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Dam removal in Wash. part of growing movement

Bangor Daily News 9/17/11

Dignitaries will gather at the Elwha Dam on the Elwha River west of Port Angeles, Wash., on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011, to celebrate the beginning of the process to dismantle the dam and the Glines Canyon Dam further upstream as part of a project to restore the river and bring back runs of native salmon.

Dignitaries will gather at the Elwha Dam on the Elwha River west of Port Angeles, Wash., on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011, to celebrate the beginning of the process to dismantle the dam and the Glines Canyon Dam further upstream as part of a project to restore the river and bring back runs of native salmon.

Sept. 17, 2011,.


The Glines Canyon Dam and Lake Mills on the Elwha River west of Port Angeles, Wash. Dignitaries will gather at Elwha Dam farther downstream on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011, to celebrate the beginning of the process to dismantle both dams as part of a project to restore the river and bring back runs of native salmon.


The Glines Canyon Dam and Lake Mills on the Elwha River west of Port Angeles, Wash. Dignitaries will gather at Elwha Dam farther downstream on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011, to celebrate the beginning of the process to dismantle both dams as part of a project to restore the river and bring back runs of native salmon.

The largest dam demolition in the nation’s history will begin Saturday when an excavator claws away at the concrete supports for Washington’s 108-foot Elwha River Dam, a ceremonial act of destruction that will signal not only the structure’s demise but the latest step in a broad shift in the way Americans are managing rivers.

Faced with aging infrastructure and declining fish stocks, communities are tearing down dams across the country in key waterways that can generate more economic benefits when they’re unfettered than when they’re controlled.

“What once seemed radical is now mainstream,” said American Rivers President Bob Irvin, whose group has advocated dam removal for environmental reasons. “All of these are experiments in how nature can restore itself, and the Elwha is the biggest example of that.”

The pace of removal has quickened, with 241 dams demolished between 2006 and 2010, a more than 40 percent increase over the previous five years. Many of them are in the East and Midwest, having powered everything, including colonial textile mills and paper operations at the turn of the 20th century.

A drumbeat of litigation by tribes and environmental groups has pushed federal officials to dismantle some dams that otherwise would have remained in place. Although this has led to political fights in regions where dams matter the most, such as the Pacific Northwest, it has also forged historic compromises.

“The Elwha River restoration marks a new era of river restoration in which broad community support provides the bedrock for work to sustain our rivers and the communities that rely on them,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement.

Although estimates vary on the economic value of restoring a river’s natural flow, it creates construction jobs in the short term and eventually restores depleted commercial fisheries. It also draws tourists such as anglers, rafters and kayakers. Federal officials estimate the $325 million, 2-1/2 year Elwha river restoration project will generate at least 760 jobs during its duration and 446 annual jobs in recreation and tourism once it’s finished.

This push to demolish large dams on major rivers in the Pacific Northwest, which got 70 percent of its electricity supply from hydropower as of 2009, has been criticized by influential policymakers, such as House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash. Hastings sought to block funding for dam demolition as well as the nomination of PresidentBarack Obama’s choice for assistant secretary of fish, wildlife and parks, Rebecca Wodder, who advocated for dam removal as the former president of American Rivers.

“I am very skeptical of the removal of dams, period,” Hastings said in an interview, noting that dams not only provide electricity but also irrigation, recreation and transportation.

Dams once played an outsized role in the nation’s energy supply, providing 40 percent of U.S. electricity in 1940. Now they account for 7 percent to 10 percent, with only 3 percent of the nation’s dams boasting generating capacity.

The two dams on the Elwha River generate a modest amount of electricity: 19 megawatts, compared with the 500 megawatts of an average coal-fired power plant.

Linda Church Ciocci, president of the National Hydropower Association, said hydropower’s low carbon emissions makes it an ideal energy source. The industry hopes to increase its capacity 66 percent in 15 to 20 years by upgrading dams and converting non-powered dams, as well as through technological innovations such as wave and tidal energy.

“We have a tremendous opportunity in the United States to increase renewable generation through hydropower,” Ciocci said.

States and local governments across the country, meanwhile, are grappling with how to deal with dams that have outlived their usefulness. Most of country’s 80,000 dams were built more than 50 years ago.

Martin Doyle, a Duke University professor of river science and policy, estimates 85 percent of dams in the United States will be near the end of their operational lives by 2020.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission licenses hydropower dams for 50 years, with possible extensions of 35 to 50 years.

The decision to dismantle them is made on a case-by-case basis, driven by factors including local regulations, litigation and the availability of funding. Pennsylvania has dismantled 186 dams, more than any other state, largely because the Fish and Boat Commission overseeing dams there has used existing laws to pressure owners to dismantle them and provided state funds to help finance the projects.

Tim Purinton, a director at the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game’s division of ecological restoration, said his state has conducted an assessment of its roughly 3,000 dams to determine which could be good candidates for removal.

