Dams Out: CalTrout’s Top 5




Foreword By Ted Grantham
Professor of Cooperative Extension, UC Berkeley, PPIC-CalTrout Ecosystem Fellow (2019-2020)

"California has more than 1,400 large dams and tens of thousands of smaller impoundments on its rivers and streams. These dams have created barriers to fish movement, altered natural seasonal flow patterns in rivers, and are a primary cause of native fish population declines in the state. While dams will continue to play an essential role in managing water in California, many aging dams have outlived their functional lifespan. These include dams with sediment-filled reservoirs, those with non-functional hydropower facilities, and those at risk of failure, threatening downstream communities and ecosystems. The removal of such dams has the potential to bring substantial environmental benefits, while also supporting the economic and recreational activities associated with free-flowing rivers. However, the removal of dams is time consuming, expensive, and can be politically charged. That is why a science-based approach for prioritizing dams for removal is critical.

In the 2022 Top 5 Dams Out report, CalTrout has identified 5 dams that are ripe for removal. The selection of these dams was informed by the review of past scientific studies, understanding of their impact on salmon and steelhead, awareness of their regulatory context, and sustained engagement with the communities in which of the dams are located. By strategically pursuing opportunities for dam removal where economic, social, and environmental interests strongly align, CalTrout offers a model for restoring the health of the state’s rivers for the benefit of fish and people."



Cover Photo: Kyle Schwartz

Why Dams Out?

California Trout is advocating for the removal of obsolete dams in order to forward our mission of ensuring healthy watersheds and resilient wild fish for a better California.

Dams can disrupt watershed health, harm fish populations, create public safety concerns, and degrade surrounding ecosystems which hold cultural importance for many.


Photo: Mike Wier


A New Era of Dams

The 1930s to the 1960s was an era of large-scale hydroelectric dam building across the United States.

The construction of these dams was important for electricity production and flood control, but today, many have outlived their useful lifespans. We have now entered a new era in which we must reevaluate the utility of aging infrastructure — and take down those dams that are no longer useful or safe.  

Dam removal is far from unprecedented. Between 1912 and 2020, 1797 dams were removed nationwide. In 2011, the giant Ellwha River dams in Washington State came down. In 2015, the 106-foot-tall San Clemente Dam on the Carmel River was removed. Soon, the Klamath Dams are slated to follow. The removal of these dams, and others that have aged beyond usefulness, can have tremendous benefits for fish populations and watershed health.  

Photo: Mike Wier


Water supply and storage in California are crucial today in the face of extreme drought and widespread wildfires. However, maintaining a large number of dams and their subsequent reservoirs is not always the best option.

In some California watersheds, when large dams were built following the construction of smaller dams, this created a redundancy: more storage space than water exists in these watersheds. In this situation, more water is lost to evaporation from the reservoir surfaces than would be lost if the water storage were concentrated to fewer reservoirs. This means that, for some watersheds, the most effective way to supply and store water is to decommission some of those dams.

Instead of focusing solely on dam reservoirs,  there are many other options for water storage . Recycling water, including treated sewage, graywater, or stormwater can help meet non-potable needs such as irrigation and fire protection. Groundwater recharge is another water supply solution. 

Many dams in California do provide benefits to Californians including flood control, water supply, and hydroelectric power. However, the dams included in this report have been carefully selected as dams that have outlived their functional lifespans.

The cost of leaving these dams in place far outweighs the ecosystem and economic benefits of removal. Read on to learn about California Trout's Top 5 Dams Out.



California Trout's Top 5 Dams Out:

Klamath Dams


Scott Dam


Matilija Dam


Rindge Dam


Battle Creek Dams


Interact with the map by clicking on a black dot, representing a dam, and then click "Zoom to".




A new era of dam removal is ongoing. Looking to the success of other dam removals, CalTrout is excited for a future in which these five dams no longer disrupt watersheds and when rivers are free flowing once more.

To learn more about our top 5 dams, check out our Dams Out StoryMap.

To view our full Dams Out campaign, stay tuned for the release of our Top 5 California DAMS OUT Report. Support dam removal in California by donating to CalTrout's Reconnect Habitat Initiative today.

Photo Credit: Michael Marois

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