80 Dams removed in 2023, Reconnecting More Than One Thousand Upstream River Miles

February 13, 2024

Contact: Amy Souers Kober, 503-708-1145 


Communities in 25 states saw important progress for river health, clean water, and public safety in 2023 thanks to the removal of 80 outdated, unsafe, and uneconomical dams, American Rivers announced today. The dam removals reconnected more than 1,160 miles of rivers, improving river habitats for fish and wildlife. 

Among the portfolio of projects in 2023 was the initiation of the largest dam removal and river restoration project in history on the Klamath River in Oregon and California, with the removal of Copco 2 Dam. Restoration of the Klamath is the result of decades of advocacy by local community members and leadership from the Karuk, Yurok, and other tribes. Dam removal will restore salmon runs, improve water quality, and revitalize cultural connections and food sovereignty. Three additional dams are being removed on the Klamath in 2024.  

Dam removal is a proven tool and a critical strategy for restoring river health, improving public safety, revitalizing fish and wildlife populations, safeguarding cultural values, and reconnecting communities to their rivers. While there are typically short-term impacts to the ecosystems, rivers and their plants, fish, and wildlife rebound quickly after a dam is removed. River restoration also benefits the economy: every $1 million invested in restoring watersheds generates 16 jobs and up to $2.5 million in economic benefits. 

As a nationwide leader in river restoration, American Rivers tracks dam removal trends and maintains a national dam removal database. A total of 2,119 dams have been removed in the U.S. since 1912. 

In 2023, the states leading in dam removal were: 

  • Pennsylvania (15 removals) 
  • Oregon (9 removals) 
  • Massachusetts (6 removals) 

Many dams in the U.S. are no longer serving the purpose for which they were constructed and/or are deteriorating and in need of significant repairs. Dilapidated dams pose safety hazards and threaten the resilience of human and natural communities. This year, the National Low Head Dam Inventory Task Force, in partnership with the Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnership, catalogued hundreds of thousands of dams, bringing the national total to more than 531,000 dams. American Rivers is building a movement to remove 30,000 dams by 2050, in partnership with communities, Tribal Nations, and state and federal agencies, to ensure that rivers can continue to sustain life. 

“Removing a dam is the fastest way to bring a river back to life,” said Tom Kiernan, President and CEO of American Rivers. “From the Arkansas River to the St. Croix , from the Naches to the Monatiquot, communities are enjoying the benefits of healthier rivers, including cleaner water, more abundant wildlife, and improved public safety. But we have much more work to do to remove the thousands of obsolete dams that are harming rivers and holding communities back from their full potential.” 

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provided a needed infusion of funds for dam removals in 2023, with at least 18 projects utilizing these funds. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Forest Service have already allocated the first round of IIJA funding toward the removal of at least 54 dams. While this is a good first step, these agencies have received more than six times as many proposals as they have been able to fund. NOAA and the USFWS alone have received more than $6.2B in Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act/Inflation Reduction Act funding requests for dam removal, fish passage, and habitat restoration. Significant dedicated funding on federal and state levels is critical to address the aging infrastructure crisis in this country. The demand is too great to ignore any longer. 

Dams harm rivers in many ways. They block migrating fish and prevent the movement of sediment and other natural building blocks of habitat. Dams can impact water quality, and some dams pose serious public safety hazards. The reservoirs behind dams are a source of methane emissions, a greenhouse gas 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide. As they age, dams can be liabilities that put communities in harm’s way of catastrophic flooding and other risks.  

American Rivers is gathering interested parties into a National Dam Removal Community of Practice to share knowledge, support practitioners, and further collaboration across the country. A webinar on February 21 will spotlight success stories from projects completed in 2023.  

About American Rivers 

American Rivers is championing a national effort to protect and restore all rivers, from remote mountain streams to urban waterways. Healthy rivers provide people and nature with clean, abundant water and natural habitat. For 50 years, American Rivers staff, supporters, and partners have shared a common belief: Life Depends on Rivers. For more information, please visit AmericanRivers.org