Dam removal is not for dummies


As a retired engineering geologist and self-styled "dam doctor" who had the honor of breaching a dam before Bruce Babbitt, I would like to add a few cautions to Nick Neely's story (HCN, 11/8/10). Readers should not think it is simple.

The upper-right graphic shows that there were plans developed for the removal of the Gold Ray, which are not just necessary in emergency situations. Good! Those plans will be used to apply for and obtain permits for the demolition. They take time to develop, draw, evaluate, and get through technical and public review. They also have to consider peripheral questions, such as: Is there silt in the reservoir? Is the water polluted? If it washes downstream after the removal, will it kill the fish eggs in the watercourse or create other unwanted effects? If the dam is concrete, where do we dispose of that hazardous material? How do we rehabilitate all the affected land?

The removal of Elwha and Glines Canyon dams on the Elwha River in Washington may start in September 2011, after over two decades of contention, planning and design. Dam removal may be only for dummies who are willing to proceed carefully and patiently through the many technical, social and political pitfalls that will challenge them.  

Sandy Kunzer
Sierra Vista, Arizona

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