Dam Removal in the American West

The great cities of the American southwest would not exist if it weren’t for dams. Without the massive federal and state projects to build dams, pumping stations, and aqueducts (most of them completed 50 to 100 years ago), more than 60 million Americans would be living somewhere else. Without dams to capture and store millions of acre-feet of rainfall every year, and aqueducts to transport that water to thirsty metropolitan customers, the land these cities sit upon would be uninhabitable desert.

Such is the conundrum facing environmentalists that want to set these rivers free. Without dams, crops wither and people die of thirst. Without dams, devastating floods would tear through towns and cities every time there’s a big storm. Without hydroelectric power from dams, 18 percent of the in-state generated electricity Californians consume would be gone. You can’t just rip them all out. You would destroy a civilization.

But because of dams, fish habitat is lost, and aquatic species can become endangered or go extinct. Because of dams, precious sediment is prevented from running downstream to nurture estuaries and restore beaches. Because of dams, the natural cycle of rivers is disrupted: the cleansing pulse of spring that calls the migratory salmon to come back from the ocean, the dry trickles of summer when these anadromous species fight their way upstream to the cool and perennial headwaters to spawn, the next season’s rains that return newborn fingerlings to […] Read More