Someone in the PR department at the NRDC or a sister organization is earning their keep…
From the NY Times, July 3:
Ten years have gone by since a modest but important moment in American environmental history: the dismantling of the 917-foot-wide Edwards Dam on Maine’s Kennebec River.
The Edwards Dam was the first privately owned hydroelectric dam torn down for environmental reasons (and against the owner’s wishes) by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Bruce Babbitt, the interior secretary at the time, showed up at the demolition ceremony to promote what had become a personal crusade against obsolete dams. The publicity generated a national discussion about dams and the potential environmental benefits – to water quality and fish species – of removing them.
It certainly helped the Kennebec and its fish, and dams have been falling ever since. According to American Rivers, an advocacy group and a major player in the Edwards Dam campaign, about 430 outdated dams (some of them small hydropower dams like Edwards) have been removed with both public and private funding. In one case, the removal of a small, 50-foot dam on Oregon’s Sandy River was paid for entirely by the electric utility that owned it in order to improve salmon runs.
More lies ahead. Three dams that have severely damaged salmon runs in Washington State are scheduled to come down in 2011. A tentative agreement has been reached among farmers, native tribes and a power company to remove dams on California’s Klamath River, the site of a huge fish kill several years ago attributed mainly to low water flows caused by dams.
From the LA Times, July 6:
Politicians and stakeholders have steadfastly resisted the painful solution of dam removal while hoping for a miracle. That hope turned out to be a one-way road on a dead-end street, and in many respects they’re now blaming the court for their current predicament. With few exceptions, the region’s politicians, past and current, have been challenging the recommendations of scientists (including dam removal and increasing the spills over the dams) for more than a decade. Former Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) famously vowed to chain himself to a dam rather than surrender, a prospect relished by many conservation groups.
Throughout this stalemate, fish counts have continued to fall, and the underlying science is clear: In river after river where dams have been removed, native fish populations have rebounded and thrived. As the government’s former chief aquatic biologist, Don Chapman, concluded, dam removal is the most effective strategy for saving endangered native fish stocks from extinction.
This was the conclusion reached by the Idaho Statesman newspaper back in 1997 after it conducted a yearlong study of the Snake River dams. The paper reported that the economic benefits of a healthy fishery — and the resultant tens of thousands of jobs — would swamp the benefits of leaving the dams in place.
Dozens of reports by natural resources economists have agreed. Among other things, they describe the dams as economic sinkholes, which produce less than 3% of the region’s power, do nothing for flood control, irrigate only a handful of big farms and subsidize transportation costs (at the expense of taxpayers and salmon) for wheat farmers in Idaho and eastern Washington.
Now preserving fish populations is damn important (sorry) and a good thing to be sure. And I have no doubt that the Army Corps of Engineers never met a river it didn;t want to damn. But hydropower is 3.4% of national energy production (Excel), and 63% of our renewable energy production. I’d love to know what percent of the national hydropower budget we’re talking about taking offline here…