Record Year for Removing Dams to Restore Rivers in 2017

WASHINGTON, Feb. 14, 2018 – A record number of outdated dams were removed in 2017, bringing public safety, new recreation opportunities and improved fish and wildlife habitat to communities nationwide, American Rivers announced today.

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 restore more than 550 miles of streams.

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Dams were removed in the following states: Alaska, California, Connecticut, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, 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 The top three states removing outdated dams in 2017 were: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

“The record number of dams removed in 2017 shows that more communities see clean, free-flowing rivers as vital to their health, economy and future,” said Bob Irvin, President of American Rivers. “The river conservation movement in our country is stronger than ever and we applaud all of the people who contributed to this major milestone. Our hard work is paying off.”

“While we celebrate this positive momentum, we must remain vigilant. Our nation is in danger of slipping backward when it comes to clean water and river health,” Irvin said. “Budget cuts and environmental rollbacks from the Trump Administration and Congress threaten to reverse the laudable progress communities across the country are making at the local level.”

“The river restoration successes from 2017 illustrate the kind of future communities want. Decision makers should pay attention.”

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. 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 has benefits for water supply, flood protection, wildlife habitat and ecosystem health.

“Healthy rivers are the veins and arteries of our country. Rivers are our original infrastructure. We need to keep investing in clean, free-flowing rivers if we want a future of secure water supplies, and safe, thriving communities,” said Irvin.

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

Lock and Dam No. 6, Green River, KY

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 on the Green River was deteriorating and posed a safety hazard. It was removed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in April 2017, 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 thanks to the dam removal, that part of the caves will now be accessible for 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. Other project partners include Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, Mammoth Cave National Park, The Nature Conservancy and Kentucky Waterways Alliance.

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

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.

View the full list of dams removed in 2017: www.AmericanRivers.org/2017DamRemovals

Database of all dam removals: www.AmericanRivers.org/DamRemovalDatabase

Map of all dam removals: www.AmericanRivers.org/DamRemovalsMap

American Rivers protects wild rivers, restores damaged rivers and conserves clean water for people and nature. Since 1973, American Rivers has protected and restored more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects and an annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® campaign. Headquartered in Washington, DC, American Rivers has offices across the country and more than 275,000 members, supporters and volunteers.

Rivers connect us to each other, nature, and future generations. Find your connections at AmericanRivers.orgFacebook.com/AmericanRivers and Twitter.com/AmericanRivers.