Earth Saving News > October 6, 2011

Welcome back, salmon: Restoring a river.

This year the U.S. will reach the significant milestone of 1,000 dams removed from our nation’s rivers. Right now on Washington’s Elwha River, workers are taking on the largest such restoration effort in our nation’s history.

So why should we care so much about dam removal, you might ask? Simply put, nothing impacts the health of a river more: dams block flow and can harm clean water, fish and wildlife, and recreation opportunities – and therefore the communities that depend on these bodies of water for their livelihood.

The amazing story going on in Washington State involves two large dams that have been in place since the early 20th century. Both the Elwha Dam and the Glines Canyon Dam are being removed to bring back the river’s once thriving habitats and historic salmon runs. After the dams were built, all but five miles of salmon habitat in the lower river were cut off. Today only a few thousand salmon remain.

The razing of the two dams is expected to bring the Elwha River back to life. Scientists predict that a free-flowing Elwha will create a spike in salmon populations, and give a boost to the plants and animals that depend on these fish as a food source. “Everything from black bears to tiny insects and even orca whales will benefit,” reports EarthShare member group, American Rivers.

The dam removal will also allow tons of previously trapped sediments to move downstream, helping to create a natural barrier against beach erosion at the river’s mouth and protecting vital clam beds. And let’s not forget the economic benefits projected to result from this monumental restoration! Reports drafted during the project’s planning and approval stages estimate significant gains to the local economy through increased recreation, tourism and fishing.

The Elwah dam removal is a big deal for its size, scope, environmental and economic impacts, but also represents a growing trend in the way America is managing its precious rivers. More than 240 dams were demolished between 2006 and 2010, an increase of 40% compared to the previous five years. According to American Rivers’ President Bob Irvin, “What once seemed radical is now mainstream…all of these are experiments in how nature can restore itself, and the Elwah is the biggest example of that.”

Many passionate people and organizations have played a major role in the Elwha dam removal. American Rivers has been advocating for the Elwah for more than 25 years and helped get legislation passed that authorized the removal and federal funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Learn more about what American Rivers is doing to help improve and remove our nation’s outdated dams and check out their map of river restoration projects going on across the country – maybe there’s an environmental and economic boost coming to your state!


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Diggs Akoco

Breaking down Dams is a good innovation for the survival of people in the 21st century, especially those living around the creeks and rivers around the world. I have a dislike for those dams standing over and across natural rivers, even in Nigeria. Dams have done much damage than good to the communities living around the Niger Delta creeks. As a little kid along with my mates in Tombia, we used to close ranks in a season for fish festival every January of the year and formed groups to fish a certain species of fish we called Ikolokolo in our local language, which means Harvest that comes with the tide in that season, but the advent of construction of dams across the Niger River as a source of energy, killed the harvest. The seasonal fish entrant into the rivers and creeks after Christmas celebrations was a great blessing to our people in terms of nutrition, youth activities and economic leverage to all the creek dwellers; but man has with his own hands cut-off the natural providence to the people. Therefore, our NGO, Center for Coastal Conflicts Prevention join in the advocacy to say: “Remove Dams in our land”.

Diggs Akoco

I strongly advocate the removal of dams across our river lines, also along the River Niger and Benue River. The Dams have done more harm than good envisaged. I could recall when a little child in the delta region of Nigeria, I and my likes in those days at particular season of the year, precisely January use to haul a specie of fish that comes with the season into our creeks, but after the construction of dams, those fishes have disappeared. They were source of nutrition and economic benefit to the local families in Tombia and other communities within the brackish water area. I cannot forget even now that I am elderly. We all must rise up in support of the removal of dams in our Country's rivers. Diggs Akobo.

Isaiah Ayinuola

Great!!! These efforts at restoration of our dying environment may look like a drop of water in the ocean, but nature is sure on the winning side.

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