A Record 26 States Removed Dams in 2019

90 Dams Removed Last Year to Revive Rivers and Strengthen Communities

February 13, 2020
Contact: Jessie Thomas-Blate, 609-658-4769; Amy Kober, 503-708-1145

Video: dam removal in the U.S.
List of dams removed in 2019
Database of all dam removals
Map of all dam removals

(Washington) – A record 26 states participated in removing dams to restore rivers in 2019, reviving ecosystems and communities across the nation, American Rivers announced today.

Ninety dams were removed in 2019, improving public safety for local communities and restoring fish, wildlife and river health. Communities in 26 states, working in partnership with non-profit organizations and state and federal agencies, removed the dams to reconnect more than 973 upstream river miles.

“More states than ever saw dam removals last year, which means more states than ever are seeing the benefits of healthy, free-flowing rivers,” said Bob Irvin, President and CEO of American Rivers.

“As we celebrate the progress made last year, we are working with our partners to grow the river restoration movement and accelerate the pace of dam removal nationwide. With floods and droughts increasing with climate change and many populations of fish and wildlife in decline, healthy free-flowing rivers have never been more important to our well-being and our future.”

Dams were removed in the following states: Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

In 2019, with the removal of 20 dams in the Cleveland National Forest alone, California had the highest number of dam removals for the second year in a row. The top four states removing dams in 2019 were:

  • California – 23 dams removed
  • Pennsylvania – 14 dams removed
  • New Hampshire – 6 dams removed
  • Vermont – 6 dams removed

    American Rivers maintains the database of dam removals in the United States. It includes information on 1,722 dams that have been removed across the country since 1912. Most of those dams (1,476) were removed in the past 30 years. 

    One of the most cost-effective ways to deal with outdated, unsafe dams is to remove them. Removing dams allows rivers to flow naturally, which can have benefits for water quality, flood protection, fish and wildlife habitat, ecosystem health and recreation.

    Factors that contributed to record state participation in dam removal and river restoration projects in 2019 include increased awareness about the ecological and community benefits of removing 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. 

    As part of its Free Rivers campaign, American Rivers released River Restoration Tools and Resources, a compilation of tools to aid practitioners and river advocates. Together with partners, American Rivers is scheduling workshops to bring together leading dam removal experts to create a vision and shared plan of action for river restoration nationwide.

    HIGHLIGHTS OF DAM REMOVAL AND RIVER RESTORATION EFFORTS IN 2019 INCLUDE:

    Howle and Turner Dam, Tallapoosa River, Alabama

    In June 2019, Howle and Turner Dam was removed to improve water quality and create habitat for rare mussel species such as fine-lined pocketbook and delicate spike. The 16-foot high by 100-foot wide concrete and steel dam was located on the Tallapoosa River. The dam, originally built in 1935 to power a grist mill and cotton gin, outlived its original purpose. This project was the result of a partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife program and the Alabama Rivers and Streams Network. The Service coordinated the pre-restoration planning and worked with their Fisheries and Aquatic Conservation Aquatic Habitat Restoration Team to carry out the demolition and restoration of the river channel. 

    Contact: Eric Spadgenske, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 251-441-5872, eric_spadgenske@fws.gov

    Saccarappa Dams 1 and 2, Presumpscot River, Maine

    This project included the removal of two separate, adjacent dams on the Presumpscot River, both originally built in 1911 for hydroelectric power— the Saccarappa Dam 1 (12-foot tall by 239-foot long) and the Saccarappa Dam 2 (12-foot tall by 154-foot long). The goals of this project were the restoration of fish passage and productivity of fish populations, as well as improvements in the downtown area through expansion of the River Walk. Restoring the productivity of the fish populations in the Presumpscot is vital not just for those who fish along the river, but also for the health of the fishing industry in Casco Bay and the Gulf of Maine. Migratory fish found in the Presumpscot, including alewives and bluebacks, are critical bait for the lobster fishery and key to the entire food system. The removal of these dams opens up the longest and cleanest stretch of riverway in the most densely populated area of the state for the first time in two centuries and will greatly enhance the economic and recreational value of the river. 

    Contact: Barry Stemm, Sappi North America, 207-856-4584, barry.stemm@sappi.com

    Jordan’s Point Dam, Maury River, Virginia

    Jordan’s Point Dam (10-foot high by 180-foot wide) was a concrete dam built in 1911 in Lexington, VA on the Maury River. The dam had been a safety concern for the community since 2006, when a teenager drowned going over the dam into the hydraulic current. Prior to deconstruction, it was structurally compromised with many cracks, and had outlived its purpose of powering various mill operations. When the dam was first breached and the water level lowered during its removal, another timber crib dam was revealed and subsequently removed. This project improved river health and restored habitat along 1.2 miles of the Maury River. Additionally, the project removed a significant safety hazard and is expected to greatly benefit recreation and boost visitation to City Park. 

    Contact: Louise Finger, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, 540-248-9378,louise.finger@dgif.virginia.gov

    Cleveland National Forest Dam Removals, San Juan Creek, Holy Jim Creek and Silverado Creek, California:https://www.americanrivers.org/2019/09/a-programmatic-approach-to-dam-removal-and-river-restoration-cleveland-national-forest-ca/

    Congaree Creek Dam, Congaree Creek, South Carolina:https://www.americanrivers.org/2019/11/congaree-creek-flowing-free-thanks-to-dam-removal/ 

    Upper Eaton Dam and Lower Eaton Dam, First Branch White River, Vermont:https://www.americanrivers.org/2020/02/busting-dams-on-vermonts-white-river/

    Scotland Pond Dam, Conococheague Creek, Pennsylvania:https://www.americanrivers.org/2020/02/cheers-to-greene-township-on-scotland-pond-dam-removal/