I should have written 500 down and 74,500 to go

Recently I posted an entry entitled Dam Demolition Derby: three down, 74,997 to go. Actually, in recent years 500 dams have been torn down in the U.S., or in engineering parlance, they’ve been decommissioned. The term sounds funny to me in this context—like we’re thanking the dams for their many years of service, giving them pensions, and wishing them well in future waterflow-hindering endeavors. But decommissioning dams means obliterating them with dynamite and bulldozers. (If you’re in a bar, and someone says he’s going to decommission your ass, head for the door or—if you’re in a decommissioning frame of mind yourself—just say, “Yeah? You and whose Army Corps of Engineers?”)

In this article, Bruce Babbitt, the former governor of Arizona and former secretary of the interior under Bill Clinton, makes a strong case for removing obsolete dams that choke so much of America’s waterways. He even talks about a little decommissioning he took part in himself—taking a sledgehammer to the tiny Quaker Neck Dam on the Neuse River in North Carolina and thereby clearing the way for shad to get to the 900 miles of spawning waters that the dam had denied them.

From what I’ve learned to date, communities opting for destroying their dams are not motivated by environmental concerns, but by economics: many of these dams serve no purpose and are badly in need of repair, and the cost of fixing them far exceeds that of tearing them down. Throw in the additional benefits of a revitalized river, replete with life and natural beauty, as well as new opportunities for recreation, and we’re looking at the possibility of a veritable orgy of future acts of decommission. Here is an article with a list of successful dam removal projects.

As the video below shows, the motivation behind at least one dam’s removal are a desire to restore what had been lost. The destruction of the Elwha dam will restore the Elwha river, a once mighty flow that supported the spawning of five species of salmon.


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