between environmental groups and the Department of Interior, the Bureau of Reclamation has begun the scoping process for an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the operations of Glen Canyon Dam called the Long-Term Experimental Plan. According to John Weisheit of the Utah-based river restoration group Living Rivers, the world-renowned Colorado River ecosystem in Grand Canyon National Park has been deteriorating for more than four decades due to the upstream operations of the 700-foot-high Glen Canyon Dam. Beaches, endangered native fish and archeological sites have all disappeared as cold, nutrient-depleted water is released at the whims of dam operators on a daily basis, replacing the gradual seasonal fluctuations consistent with the Colorado River’s natural hydrology. As proof of the critical situation, Weisheit is quick to point out that four of eight native fish species have gone extinct, otters and muskrats have disappeared, and the riparian ecology has been dramatically altered, from the river’s native food web to the proliferation of non-native plants throughout the canyon.

For more information, visit Living Rivers at

(River Runners for Wilderness, "New EIS Underway for Glen Canyon Dam,", 19 February 2007.)

For further information, please contact:

Elizabeth Brink, International Rivers
Phone: +1 510-848-1155