Dam Good Year for Dam Removal in 2017

In the midst of all the challenges 2017 saw for rivers and clean water, it was a record year for removing outdated, unsafe dams! Find out which states are leading the way on busting deadbeat dams, and read about some great river restoration projects.

Eckenrode Dam removal on August 14, 2017

Last year was a banner year for dam removals across the country. Eighty-six dams were torn down in 2017, beating the previous high number of 78 dams in 2014. Communities in 21 states, working in partnership with non-profit organizations and state and federal agencies, removed the dams to reconnect more than 550 miles of streams.

Dams were removed in the following states: Alaska, California, Connecticut, Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.

In 2017, Pennsylvania had the highest number of removals for the fifteenth year in a row. The top three states removing outdated dams in 2017 were:

  • Pennsylvania – 16 dams removed
  • California – 10 dams removed
  • Massachusetts– 9 dams removed

American Rivers is the only organization maintaining a record of dam removals in the United States. The database includes information on 1,492 dams that have been removed across the country since 1912. Most of those dams (1,275) were removed in the past 30 years.

While 2017 was a tough year for rivers and clean water, it was a dam good year for dam removal.Click To Tweet

American Rivers played a role in 14 of the dam removals on this year’s list. The list includes all known dam removals, regardless of the extent of American Rivers’ involvement.

Factors that contributed to the record number of dams removed in 2017 include increased awareness about the benefits of removing outdated, unsafe dams; efforts by American Rivers and others to train organizations and increase capacity to manage dam removal projects; and the cost of maintaining aging dams, which pose liability and safety hazards for their owners.

The American Society of Civil Engineers gives the nation’s dams a D grade in its report card on the nation’s infrastructure. One of the most cost-effective ways to deal with outdated, unsafe dams is to remove them. When a dam is removed, a river can flow naturally, which can have benefits for water supply and flood protection.

To accompany the 2017 list of dams removed, American Rivers updated the interactive map that includes all known dam removals in the United States since 1916. Visit www.AmericanRivers.org/DamRemovalsMap

American Rivers’ database of all dam removals since 1916 can be found at: www.AmericanRivers.org/DamRemovalDatabase

Highlights of dam removal and river restoration efforts in 2017 include:

Lock and Dam No. 6, Green River, KY

Green River Dam removal | The Nature Conservancy

In recent years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Louisville District undertook an economic assessment of navigation dams on the Green and Barren rivers in Kentucky, and received Congressional approval to de-authorize (i.e., retire) five little-used locks and dams. Lock and Dam No. 6 was quickly removed from the Green River by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) – utilizing a construction crew that has successfully removed several dams throughout the southeast – in April 2017, due to its deteriorated condition and safety hazard. Other project partners included: Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, Mammoth Cave National Park, The Nature Conservancy and Kentucky Waterways Alliance. In addition to the project improving habitat for fish, mussels and invertebrates, the dam’s impoundment was filling a portion of Mammoth Cave National Park with water and sediment, and that part of the caves will now be accessible for important archaeological study. The project is precedent-setting for removing uneconomical, expensive federal navigation infrastructure and for the federal partnership between the Army Corps and USFWS.

Lower Eklutna River Dam, Eklutna River, AK

Originally built to provide hydropower, but no longer in use, the Lower Eklutna River Dam was removed in October 2017 in one of Alaska’s most ambitious habitat restoration projects ever. The Eklutna Native Corporation and the Native Village of Eklutna partnered with The Conservation Fund to work within a brief construction window in a 300-foot deep steep-walled canyon to open seven miles of the Eklutna River for salmon migration. This project has provided construction work for the local community, boosting the economy and helping to restore salmon runs that are vital for cultural heritage and sustenance.

Hamant Brook Lower, Middle, and Upper Pond Dams, Hamant Brook, MA

Hamant Brook after dam removal.

Three dams on Hamant Brook in Massachusetts were removed in Fall 2017 to allow native trout and endangered turtles access to important habitat. Hamant Brook runs through the Leadmine Conservation Area – 880 acres of protected municipal conservation land. The project includes work to improve public access to the protected lands, while removing a public safety hazard and improving habitat for fish and wildlife. The Hamant Brook Restoration Project is supported by the landowners (Town of Sturbridge and Old Sturbridge Village), in partnership with the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, American Rivers, and the Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration.

Boardman Dam, Boardman River, MI

The Boardman River Dam removal is part of a larger restoration effort to address four barriers along the Boardman River in Michigan. This project not only removed an impediment to fish passage, but also improved a river crossing for local residents. Previously, the Brown Bridge Dam was removed in 2013, and plans are in place to remove Sabin Dam and modify Union Street Dam in the near future. The largest river restoration project in Michigan’s history, collectively the project will restore more than three river miles of native coldwater fish habitat, more than 250 acres of wetlands and nearly 60 acres of upland habitat.

For more information on 2017 dam removals, please see our full list.

