March 3, 2022 by Tom Kiernan
The world’s largest dam removal effort is about to start subsequent yr on the Klamath River, a waterway that winds greater than 250 miles from southern Oregon by way of Northern California, earlier than emptying into the Pacific Ocean. 4 outdated hydropower dams on the Klamath have decimated salmon runs and rendered the river and its reservoirs poisonous.
This soon-to-be success is a results of persistent advocacy and easy economics. The Yurok, Karuk, Hoopa Valley, Klamath, and different Indigenous tribes within the area have advocated for the dams’ elimination for many years. And the previous proprietor of the dams, Berkshire Hathaway’s PacifiCorp, couldn’t escape the truth that bringing the dams as much as fashionable requirements simply didn’t pencil out. The nominal quantity of energy the dams have been producing shall be offset with new, renewable power sources and effectivity enhancements, in order to not produce any important enhance in greenhouse gasoline emissions.
The Klamath dam elimination mission is a considerable step ahead in defending our nation’s rivers — our life help system of contemporary, clear water. This free-flowing stretch of the Klamath River will better support the tribes and native communities that depend on native salmon populations, that are being even additional threatened by rising temperatures. Nonetheless, too many different rivers within the U.S. stay in disaster. Centuries of air pollution, industrialization, and disruptions by dams have sapped them of their vitality and resilience. Solely a fraction of the three million miles of rivers within the U.S. is allowed to circulation naturally. A whole lot of hundreds of dams and different boundaries have a chokehold on rivers nationwide.
To make certain, many dams present vital advantages, from hydropower manufacturing to flood safety to the water provide. However many dams have outlived their usefulness, are aging, at risk of failure, and now not present advantages to society. And dams could cause important hurt. They create stagnant reservoirs that launch methane, a greenhouse gasoline 80 instances stronger than carbon dioxide. The constructions also can disrupt the migration of fish and wildlife and destroy aquatic habitats; they’ve been and proceed to be a number one reason for extinction for freshwater fish. Seven dams on the Coosa River in Alabama have induced practically 40 freshwater species to go extinct — making it certainly one of North America’s worst mass extinctions on record. Additionally, the as soon as prolific home East Coast populations of Atlantic salmon have been practically destroyed, partly due to dams that block entry to spawning grounds. On the West Coast, 29 percent of Pacific Northwest and California salmon populations are actually extinct and one-third of these remaining are listed as threatened or endangered beneath the Endangered Species Act.
The record goes on. Dams can hurt Indigenous cultural values and lifeways by decimating conventional meals and fisheries, in addition to inundating sacred websites. They affect important water high quality measures, together with temperature and oxygen ranges. Getting old dams can enhance dangers to public security as storms and floods enhance with local weather change. Certainly, the power from dangerous hydropower dams like these on the Klamath can’t really be thought-about clear or inexperienced, given their greenhouse emissions and the devastation they trigger to salmon and water high quality.
Luckily, a motion is underway to take away dams which have outlived their usefulness and to revive rivers to wholesome, free-flowing situations. Greater than 1,900 dams have been removed nationwide because the early 1900s, with greater than 800 dams eliminated within the final 10 years and greater than 50 eliminated final yr alone. President Biden just lately signed the Infrastructure Funding and Jobs Act, which includes $2.4 billion for the elimination, retrofitting, and rehabilitation of dams. It’s notable that this funding was included in an infrastructure invoice — an acknowledgment that whereas dams are an apparent type of infrastructure, free-flowing rivers are vital infrastructure, too.
That is an encouraging first step, however lawmakers shouldn’t cease there. Congress ought to help the just lately launched twenty first Century Dams Act, which, if signed into legislation, would supply new funding and coordination to authorities and group stakeholders to take away dams, with proprietor consent. The invoice would moreover authorize funding for retrofits to enhance security and hydropower productiveness. Congress and the Biden administration must also heed the June 2021 resolution of the Nationwide Congress of American Indians, calling for the elimination of 4 federal dams on the Pacific Northwest’s decrease Snake River to get better endangered salmon runs. The decision famous that “the destiny of many Tribal Nations and the Northwest salmon are intertwined.”
Eradicating dams was as soon as thought-about a radical thought. Now, it’s embraced as a necessary technique for revitalizing our infrastructure and financial system, and for addressing the interconnected challenges of local weather change, injustice, and biodiversity loss. At a time when rivers throughout the globe are spiraling into disaster, the U.S. should proceed to be a frontrunner in defending and restoring them. Once we put money into clear, free-flowing rivers, we put money into our collective well-being and our future.
Tom Kiernan is President and CEO of American Rivers, a nonprofit river conservation group.