As part of “Free Rivers: the state of dam removal in the U.S.”, American Rivers is spotlighting 25 projects to watch for 2022 and beyond.
Thousands of dams need to come down in the U.S., and there are opportunities for river restoration at every size and scale. American Rivers curated the following list of 25 dam removal projects to illustrate examples and highlight opportunities of the types of dam removal projects that exist across the country.
“The related crises of climate change, racial injustice, and biodiversity loss are further degrading our rivers and require us to accelerate river restoration through dam removals nationwide,” said Tom Kiernan, President of American Rivers.
“Congress, the administration, and the river restoration community need to significantly accelerate dam removal efforts nationwide if we are to prevent further declines in river health, prevent extinction of fish and wildlife, enhance communities, and safeguard the public from failing dams,” Kiernan said.
This “projects to watch” list is not exhaustive. The projects range from small dams with willing owners where river restoration will deliver important local benefits, to bigger dam removal efforts that are vital to saving species from extinction and addressing longstanding injustices across entire regions.
River: Little Sugar Creek
Dam: Lake Bella Vista Dam
Notes: Lake Bella Vista Dam is a dilapidated structure originally built in 1915 on Little Sugar Creek in Bentonville, AR as part of a vision to establish a recreational lake for a new resort. However, a 1921 flood nearly destroyed the dam and caused severe damage to several resort facilities. Further flooding in April 2021 breached the dam and washed out more of the structure. The City of Bentonville voted to remove the remains of the dam in September 2021.
Removal of the Lake Bella Vista Dam will remove any remaining hazards from the river and allow Little Sugar Creek to be restored.
Greg Van Horn
Friends of Little Sugar Creek
River: Matilija Creek
Dam: Matilija Dam
Notes: Built in 1947, the 168-foot tall Matilija Dam blocks a tributary of the Ventura River about 16 miles from the Pacific Ocean, completely blocking federally endangered Southern steelhead migration on the Ventura River and preventing passage to over 50 percent of the primary spawning.
Its removal will reconnect access to critical steelhead habitat and help with the recovery of steelhead in Southern California.
River: Malibu Creek
Dam: Rindge Dam
Notes: A 100-ft high concrete dam and spillway structure built in Malibu Creek on the Rindge family property in 1926, Rindge Dam was constructed as a water supply for local ranching, agriculture, and landscape irrigation. Removal is a high priority for Southern California steelhead trout recovery because it will allow access to 18 miles of high-quality spawning and rearing habitat in the Malibu Creek watershed.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the California Department of Parks and Recreation completed a feasibility study in 2020 and will move forward with dam removal design (the preferred alternative) in 2022.
River: Eel River
Dam: Scott Dam
Notes: One of two dams that make up the Potter Valley Project. The Eel River is the third-largest watershed in California, traversing Trinity, Lake, Mendocino and Humboldt Counties. It was once home to some of the West Coast’s most productive salmon and steelhead fisheries. The Potter Valley Project, a hydroelectric facility that transfers water from the Eel River into the Russian River was built in the early 20th Century. The project now produces very little power and completely blocks fish passage to the Eel River’s headwaters.
There is clear scientific proof that the best path forward for the health of the Eel River and for water assurance to the Russian River is to remove Scott Dam.
River: San Francisquito Creek
Dam: Searsville Dam
Notes: For over a century, the dam has impacted San Francisquito Creek watershed and the greater San Francisco Bay estuary. Built in 1892, Searsville Dam has lost over 90% of its original water storage capacity as roughly 1.5 million cubic yards of sediment has filled in the reservoir. Searsville Dam does not provide potable water, flood control, or hydropower – its primary use is providing irrigation water to Stanford campus.
Current plans to address fish passage at the dam are unsatisfactory and may still create risk for downstream property owners. A draft Environmental Impact Report is expected later this year as project partners await more detail about the path Stanford is pursuing.
River: Klamath River
Dam: 4 dams — J.C. Boyle, Copco No. 1, Copco No. 2, and Iron Gate dams
State: California and Oregon
Notes: For nearly 100 years, dams on the Klamath have blocked salmon and steelhead from reaching hundreds of miles of habitat, and have harmed water quality for people and wildlife. Four dams – J.C. Boyle, Copco No. 1, Copco No. 2 and Iron Gate – built between 1908 and 1962, are slated to be removed in 2023. This river restoration project will have lasting benefits for the river, salmon and communities throughout the Klamath Basin.
