VIDEO: Improving hydropower dams benefits rivers

Dams hurt rivers. They block a river’s flow and harm water quality, fish and wildlife, and recreational opportunities. In some cases where a dam is outdated, unsafe, or has outlived its usefulness, American Rivers advocates for dam removal. But in many cases, keeping a working hydropower dam in place makes sense. And with some upgrades to the dam and its operations, we can make hydropower safer for rivers.

Over the last several years, American Rivers and our partners worked with power companies, state and federal agencies, tribes, and river groups on rivers like the Deschutes River in Oregon, the Muskegon River in Michigan and the Saluda River in South Carolina.

We’re excited to release a new short film that illustrates how these projects are models of collaboration, allowing for continued energy production and healthier rivers.

“It’s about striking a better balance between hydropower production and healthy rivers,” says John Seebach, senior director of federal river management at American Rivers. “We’re happy we’ve been able to work with power companies, tribes, and local communities to deliver these win-win solutions. Successes like those on the Deschutes, Muskegon, and Saluda provide a blueprint for how we should be operating dams today, and in the future. This is how you do hydropower right.”

We also produced short videos on each of the three hydropower reform success stories:

Muskegon River, Michigan

A 47-mile stretch of the Muskegon below Croton Dam is a poster child for river restoration, thanks to more environmentally responsible dam operations.

Saluda River, South Carolina

Fish no longer suffocate in a stretch of the Saluda River below the Lake Murray Dam. Coupled with improved flow releases from the dam, the Saluda now supports a vibrant sport fishery and has become a magnet for paddlers of all ages.

Deschutes River, Oregon

Improvements at the Pelton-Round Butte hydropower project will benefit river health, salmon, steelhead and recreation for generations to come.

Thank you to the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Hydropower Reform Coalition for their support of our hydropower work and this video project. Oregon-based filmmaker Andy Maser produced the videos.

Learn more about our work restoring rivers impacted by dams.

Please sign our petition supporting improving the performance of hydropower dams!

8 Responses to “VIDEO: Improving hydropower dams benefits rivers”

Janet Hagge

I am glad these projects are be done & peoples are working together to restore or protect clean waters. Clean waters are essential to life of all species, we all must work together to keep our waters safe & to reduce the global warming. Thank you to all whom are making this happen by working together.

John and Martha Stoltenberg

Save all hydroelectric power producing dams! We need the clean electric energy!

Scott Duncanson

Aldo Leopold wrote the famous tale of the round river from the book compiled from his writings. He was a great consevationist. American Rivers and with Mississippi Valley Conseverancy you two of the best Organizations I have found that deal with open spaces and protection of habitat, from both invasive and man-made impedements. Thank you both for all you do.

Matt Stoecker

With all due respect to the great work American Rivers is doing on the real river restoration front, some of these “dam improvements” are not “solutions that everyone’s proud of”, as the top video says. As a long-time supporter, I am very concerned with the growing AR message about how hydro dams can be made green and be “improved” with what many of us believe to be unsustainable band-aid projects that do not lead to self-sustainable and wild fisheries and which take money and effort away from real solutions and true recovery. The Pelton-Round Butte Dam modification on Oregon’s Deschutes River, highlighted above, is a perfect example of an unsustainable and ineffective band-aid. Despite the millions spent to build and operate this facility, the high-tech “solution” does not result in self-sustainable fisheries recovery upstream as it relies on humans trapping and trucking fish around the dam and therefore can’t result in true wild fisheries recovery. This project also fails to address many of the major problems with the dam: other wildlife migration and recreation blocked along the Deschutes, non-native species proliferation in the reservoir and dispersal throughout the watershed, and many of the downstream habitat and water quality problems caused by the dam. Myself, and many others I know, wish that AR would only focus their efforts and our donations on real, sustainable, restoration projects (such as all the great work you are doing with dam removal, habitat restoration and river protection). Despite what the energy sectors says, medium to large hydro dams are not a clean energy source and I don’t believe they are a key part of our energy future. Dams are destructive and outdated technology no matter how much they are “improved”. Hydro dams are to wildlife and watersheds what coal-fired power plants are to air quality and global warming. I hope that AR will continue to push for truly sustainable solutions and not compromise on their ideals.

Thanks for your hard work and for considering the above.
-Matt Stoecker
Fisheries Biologist


I am so glad to see some of the dams being removed! We surely don’t need all of them.

Here in NM, water is of vital importance, especially in view of the drought we’re still suffering.
Thank you for your good work!

Gerald Lorenz

Dams could be all eliminated but we would have to do more green and gas electricity development.