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4 Reasons Why It Makes Sense to UN-dam a River

4 Reasons Why It Makes Sense to UN-dam a River

There was a time – especially in the 19th and 20th centuries – when nothing seemed to make more sense to community planners than to dam up their local rivers. Because rivers flow constantly, they seemed to provide an endless source of energy. That energy was first tapped to power mills, but later, dams of all sizes were built to convert that flowing power into electricity.

Dams were also the technology that people turned to to control floods and manage water supplies.  By collecting river water and then releasing it on demand, it was possible to reduce flooding during storms or in the spring, when people living in mountainous regions had to contend with snow melt that would send rivers overflowing their banks.

But dams have had several significant downsides. For one, they make it difficult for fish like salmon and steelhead trout to reach their spawning grounds. Salmon famously swim upstream to spawn. But when they encounter dams that block their paths, their spawning runs come to a halt. Wildlife biologists have tried to build fish ladders to allow the animals to bypass the dam. Or, they trap the salmon and move them above the dam to continue their journey. Both approaches are expensive and have had mixed results.

Speaking of expense, many dams are so aged that the cost to repair them has become exorbitant. As other renewable energy sources like wind and solar gain ground, and as energy conservation gets increasingly more effective at reducing power demands, dams look less and less appealing.

Dams also flood scenic areas that often teem with wild animals and plants, or canyons notable for their archeological artifacts.

Finally, an unanticipated impact of building dams has been the effect they often have on the river’s ecology. Behind the dam, the water reservoirs intended to provide drinking water or a place for boating and swimming often have become silted up with mud, sand and gravel. Below the dam, the river beds are sorely lacking in these same materials, becoming little more than a muddy wasteland.

Dismantling a dam can take many forms. Some communities opt to literally blow theirs up. Others take a slower approach and unbuild a dam piece by piece or section by section. However it is done, by and large, scientists seem to be pleased with the results. Though the movement to remove dams is still relatively recent, research shows that native fish populations are bouncing back pretty quickly once a river is restored. So are the river beds and banks.

The moral of the story may be: Mother Nature knows best!

Related Posts

Setting Rivers Free: As Dams Are Torn Down, Nature is Quickly Recovering
10 Things You Should Know About Dams
This New Dam is a Death Sentence for the Last 85 Irrawaddy Dolphins

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Diane MacEachern

Diane MacEachern is a best-selling author, award-winning entrepreneur and mother of two with a Master of Science degree in Natural Resources and the Environment. Glamour magazine calls her an “eco hero” and she recently won the “Image of the Future Prize” from the World Communications Forum, but she’d rather tell you about the passive solar house she helped design and build way back when most people thought “green” was the color a building was painted, not how it was built. She founded because she’s passionate about inspiring consumers to shift their spending to greener products and services to protect themselves and their families while using their marketplace clout to get companies to clean up their act. Send her an email at


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5:06AM PST on Dec 11, 2014

Hydroelectric is probably the cheapest power you can get. If you are going to have dams it makes sense to put hydroelectric in them. But they are coming out with new hydroelectric generators that don't require huge dams.

12:16PM PDT on Aug 23, 2014

thank you

1:44AM PDT on Aug 23, 2014

petition signed

7:12PM PDT on Aug 22, 2014

It would be more fun to send in the Dambusters......thank you Barnes-Wallis and the Lancasters.

12:42PM PDT on Aug 22, 2014

Many thanks!

8:29AM PDT on Aug 21, 2014

There are upsides and downsides, but I feel that the more scientist and developers progress they also learn and I feel that the future is not all doom and gloom.

10:36AM PDT on Aug 20, 2014

We have better technology for generating power now. The Mississippi has a dam that blocks nothing. The River traffic goes around it.

12:07PM PDT on Aug 19, 2014

Thanks for sharing.. I agree on this article, but at the same time, scientists are developing ways to get GREEN energy out of a dam (next to solar panels and wind mills), and they have come up with some useful other benefits as well.

7:39AM PDT on Aug 19, 2014

Many people (scientists) will tell that the dams have many advantages : it can "work" during 100 years without costly maintenance, the output is 85% (much better that all the renewables) and many adjustements can be made to minimize the impact on the ecosystem...

6:20AM PDT on Aug 19, 2014

Thanks for sharing it!

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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