Dam removal will restore access to more than 300 miles of habitat for salmon. A free-flowing Klamath River will better support the river’s Tribal Nations and local communities, as rising temperatures threaten resources they depend on. The four Klamath dams produce a nominal amount of power, which will be replaced using renewables such as new wind energy and efficiency measures.
This dam removal and river restoration effort will be one of the most significant the world has ever seen.
River: Brandywine River
Dam: Bancroft Mills Dam No. 4
Notes: Currently, there are 10 low-head dams littering 7.2 miles of the Brandywine River in Delaware. Many of these small dams are safety hazards and block access to spawning habitat for migratory fish.
Brandywine Shad 2020 is now working with the Delaware DNREC Division of Parks & Recreation and DuPont Co./City of Wilmington to obtain final permits, prepare final engineering plans/specifications, and retain contractors to remove three dams — including Bancroft Mills Dam — in 2022.
Dr. Jerry Kauffman
University of Delaware Water Resources Center
River: Ocklawaha River
Dam: Rodman Dam
Notes: In 1968, the natural connection of the Ocklawaha River to the St. Johns River was severed by the Rodman Dam, part of the Cross Florida Barge Canal that was never built. The dam flooded over 7,500 acres of forested wetlands, 20 springs and 16 miles of the Ocklawaha River. It also caused significant harm to threatened and endangered species, adjacent wetlands and forests, 12 miles of downstream river and wetlands and the St. Johns River. While the reservoir behind the dam, Rodman Pool, became a popular bass fishing destination, the pool has never functioned as a natural lake and must be artificially maintained and drained every three to four years to kill nuisance aquatic vegetation with herbicides.
Decades of federal and state agency science and recommendations, two environmental impact statements and more than 30 conservation organizations across the state support improving river health by breaching the earthen dam at the historic Ocklawaha River channel. This plan would restore river and spring flows and improve water quality and floodplain function
St Johns Riverkeeper
River: Des Plaines River
Dam: Multiple dams
Notes: Forest Preserves of Cook County are working to restore river habitat and remove outdated infrastructure in the Des Plaines River and North Branch of the Chicago River by removing a series of low-head dams. At one time, the Forest Preserves of Cook County owned seven low-head dams on the Des Plaines River and two low-head dams on the North Branch of the Chicago River. These dams were built between 1918 and 1968 for recreation, transportation and sanitary waste purposes. Today, with regional waste water treatment plants and roadway/highway bridges, these dams no longer serve their original purposes. In fact, these dams prevent the passage of riverine fishes, trap bedload material of sand and gravel and are hazardous to canoeing and paddlers.
Removing the dams on the Des Plaines River will complete the defragmentation of the upper Des Plaines River mainstem, allowing it to flow freely from its headwaters in Racine County, WI to the Brandon Road Lock & Dam in Joliet, IL. To date, more than nine dams have been removed from the Des Plaines River with more planned.
Forest Preserves of Cook County
River: Henderson Creek
Dam: Hickey-Martin Dam
Notes: The 8-foot tall Hickey-Martin Dam was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps to create a swimming area as part of a larger, planned recreation area. The reservoir began filling with sediment by the 1950s, and the project was officially abandoned in the 1960s. The dam is now in disrepair and blocks all upstream passage of native fish.
The U.S. Forest Service is leading removal of this dam and considers it an essential project in a priority watershed on the Hoosier National Forest. This phased dam removal is set to begin in 2022.
US Forest Service
River: Ipswich River
Dam: South Middleton Dam
Notes: The removal of the South Middleton Dam has been many years in the making, but 2022 promises to be a big year for the project. This project will be the first major dam removal project to take place on the Ipswich River (declared one of American Rivers’ Most Endangered Rivers of 2021). The dam removal will restore connectivity to over 57 miles of valuable mainstem and tributary habitat, as well as 119 acres of coastal headwater ponds. The project will also serve as an example of the multi-benefit nature of dam removal projects within the dam-dense North Shore of Massachusetts.
The majority of necessary permits have been recently secured, but one final push is needed to finish the permitting and secure the funding required to move to project implementation.
Ipswich River Watershed Association
River: Ipswich River
Dam: Ipswich Mills Dam
Notes: This dam has interrupted the ecology of the river for almost 400 years. The granite block dam was originally constructed to power adjacent mills yet currently has no functional use. A fishway was installed in 1995, but it is not effective for some migratory species such as rainbow smelt and American shad. The Division of Ecological Restoration ranks this dam in the top 5% of all dams in Massachusetts for the restoration potential removal would provide, opening 49.19 miles of habitat and restoring freshwater tidal habitat.
