On Saturday, September 17, demolition started on two Elwha River dams – the largest dams to be taken down in our nation’s history. And this is just one example from a movement that is gaining momentum and traction across the country this year.
Communities are evaluating local dams that block free-flowing rivers, altering the natural ecosystems and species that rely on the flow. Dams kill fish and prevent migrating species like salmon from spawning, and they block nutrients and needed sediment from being transported downstream to coastal beaches and wetlands. These impacts ripple throughout the local environment, but also have huge social and economic consequences.
[Above: Fletcher Chouinard, Malinda Chouinard, Yvon Chouinard, Claire Chouinard and Matt Stoecker have a message for President Obama. Elwha River, Washington. Photo: Michael Hanson]
In the photo above, Patagonia founders, Yvon and Malinda Chouinard stand with their family near the site of the Elwha Dam – Yvon spoke at the Science Symposium two nights before and attended events commemorating the historic removal of this dam. The most poignant part of the Saturday celebration was when several dozen chinook salmon, who had come upstream from the ocean to the foot of the dam, swam anxiously below the concrete wall for all in attendance to see. They wanted to swim upstream; home. It was sad to see, but also great to know that the offspring of these salmon will have the chance to swim past the former dam in just a few short years.
Patagonia’s new “Mr. Obama, Tear down this wall!” dam removal t-shirt was just out and many folks at the event wanted one for their own dam removal dream. On the front of each of their shirts, the Chouinards used a black marker and wrote the name of other dams that have had a huge negative impact on the environment and communities, and need to be removed. Below are the names of the dams they called out at the ceremony and links to groups working to remove them.
- Lower Snake River Dams: Save Our Wild Salmon
- Hetch Hetchy: Restore Hetch Hetchy
- Matilija Dam: Matilija Coalition
- Englebright Dam: South Yuba River Citizens League
- Searsville Dam: Beyond Searsville Dam
But the Elwha isn't the only cause for celebration. The state of Washington continues to lead the way with another dam-removal effort. Next week, removal will begin on another major piece of river-stifling obsolescence, Condit Dam. On October 26th, Condit Dam's de-construction will begin with a mighty blast. Boaters, flyfishermen, and long-time community members are looking forward to a White Salmon River that once again flows freely. Documentary film-maker Andy Maser is tracking the story of Washington's effort in his beautiful "Year of the River" series.
Closer to home, the below artwork appeared on the obsolete Matilija Dam, just a few miles up the Ventura River from Patagonia Headquarters in California. Called an “environmental eyesore” by the local VC Star, it’s clear that the entire community wants to see this old, useless dam come down. And when it does, the steelhead are ready to return home.
[Matilija Dam, Ventura County. Photos: Anonymous]