DamNation Sparks Conversation About Dams And Rivers

Screenshot from Hyrdropower Reform video

Learn more about hydropower reform in our Hydropower Reform Can Save Rivers video

The new film DamNation, which won the Audience Choice award at SXSW, is introducing the concept of dam removal to new audiences and getting more people talking about river restoration. It’s an important and timely conversation, given the importance of healthy rivers to our communities.

When it comes to dam removal, people tend to focus on the high profile dam removal projects happening on rivers like the Elwha and White Salmon. No doubt, those are exciting and inspiring restoration efforts. But the reality is, most of the dams that are removed are relatively small dams that aren’t generating hydropower or serving any useful purpose at all. These smaller-scale projects don’t make as many headlines, but they are just as significant as the big ones. Because when you add up hundreds of small dam removals, that’s a whole lot of habitat restored.

More than 1100 outdated and unsafe dams have been removed in the U.S. since 1911. Last year alone, 51 dams were removed in the U.S. Explore our interactive dam removal map.

Because of our leadership on dam removal, American Rivers has been called a “radical” environmental group. But we don’t think there’s anything radical about helping a community find a cost-effective solution for dealing with a crumbling, unsafe dam. We don’t think there’s anything radical about restoring water quality, or improving flood safety.

On the other hand, some don’t think American Rivers is radical enough because we work with power companies and federal regulators to reduce the harm to rivers at existing hydropower dams instead of calling for all dams to be removed. By pushing power companies to clean up their act, improve fish passage, and put water back into dammed rivers to create habitat and recreational opportunities, we have helped restore thousands of miles of rivers. Would those rivers be healthier without dams? Of course. But those dams provide energy and water supply that isn’t so easily replaced. We could have refused to negotiate with the dam owners, but if we had, those rivers would still be dried up and devoid of fish and wildlife.

Whether you think we go too far or don’t go far enough, the bottom line is, we fight for rivers every day. Each river is different and each dam is different. We look at the science and economics surrounding each dam we work on, and we fight to get the best possible outcome for the river’s health and the fish, wildlife, and people who depend on the river.

When it comes to river restoration we are both passionate and pragmatic. We are proud of the impact we’ve had over the past 40 years, bringing dam removal into the mainstream, as well as improving the environmental performance of dams.

We welcome this national conversation about dams and dam removal. Let us know what you think – do you have questions about dams, hydropower, and river restoration? Leave your questions in the comments and we will do our best to answer them.

Thanks for joining the conversation!