The completion of this project would be a triumph and testament to the hard work and dedication of the community, local and state government, and multitude of organizations who have contributed to advancing this project over the years.
Ipswich River Watershed Association
River: Cypress Branch
Dam: Cypress Branch Dam
Notes: Cypress Branch Dam is an earthen and rock-rubble dam structure owned by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), that currently serves no functional purpose and is in an advanced state of disrepair.
American Rivers, working in partnership with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, aims to restore anadromous species habitat through the removal of the dam. This project will restore Cypress Branch to a free-flowing, un-impounded stream, and will restore 18 mainstem and tributary miles of spawning habitat for blueback herring and alewife in an effort to ensure sustainable populations of these native species.
River: Temple Stream
Dam: Walton’s Mill Dam
Notes: The decision to remove Walton’s Mill Dam was developed with local citizens, and the work will include rebuilding the adjacent community park and replacing several upstream undersized road stream crossings. The watershed-wide effort will restore over 52 miles of productive cold-water habitat for wild Atlantic salmon and other native fish.
The project is part of a broader effort over the past several decades to restore endangered Atlantic salmon and other sea-run fish to the Kennebec River, an effort ignited by the successful removal of Edwards Dam in 1999.
Atlantic Salmon Federation
River: Mississippi River
Dam: 2 Dams — Lower St. Anthony Falls Dam and Lock and Dam 1
Notes: Starting in the early 1900s, locks and dams were built on the Mississippi River below the Falls of St. Anthony in the heart of the Twin Cities to provide hydropower and navigation. When the rapids drowned, dozens of species of mussel, fish, birds, reptiles and other wildlife suffered.
The dams no longer serve their navigation purpose and hydropower production is significantly below capacity. Yet their ecosystem impacts are far less benign. Habitat in the upper half of the Mississippi River is degrading at a rate of up to 4 percent annually – primarily due to the locks and dams. Restoring the Mississippi River Gorge would create habitat for over 50 rare, threatened and endangered species. Of those, over a dozen species recovery outlooks would significantly improve if the Mississippi River Gorge Rapids were restored.
River: Furnace Brook
Dam: Maiden Lane Dam
State: New York
Notes: This 25-foot tall concrete gravity structure is located in the Town of Cortlandt on Furnace Brook, a tributary of the Hudson River. Built sometime around 1900 by one of the former owners of McAndrews Estate for aesthetic purposes, the estate was abandoned in the 1960’s and became a Westchester County Park shortly after the County condemned the property. It is the first dam fish encounter traveling up from the Hudson and provides habitat for approximately 85% of New York State’s fish and wildlife species, 200 of which rely on the Hudson River for spawning, nursery and forage habitat.
The first barrier on Furnace Brook, Furnace Brook Barrier #1, was removed in 2020. The removal of Maiden Lane Dam will reconnect approximately 1.5 miles of habitat for fish and other aquatic species.
County of Westchester
River: Mahoning River
Dam: Multiple dams
Notes: The Lowellville Dam was the first dam removal and river restoration project to take place in the Mahoning River. It was the catalyst for subsequent projects that will follow, which includes a commitment to removing the nine remaining low head dams in the Mahoning River. The lower Mahoning Restoration Project is a priority of Eastgate due to the level of water quality impairments caused by the low head dams and the contaminated sediments that have accumulated behind them.
Eastgate Regional Council of Governments
River: Kellogg Creek
Dam: Kellogg Dam
Notes: Constructed in 1858 for a flour mill that closed in the 1890s, the dam has been obsolete for over a century, having served no purpose since the mill closed. It is a barrier to threatened and endangered salmon as well as other native species. The dam also impounds water increasing floodway elevation, restricts sediment transport, and increases water temperatures. The Hwy 99E bridge was constructed on top of the dam in 1934 complicating its easy removal.
The project would replace the Highway 99E Bridge, restore the existing impoundment to a functioning creek and floodplain, and create a pedestrian nature trail. Removal would restore access to the entire Kellogg-Mt. Scott Watershed and 16 miles of important spawning habitat and thermal refugia for listed species.
River: Susquehanna River
Dam: Oakland Dam
Notes: A former hydropower dam abandoned more than 20 years ago, the dam spans the river at more 755 feet wide and 16 feet tall. A 100-ft wide breach in the center is a severe hazard for paddlers and anglers on the North Branch Susquehanna River Water Trail and a velocity barrier for fish.
