Washington, DC - One year since two of the nation’s most significant river restoration projects began, American Rivers is applauding the progress and significant economic, environmental, and social benefits that have already started to accrue. The nation’s leading river conservation organization also warned against an extreme piece of legislation that would hurt river restoration efforts in communities nationwide.
On Washington’s Elwha River, where the world’s largest dam removal project began last year, dam deconstruction and river restoration is expected to generate up to 1200 jobs, with even more jobs created from increased tourism to Clallam County. Demolition of Elwha Dam was completed in March, and Glines Canyon Dam should be fully removed by summer 2013. In July, as the reservoir behind Elwha Dam receded, the sacred riverside creation site of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe was uncovered for the first time in a century. Adult Chinook salmon and wild steelhead have been spotted upstream of the former Elwha Dam site – a sign that the ecosystem is beginning to restore itself, faster than most anticipated.
“One year ago I stood on the top of Elwha Dam and watched the salmon as they bumped their heads against the concrete wall. Today, they can finally swim upstream. While the river restoration effort is far from complete, we can celebrate the resilience of these amazing animals and the powerful ability of rivers to restore themselves, if we just give them a chance,” said Bob Irvin, President of American Rivers.
Demolition of Condit Dam on Washington’s White Salmon River, which began with a dramatic blast last October, is expected to wrap up this weekend. While the river restoration effort continues, steelhead have already been spotted upstream of the dam site.
“There is no doubt that what is happening on the Elwha and White Salmon rivers is a source of hope and inspiration for people across the nation and the world,” said Irvin.
More than 1100 dams have been removed nationwide. Some dams continue to provide important services, but others should be removed when they have outlived their usefulness, are unsafe to communities, or when their costs outweigh their benefits.
Several recent studies highlight the economic benefits of healthy rivers and river restoration. A 2012 Ecotrust report found that restoration projects generated $977.5 million in economic activity and as many as 6,483 jobs between 2001 and 2010 in Oregon alone. A newly released study by NOAA shows habitat restoration creates 17-33 jobs per $1 million invested (as a comparison, the oil and gas sector creates about five jobs per $1 million invested; road infrastructure generates seven jobs per $1 million invested).
Despite the clearly beneficial role of river restoration, a bill recently introduced by Congressman Doc Hastings (R-WA) would make river restoration exceedingly difficult for communities nationwide, while creating expensive new federal subsidies for dam construction.
Hastings' radical bill, which American Rivers has dubbed the 'Dangerous Dams Protection Act’ (HR 6247), outlines a radical and destructive vision for rivers and hydropower—a vision that is at odds with mainstream thinking about hydropower policy, and even good business sense. The bill is designed to muzzle critics of unsafe and environmentally destructive dams – many of whom have a track record of working collaboratively with local stakeholders to identify solutions that benefit local economies and the environment. Examples include carefully crafted multi-stakeholder agreements to improve the health of the Klamath, Penobscot, Elwha and, in Congressman Hastings’ own district, the Yakima and White Salmon rivers.
“This extreme proposal assumes every hydropower dam is safe and financially solvent. It’s a dangerous assumption that is not based in reality. It would even prevent communities and businesses across the country from removing dams they no longer want, dams that are financial liabilities and fundamentally unsafe. The bill would not only jeopardize public safety, but also a fast-growing sector of the economy and an outdoor recreation industry that fuels the economic engines of so many communities across America,” said Irvin.
In contrast to the radical nature of HR 6247, other recent bills -- the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act (HR 5892) and its Senate companion bill, the Hydropower Improvement Act (S 629) -- present real solutions. HR 5892 and S 629 both enjoy bipartisan support, as well as the support of American Rivers and the hydropower industry.
American Rivers is the leading organization working to protect and restore the nation’s rivers and streams. Rivers connect us to each other, nature, and future generations. Since 1973, American Rivers has fought to preserve these connections, helping protect and restore more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects, and the annual release of America’s Most Endangered Rivers®.
Headquartered in Washington, DC, American Rivers has offices across the country and more than 100,000 supporters, members, and volunteers nationwide. Visit www.americanrivers.org, www.facebook.com/americanrivers and www.twitter.com/americanrivers.