15 responses to “Dam Good Year for Dam Removal in 2017

  1. Yo, other factors contributed to the decline of salmon then just dams. The fish spent a decent amount of time in the estuaries and lower river some there’s that. Also a factor that will really limit salmon recovery is the warming that’s happening, so lower warmer flows might just kill the fish before they can even you that habitat. Lower snowpack. My point is that removing dams isn’t suddenly going to make all the other issues with salmon go away, they aren’t the only factor preventing the salmon runs from fully recovering and we should consider this before we start taking out all the dams, some being inportant sources of electricity and water.

    1. You are correct that many issues are impacting salmon populations—not just dams, but also reduced river flows, pollution, disease, global warming, and other issues play a roll in population decline. However, populations cannot rebound without access to high quality spawning habitat, which in many cases is blocked by dams. In relation to your point on climate change, dam removal allows fish (both migratory and resident populations) that may be experiencing adverse impacts due to temperature changes, access to cooler habitat farther upriver. Ultimately, American Rivers is not advocating for the removal of all dams. Certainly some dams serve useful purposes. However, we should be thinking about how we can remove the thousands of dams impacting aquatic habitat and public safety that serve no useful purpose at all. Dam removal is really one of many tools that we can use to aid in the recovery of fish populations, but it is not a panacea. We need to work together to address the suite of threats, and we hope you are on board in helping us to do so! See this article for examples of how dam removals have helped migratory fish populations rebound:
      https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/25/science/penobscot-river-maine-dam-removal-fish.html

  2. Hello:
    I would like to know what my comment was removed from this post by the moderator about the Snake River Dams? I’m a huge proponent of removing the Snake River Dams and many others that dont serve the needs of flood control or major hydro generation. I have seen with my own eyes the headwaters of the Snake via the Lochsa, Selway, Clearwater, Lemhi, Salmon, Imnaha, Grande Ronde Rivers. The habitat is nearly pristine and intact. I would be one of the first to get rid of the Snake Dams. I have seen the wind turbines on the Columbia and Snake plateaus and the potential loss of the Snakes Hydro power has essentially been replaced by wind power. Yet, as indicated before in my own opinion the Lower Snake River Dams won’t be removed for another 50-100 years. Here is why: the politics plain and simple. The Corps of Engineers have invested million into Removable Spillway Weirs on all 4 Dams, new juvenile fish ways next to the adult fish ladders, court mandated spills of water for salmon. Finally, if and when (2020) the Klamath Dams are removed and the salmon return like the Elwha River, yes there is more say and credence in removing the Lower Snake Dams. Again, why was my previous post deleted by the moderator. Is it because my opinions don’t line up to another’s view points. Are we not Americans and have our First Amendment Freedoms??? I really like the stories of dam removals, I want the Snake River Dams, Glen Canyon, and Hecht Hetchy restored to free flowing rivers with bountiful fish runs, but our current/future politics won’t let this happen just yet. Have a great day.

    1. Hi Joshua, Your previous comment was submitted on 2018/02/18 at 3:19 pm. Since we review and approve all comments before they are posted and because you submitted your comment on a Sunday of a 3-day, holiday weekend, we had not be able to approve your comment yet, and therefore it wasn’t posted. You should now see your previous comment in the comment section.

  3. Lower Snake River Dams will be removed eventually but probably not until the middle 21st Century or early 22nd century. Way to many politics on the Snake. I would love to see a free Snake River, but don’t count on it for another 50-100 years. Keep this in mind. If the Klamath River Salmon return after dam removals then the Snake has a good shot of getting its dams removed. Yet, earliest for dam removal on Snake is middle of this century or early 22nd century.

  4. Here in Maine, we have seen sea-run fish repopulating our rivers and streams at a surprisingly fast rate, once dams have been removed. We now have a run of alewives (herring) that exceeds 5 million fish on the Sebasticook River, which is really something to witness! There is a 6 mile paddle, from the Benton Dam down to the confluence of the Kennebec River in Waterville that is just spectacular during the spring run of herring. We saw well in excess of over 100 bald eagles in that paddle, as well as herons, a mink, striped bass, ospreys, etc. Keep up the good work American Rivers, TNC, Audubon Society, NOA, and all the various other Organizations that are removing these deadbeat dams.

  5. Do NOT take a constitutional right of states to allow “…increased awareness about the benefits of removing outdated, unsafe dams; efforts by American Rivers and others to train organizations and increase capacity to manage dam removal projects; and the cost of maintaining aging dams, which pose liability and safety hazards for their owners.

    The American Society of Civil Engineers gives the nation’s dams a D grade in its report card on the nation’s infrastructure. One of the most cost-effective ways to deal with outdated, unsafe dams is to remove them. When a dam is removed, a river can flow naturally, which can have benefits for water supply and flood protection.

  6. Dam removal is a great improvement to our environment. Our salmon populations have dwindled due to dam construction and it will only be through dam removals that our fish habitat can significantly improve.

  7. I’m very proud and please to live in a state that understands the science of dam removal and is being proactive about protecting our natural resources. Go California!

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