Removal will reconnect 250 miles of aquatic habitat for sport fish, ESA and common mussels and mussel fish host species. It will also eliminate a known hazard from a water trail that is gaining popularity with paddlers.
River: Chiques Creek
Dam: Chiques Roller Mill Dam
Notes: American Rivers is working on the removal of this dam (an approximately 10-foot high by 130-foot long stone masonry structure), which is experiencing significant erosion of its structural integrity, and consequently, the owners have been ordered to repair or remove it. Given the dam’s location in a populated area, its condition makes it a public safety hazard. Originally, it operated as a mill dam, but it no longer serves any purpose. The owners have decided that they no longer want to maintain the dam and be liable for the safety of the community around it.
Removal of Chiques Roller Mill Dam will open more than 13 river miles, reconnect a portion of the floodplain, and restore natural form and function to a stream that supports American eel, a critical host for Elliptio mussels (a PA Species of Greatest Conservation Need) living in Chiques Creek, which provide natural filtration for water quality improvement.
River: Pig Pen Creek
Dam: Chattooga River Brook Trout Tributary Dam
State: South Carolina
Notes: Pig Pen Creek, a tributary of the Chattooga River, is one of South Carolina’s few brook trout streams and contains a brook trout population that is native to the stream. Removal of the Chattooga River Brook Trout Tributary Dam will restore 4 miles of critical brook trout habitat.
Work to remove old houses and other structures on the property has been completed, and the impoundment has been drained. Partners have also rescued plants from the old dam and moved many into the lake bed to accelerate reforestation and revegetation of the lake bed. Once the dam structure is removed, SC DNR will manage the restoration of the trout population
River: South Anna River
Dam: Ashland Mill Dam
Notes: This project is crucial for efforts to support and encourage growth of American shad populations.
Removal of Ashland Mill Dam will open 38 miles of upstream spawning habitat for this species, and will restore the South Anna River and open up 440 miles of upstream river network for American eel and more than 108 miles for alewife, blueback herring and hickory shad.
Restoration Systems, LLC
River: Snake River
Dam: Multiple dams
State: Washington and Idaho
Notes: Once the largest salmon producer in the Columbia River Basin, today Snake River salmon runs are at the brink of extinction. The loss of salmon is a crisis for the entire web of life, from black bears to Southern Resident killer whales. It is also an existential threat to Northwest tribes who depend on the fish for their cultures and identities.
Scientists say that removing four dams on the lower Snake River in eastern Washington must be part of a Snake basin salmon recovery plan. It is estimated that by 2080 the Snake River Basin will provide two-thirds of the coldest, most climate-resilient stream habitats for salmon and steelhead on the West Coast.
River: Kinnikinnic River
Dam: Powell Dam and Upper Junction Falls Dam
Notes: The Kinnickinnic River in River Falls, Wisconsin, is the last major tributary to the Wild and Scenic St. Croix River and is one of the best trout streams in the Midwest. But these two dams have caused the river’s health to decline. The two dams on the Kinni have supported an outdated hydroelectric facility that collectively cause fluctuations in flow, increases in water temperature, and directly impact trout, macroinvertebrates, mussels and other wildlife.
The River Falls City Council passed a resolution calling for eventual removal of both dams from the Kinni. They decided to end power generation in 2023 and remove the Powell Dam by 2026. The structure sustained significant damage during 2020 storms and has been drawn down since.
Unfortunately, the City has indicated the Upper Junction Dam is currently expected to remain in place through at least the mid-2030s. Friends of the Kinni and partners have called on the City to accelerate their timeline for removal, indicating the current timeline is completely unacceptable for the health of the river and for the economic vitality of the adjacent Main Street Community.
Friends of the Kinni
River: Cheat River
Dam: Albright Power Station Dam
State: West Virginia
Notes: This dam was part of a First Energy coal-fired power plant, providing water that once fed the plant’s cooling towers. Though the power plant was decommissioned in September 2012, the dam remains in place, degrading water quality by allowing water to slow and stagnate and creating a dangerous hazard to boaters and anglers.
Other than the dam at Cheat Lake, this obsolete dam is the only barrier to aquatic passage for migrating species of fish, such as walleye, throughout the entire 78.3 mile-long Cheat River main stem. Its removal will support ongoing water quality improvements to the Cheat River and provide an ever-increasing walleye population in Cheat Lake the opportunity to expand upstream. It will also eliminate the burdens of maintenance and repair along with any safety concerns.
Friends of the Cheat