Dam deconstruction - what's next?

  • Dams in the West considered for removal

    Diane Sylvain
 

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

Here are some of the other dams under attack throughout the West:

Elwha River dams, Olympic Peninsula, Washington

Built decades ago, these two dams have nearly destroyed what was once, given the host river's size, a salmon fishery nonpareil. Estimates of the Elwha ancestral runs go higher than 350,000 fish; among them were some of the largest salmon ever seen, weighing over a hundred pounds. Technical experts believe that the dams can be removed for less than $25 million, but watershed restoration could add substantially to the cost. Now and then, the Clinton administration displays toughness and persistence, and it has here. The idea is strongly supported by Washington's major newspapers and, according to poll samplings, by most residents of the state. The one serious opponent is Republican Sen. Slade Gorton, who takes a position that may be unprecedented in U.S. Senate history: Spending federal money to remove the dams, he says, would be unfair to taxpayers in other states. (Presumably, Gorton has no problem with U.S. taxpayers subsidizing Columbia River dams and his constituents' bargain-basement hydroelectric rates, which are among the cheapest in the world.) Gorton's opposition may appear hypocritical, to put it gently, and seems inspired by an eagerness to oppose almost anything Clinton supports. But the senator, a former prosecutor, is a tenacious adversary.

Condit Dam, White Salmon River, Washington

Built three miles up this lower tributary of the Columbia River, in 1913, Condit Dam eliminated a productive salmon fishery, though not an extraordinary one like the Elwha's. Its power production averages only 8-10 megawatts, but the dam is 125 feet high; cost-of-removal estimates range from $10 million to $24 million. American Rivers and numerous other organizations have lobbied strenuously for dam removal. There appears to be no opposition, even from the corporate owner, which faces a tough relicensing fight. Odds that the dam will be taken down look good.

Enlo Dam, Similkeen River, Washington/Canada

Although it has been decommissioned for years, Enlo Dam, built early in the century on this Okanogan River tributary, still sits there, blocking salmon passage for 320 miles. There are no fish ladders. Only 35 feet high, the dam could be removed at relatively low cost. However, the Okanogan Public Utility District has proposed to re-operate it, and, according to John Volkman of the Northwest Power Planning Council, "Canada isn't sure it wants salmon with U.S. diseases moving back upriver." Spawners that make it as far as Enlo Dam have already trespassed beyond eight big dams on the Columbia reach. According to Volkman, "They deserve a break."

Lower Snake River Dams, Washington

These four federally built structures - Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite - have catastrophically disrupted one of the most far-ranging inland salmon migrations in the world. Some determined salmon still reach Idaho's Stanley Basin via the Columbia, Snake and Salmon rivers, having swum more than 800 miles and surmounted eight large dams, but at Redfish Lake - named after the spawning coloration of many thousands of sockeye salmon - there are only ghosts. A decade ago, the idea of removing the four lower Snake dams would have seemed far-fetched, to say the least, but $3 billion has gone for salmon restoration in the Columbia Basin, and overall the fishery is still in decline. Last winter, the Corps of Engineers, which built the dams, released a consultant's study that calls removal the most effective and cost-efficient restoration strategy. Recently, the Idaho Statesman, the state's most influential newspaper, endorsed the idea (the dams aren't in Idaho). Trade-offs are daunting: Each dam produces 300-400 megawatts of power, and they raise river levels for barge traffic, which is an important facet of the regional economy. But then, so were salmon.

Glen Canyon Dam, Arizona

In an interview for a television documentary based on Cadillac Desert, which aired recently on PBS, former Arizona Sen. (and reincarnated American hero) Barry Goldwater averred that, if Glen Canyon Dam were before the Senate today, "I'd vote against it ...Water is important, but it isn't that important."

Goldwater's remark may have galvanized a nascent campaign to drain Lake Powell, if not get rid of the dam. David Wegner, formerly the Bureau of Reclamation's environmental expert in the region, and the Sierra Club and David Brower, among others, have endorsed the idea. But some environmentalists believe this is a truly quixotic campaign, and the dam's constituency - which includes Southern California - seems unopposable for now.

High Country News Classifieds
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE: NEAR CHRICAHUA NATIONAL PARK
    2 (20 acre sites): 110 miles from Tucson:AZ Native trees: Birder's heaven: dark skies: Creek: borders State lease & National forest: /13-16 inches of rain...
  • DIRECTOR - SONORAN DESERT INN & CONFERENCE CENTER
    The Sonoran Desert Inn & Conference Center is a non-profit lodging and event venue in Ajo, Arizona, located on the historic Curley School Campus. We...
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field Seminars for adults: cultural and natural history of the Colorado Plateau. With guest experts, local insights, small groups, and lodge or base camp formats....
  • PLANNED GIVING OFFICER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks a Planned Giving Officer. Do you find energy in...
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Methow Valley Citizens Council has a distinguished history of advocating for progressive land use and environmental values in the Methow Valley and Okanogan County...
  • ACTING INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS DESK EDITOR
    High Country News is seeking an Acting Indigenous Affairs Editor to oversee the work of our award-winning Indigenous Affairs Desk while our editor is on...
  • GRANTS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Cinnabar Foundation seeks an enthusiastic, team-oriented and knowledgeable Grants Program Director to work from their home in Montana. Established in 1983, the Cinnabar Foundation...
  • ARTEMIS PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Artemis Program Manager will work with National Wildlife Federation sporting and public lands staff to change this dynamic, continue to build upon our successful...
  • ALASKA SEA KAYAK BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Well-known and successful sea kayak, raft, hike, camp guiding & water taxi service. Sale includes everything needed to run the business, including office & gear...
  • MEMBERSHIP AND EVENTS PROGRAM COORDINATOR
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a detail-oriented and enthusiastic Membership and Events Coordinator to join our small, but mighty-fun team to oversee our membership...
  • PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT FACILITATOR
    ABOUT THE HIGH DESERT MUSEUM Since opening in 1982, HIGH DESERT MUSEUM has brought together wildlife, culture, art and natural resources to promote an understanding...
  • LAND STEWARD, ARAVAIPA
    Steward will live on-site in housing provided by TNC and maintains preserve areas frequented by the visiting public and performs land management activities. The Land...
  • DEVELOPMENT WRITER
    Who We Are: The Nature Conservancy's mission is to protect the lands and waters upon which all life depends. As a science-based organization, we create...
  • CONNECTIVITY SCIENCE COORDINATOR
    Position type: Full time, exempt Location: Bozeman preferred; remote negotiable Compensation: $48,000 - $52,000 Benefits: Major medical insurance, up to 5% match on a 401k,...
  • EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT
    ArenaLife is looking for an Executive Assistant who wants to work in a fast-paced, exciting, and growing organization. We are looking for someone to support...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Driggs, ID based non-profit. Full time. Full job description available at tvtap.org. Submit cover letter and resume to [email protected]
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • SPRING MOUNTAINS SOLAR OFF GRID MOUNTAIN HOME
    Located 50 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada in the pine forest of Lee Canyon at 8000 feet elevation. One of a kind property surrounded...
  • MAJOR GIFTS MANAGER - MOUNTAIN WEST, THE CONSERVATION FUND
    Cultivate, solicit and steward a portfolio of 75-125 donors.
  • NATURE'S BEST IN ARAVAIPA CANYON
    10 acre private oasis in one of Arizona's beautiful canyons. Fully furnished, 2123 sq ft architectural custom-built contemporary home with spectacular views and many extras....