How Hard Is Dam Removal?

The Klamath River Dam Removal issue is reaching a critical juncture and things seem to be happening quickly, yet as Jeffrey F. Mount of U.C. Davis notes on the California Water Blog, even when support is unambiguous, it takes a long time to remove a dam.

The Elwha River Dams are a shining example; despite support from four presidents and most of the interested political figures, it still took a quarter century to bring the Elwha River dams down (from the California Water Blog):

[ED: Elwha River] Dam removal and river restoration should have been easy. The little electricity generated will be replaced by a cheaper alternative. The removal costs are modest, and the risks from sediment released are manageable. Restoration is likely to occur quickly, with significant improvements in salmon populations and fisheries that exceed the value of the electricity. What was so striking about this effort was the broad level of support. The last four US Presidents and their many agencies have backed this project (although the Gingrich Congress and Senator Slade Gorton held it hostage in the 1990’s). Washington’s governors, senators and congressmen supported the project. The tribes, an array of conservation groups, the Park, Port Angeles, and the dam owners were all on board a long time ago.

Yet with all that support and those benefits it still took 25 years of hard work to begin the physical process of dam removal.

The lesson? Conservation groups need to stay committed and focused over the long haul, or even slam-dunk dam removal projects can get away from them.