82 dams removed to restore rivers, improve public safety in 2018

Washington February 21, 2019 – Eighty-two outdated dams were removed in 2018, restoring rivers, improving public safety and recreation opportunities, and revitalizing fish and wildlife in communities nationwide, American Rivers announced today.

Communities in 18 states, working in partnership with non-profit organizations and state and federal agencies, removed the dams last year to restore more than 1,230 miles of streams.

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Dams were removed in the following states: California, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

In 2018, with the removal of 33 dams on the Cleveland National Forest alone, California had the highest number of dam removals, for the first time surpassing Pennsylvania, the leading dam removal state for the past 15 years. The top three states removing outdated dams in 2018 were:

  • California: 35 dams removed
  • Pennsylvania: 7 dams removed
  • Michigan: 7 dams removed

“The river conservation movement in our country is stronger than ever,” said Bob Irvin, President of American Rivers. “Twenty years ago this summer, Edwards Dam was removed from Maine’s Kennebec River, sparking a river restoration movement nationwide. Today, not only is the Kennebec thriving, but rivers nationwide are coming back to life thanks to the removal of harmful and outdated dams.”

When a dam is removed, a river can again flow naturally, which has benefits for water supply, flood protection, wildlife habitat and ecosystem health.

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 One of the most cost-effective ways to deal with outdated, unsafe dams is to remove them.

2018 was the second-best year for removing unsafe, outdated dams in the U.S. 2017 was the top year, with 89 dams removed.

“The growing number of dam removal projects across the country shows that there is strong demand from communities for clean, free-flowing rivers which are vital to our health, economy and future,” said Irvin.

American Rivers is the only organization maintaining a record of dam removals in the United States. The database includes information on 1,578 dams that have been removed across the country since 1912. Most of those dams (1,355) were removed in the past 30 years. American Rivers played a role in 13 of the dam removals on this year’s list. The complete list includes all known dam removals, regardless of the extent of American Rivers’ involvement.

Factors that contributed to successful dam removal and river restoration projects in 2018 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.

HIGHLIGHTS OF DAM REMOVAL AND RIVER RESTORATION EFFORTS IN 2018 INCLUDE:

Bloede Dam, Patapsco River, Maryland

The Bloede Dam was removed in 2018 as part of a larger plan— which included removal of the Union and Simkins dams in 2010— to restore more than 65 miles of spawning habitat for blueback herring, alewife, American shad, hickory shad, and more than 183 miles for American eel in the Patapsco River watershed. Originally built by a private company in the early 1900s to supply electricity to the cities of Catonsville in Baltimore County and Ellicott City in Howard County, the 34-foot high by 220-foot long dam, located in Patapsco Valley State Park, was most recently owned by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. At the time of demolition, it no longer produced power or any other economic benefit, but contributed to numerous injuries and deaths, including at least nine dam-related drownings since the 1980s. Its removal reconnects habitat for one of the highest runs of river herring in the Chesapeake Bay.

Cleveland National Forest, California

The Cleveland National Forest removed 33 dams in total—18 dams from Holy Jim Creek, four in upper San Juan Creek, 10 in lower San Juan Creek and one from Trabuco Creek—in 2018. The dams were originally constructed for varying uses, including to create pools for a stocked rainbow trout fishery and provide water for fire suppression. However, years of disuse and, in some instances, a 40-year maintenance backlog resulted in the decision to remove these structures as a way to improve stream conditions and provide adequate fish passage and wildlife habitat. The efforts of the Cleveland National Forest demonstrate the power of coupling smart management of outdated water infrastructure with the potential re-establishment of extirpated species like the southern California steelhead trout.

Columbia Lake Dam, Paulins Kill, New Jersey

The 18-foot tall and 330-foot long Columbia Lake Dam was originally built in 1909 and, at the time of removal, owned by New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Division of Fish and Wildlife. The project consisted of the removal of Columbia Lake Dam and a downstream remnant dam on Paulins Kill.  These two dams were physical barriers to fish migration and negatively impacted river flow. The removal of the Columbia Lake Dam restored access to more than 10 miles of historic habitat for migratory fish including American shad, restored 32 acres of floodplains, and provided safe and new recreational opportunities. The project is anticipated to increase abundance and diversity of macroinvertebrates, including freshwater mussels, that are indicative of good water quality.