“It’s one of the biggest bangs for the buck in terms of the amount of restoration you can get, for one intervention,” Purinton said, adding that his division has 30 potential dam projects but lacks the money to dismantle them.

In some cases the removals have delivered human benefits as well as ecological ones. Purinton’s division and its partners spent $650,000 to remove the Briggsville Dam in Clarksburg, Mass., this year, $100,000 less than what it would have cost to bring it up to code. In past years, the dam had raised the river’s level, which caused it to jump its banks during storms. Last month the town avoided flooding from Hurricane Irene because the dam was gone, he said.

Maryland officials are working with environmental groups and federal officials to dismantle at least three of the four dams on the Patapsco River, which flows into the Baltimore harbor. For years officials had tried, with little success, to use fish ladders to help shad, herring and eel, which need to swim upstream to spawn, traverse the aging structures. Last year, they used $3.3 million in federal funds to take down two of the dams and are now hoping to dismantle the Bloede Dam downstream, which generated power for a only few years in the early 1900s.

Other dam removal projects are more controversial. Hastings has sought to block federal funding for the impact on navigation stemming from dismantling the 125 foot-high Condit Dam owned by PacifiCorp on southwest Washington’s White Salmon River, which is scheduled to begin in late October, on the grounds that taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay anything for it. Several groups are still locked in litigation over whether to remove four dams on the lower Snake River, a move that could help recover imperiled salmon and steelhead but would eliminate 1,100 megawatts of generating capacity.

The Lower Elwha Klallam tribe fought the Elwha Dam and the 210-foot Glines Canyon Dam upstream for years. It’s taking part in a nearly week-long celebration around their demolition. Robert Elofson, the tribe’s river restoration director, said his clan has such a close connection to the fish that once flourished there that “we were called the salmon people, to give them a status equal to the people.”

Almost entirely contained within Washington’s Olympic National Park, the Elwha is untouched aside from the concrete structures that have reduced its wild salmon spawning population from 400,000 to about 3,000. Three of the salmon species native to the river, chinook, steelhead and bull trout, are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Amy Grondin, who operates a commercial fishing boat with her husband an hour away in Port Townsend, said removing the dams will ultimately produce more salmon for her and others to catch. “I’m an hour away. But an hour away is nothing, especially for salmon,” she said.

Brian Winter, the Elwha project manager, estimates it will take 25 to 30 years for the river to return to its natural state. Once it does, he predicted that the hundreds of thousands of salmon traversing the river will provide sustenance for trees growing along the river’s banks, orcas swimming in Puget Sound and others.

“We literally are restoring an ecosystem from mountain to sea,” he said.




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  • overtaxedagain Yesterday 08:36 AM

    Taking out efficient hydro power to make room for government funded inefficient wind power when will this nonsense end



  • we should be building more dams not tearing them down.  we need affordable electricity.



  • PaulNotBunyan Yesterday 11:00 AM

    You start by believing the false premise that all "natural" things are perfect and "artificial" things are bad. Continue in that direction and you'll eventually be opposed to water wells, cisterns, any type of man-made drainage systems, water tanks, indoor plumbing and so much more.



  • I don't know anyone who believes that. Perhaps Hollywood's idea of a flower child does but at least in the real world I doubt there are many of those past the age of about 19. You are setting up a straw man argument. 

    The reality is that, as with all life, human beings are determined to survive but unless they're prepared to work with the rest of creation, not ride roughshod over it, they just won't.



  • Yeah and smart people are supposed to sit around in a circle singing and reciting poetry. If they use their IQ to do anything technological, it's bad for the earth. Creating a 1 acre irrigation pond is bad. A beaver dam that puts 5 acres under water is good. Makes perfect sense to me.



  • "The reality is that, as with all life, human beings are determined to survive but unless they're prepared to work with the rest of creation, not ride roughshod over it, they just won't."

     I think the overwhelming tide of humanity nearing 7 billion souls would indicate otherwise.



  • yowsayowsa1 Yesterday 12:23 PM

    The rocket scientists that are behind these dam removals should have to live in a cave with no utilities or heat.

     Take note Katahdin region;
    "Almost entirely contained within Washington’s Olympic National Park, the Elwha.........."
     With RQ's national park proposal being sold here in the region as we speak, how do you think this will affect the hydro system that is now in place???????

     No logging.
     No roads.
     No hunting.
     No air emisions license... so,
     No paper mills.
     No ATVs.
     No snowmobiles.
     No cel towers.
     No water impoundments.

     This all leads to one thing....
     No business.

    And the end result that these people have been trying for decades to achieve?
    No people.



  • Beaverfood Yesterday 09:58 AM

    We ought to be able to replace at least one dam from the energy wasted by Obama's flapping mouth spouting lie after lie.



