River Restoration Creates Jobs

A construction crew completes the Eel River Restoration Project in Plymouth, MAIt takes a lot of professionals to remove a dam and restore a river. Along with the project management and other technical assistance that we do at American Rivers, we and our project partners hire ecologists, engineers, geomorphologists, historians, archaeologists, accountants, lawyers, excavator operators, construction superintendents, and truck drivers to complete all of the scientific analysis, engineering design, permitting, contract management, and construction work necessary to complete dam removal projects.

We also need to purchase materials and rent or purchase equipment, such as erosion control fabric, silt fencing, dewatering pipes, pumps, large rock, large wood, plants, seed, mulch, excavators, trucks, port-a-potties, and more. All of that activity means that we are creating and supporting jobs with our river restoration work.

The Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration recently teamed up with Industrial Economics, Inc. to figure out just how many jobs, by analyzing four river and wetland restoration projects in a report titled The Economic Impacts of Ecological Restoration in Massachusetts [PDF].  American Rivers played a key role in the report’s two river restoration projects, the Briggsville Dam Removal and the Eel River Restoration Project.

While there are a lot of details in the report, the bottom line is that the equivalent of 12.5 jobs were supported per $1 million invested, averaged over the four projects. That includes direct job creation plus indirect jobs, those jobs supported by purchasing materials for projects.

How does this number compare to other studies of restoration projects? In 2010, a University of Oregon study [PDF] found that fish passage projects in Oregon supported 15.2 jobs per $1 million invested. Perhaps the most frequently cited report was produced by Restore America’s Estuaries [PDF] stating that aquatic ecosystem restoration creates 30 jobs per $1 million invested.

I had difficulty following their references to find the original source of that number, but the same number can be found in a 1997 Doppelt study found in the book, Watershed Restoration: Principles and Practices. Perhaps the difference in the number of jobs created between the 1997 number and the 2012 or 2010 numbers simply reflects inflation: $1 million does not go as far for job creation now than it did 15 years ago.

Taken together, ecosystem restoration projects support between 12.5 and 30 jobs per $1 million investment. The question that came to mind for me was: Is that a lot? The Massachusetts study found that the total economic activity produced by ecosystem restoration is greater than or equal to other types of capital projects such as road and bridge construction.

The Restore America’s Estuaries report shows that ecosystem restoration projects create more jobs than road construction (7 jobs per $1 million) and the oil and gas industry (5 jobs per $1 million). Perhaps most interesting, a 2011 University of Massachusetts study [PDF] found that military spending produces only 8.6 direct plus indirect jobs per $1 million spent. It seems, if you want to create jobs, make habitat, not war.

We frequently say that dam removals are win-win-win projects, for rivers, dam owners, and communities. As we head into construction season, they are a win for jobs too.