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Dam Removal in the West: A Prioritization Analysis for Optimal River Restoration and Conservation

Authors: Katie Guetz*,
Topics: Water Resources and Hydrology
Keywords: river restoration, dam removal, conservation, western U.S.
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

For centuries dams were built to power mills, produce energy, and to provide flood control, transportation, and irrigation. To that end, dams are socio-ecological structures that have been fundamental to human population growth and technical innovation. Today many of these structures are aging and are no longer used for their original intended purpose, and some pose a significant threat to both humans and ecosystems. Dams have significantly altered the connectivity and biodiversity of rivers as well as riverine physical attributes such as natural flow regimes, temperature, and sediment and nutrient transport. As a result, dam removal is an increasingly accepted strategy for river restoration across the U.S.; since the 1970s more than 1,400 dams have been removed. In the future, important decisions will have to be made regarding which dams are still ecologically and economically viable and which are best suited for removal and subsequent river restoration. Therefore, it is critical to prioritize dams for removal where rivers, freshwater resources, and ecosystem services will benefit most from restoration and conservation. To that end, this research uses geospatial and statistical analysis to evaluate which dams are most suitable for removal in the 11 western United States, and to take a closer look at watershed dynamics in which these dams are situated. Results reveal sites for river restoration to repair waterways that are no longer performing essential ecological and social functions; for example, mitigating floods, supporting fisheries and wildlife, providing clean drinking water, and removing excessive amounts of nutrients and sediments.

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