  • Good bye 6 cents per kilowatt..... How's that Atlantic salmon restoration coming along ?  The dams have been removed for at least 25 years now.
     Using Brian Winter's logic, The Penobscot should be teeming with Salmon ....
    There are countless salmon killed by sea lions in the Columbia River but they are a protected species.



  • I hope those guys up at UMO can come up with a way to harness all those returning salmon to produce electricity.



  • opinionated23 Yesterday 09:30 AM

    Something about clawing at the base of a dam... that has water behind it.. feels like it could end badly for the person driving the escavator



  • CantAfford2Retire Yesterday 03:42 PM

    This Is Wrong-
    No matter how these liberal loons spin this, dam removal will only force us towards more dependence on oil…!




  • just_a_voter Yesterday 02:02 PM

    The bottom line is that dam removal has to be studied case by case. The cost to upgrade some older dams to today's standards is just not worth it. It is a mistake to think that these few examples apply to all dams.



  • PeterTaber Yesterday 10:35 AM

    It's hydropower that's usually inefficient and, in any case, that comes at a serious environmental cost. 

    It's too bad there isn't a locally written sidebar reminding readers of Maine's role in pioneering this much-needed reform a dozen years ago with the removal  of the Edwards Dam. In return for the loss of a facility that met less than a tenth of one percent of the state's electrical needs, Maine is gaining  the restoration of the Kennebec River. 

    This has been no mean accomplishment. When the dam was built in 1837 the Kennebec's rich capacity for spawning grounds for Atlantic fish like Atlantic salmon, alewives, American shad, sturgeon and striped bass ranked it with the Hudson and Chesapeake Bay. Soon after the Civil War this had all been essentially extinguished and it remained so for the next 130 years. Now considerable numbers of alewives, striped bass and American shad come up to Waterville, 18 miles above the old dam site. The river's water quality classification has been sharply upgraded. Communities along the Kennebec now regularly conduct river festivals as burgeoning recreational opportunities spell significant economic benefits. 

    Elsewhere in the state, other dam removal efforts have also been successful and have also proven their worth. One example is the one at Route 1A in Hampden on the Souadabscook whose almost unnoticed removal led just a year later to the return of truly wild Atlantic salmon after a man-made exclusion lasting more than two centuries. Another is the much-fought-over West Winterport Dam, a similarly insignificant facility whose eventual removal has well demonstrated just how much of the original hysteria about flood hazard, images of lifeless mud flats and lost recreational opportunities was just that.

    Finally, it should be noted that next June demolition of the Great Works Dam on the Penobscot will launch the dramatically visible portion of one of the largest and most innovative river restoration projects in American history. In a $30 million collaboration described as unprecedented, hydropower interests are joining seven environmental organizations, the Penobscot Indian Nation and state and federal agencies in working to restore 11 species of sea-run fish to the Penobscot. The Penobscot River Restoration Project will include the removal as well of the Veazie Dam and the decommissioning and modification of the Howland Dam to provide a fish bypass.

    Peter Taber
    Wild Maine Times



  • did you see the article about no fish in the kennebec post a day or two ago??

    recreational use for who? boaters are out but bird watchers are in?



  • Peter, just a word: ignorance. People that made comments against the dam had no clue of all the information you provided and I bet you they are republicans.. there is no point in informing and try to make them understand the positive impact the dismantlement of this dam  will have for our environment, Take a look again to one of the comments""Good bye 6 cents per kilowatt".... give me a break!... is that what is important? . ...no worth the effort to even respond to those comments.
    One more thing:
     Thank you Rebecca Wodder for the amazing effort and work restoring the beauty of our rivers and thank you for advocating the dismantling of the The Elwha 
    River dam... future generations will remember you proudly!!



  • WOW!

     Are you REALLY a vegetarian?



  • Elsa, I'm pretty sure that my 16 seer rated heat pump that runs on hydro-electric generated power,  creates less environmental impact than the oil furnaces or air conditioning units that are powered by natural gas or oil-fired turbines. 
    50 years ago the rivers had more pollution and more fish. The main reason for the decline in fish stocks is better fishing techniques and more people on earth. 
    200 years ago, you could catch lobsters easily  in Peter's town of Searsport. I wish that we could still do that, but I don't advocate dismantling all  the industry there so that I can have my Utopia. There has to be give and take on both sides. Whatever solution that we have for our energy needs is going to require sacrifice. 
    Oh by the way.... Never have voted Republican



  • In 20 or 30 years there will be a reversal and the big push will be to build dams for power, once oil becomes too expensive to use, the environmentalist push to shut down coal fired power and the reality that wind and solar can't produce enough power.

    Unfortunately by then it will cost 100s of millions of dollars to rebuild dams, instead of a few million to upgrade, but what the heck it's only taxpayers money as far as OUR Government is concerned.


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