Across america, 69 river dams were eliminated from American rivers in 2020, opening up 624 miles of waterways to flow freely.

The work was undertaken with the guidance of American Rivers, a national non-profit which works to restore rivers to their natural state.

Over 90,000 dams block rivers across the U.S, although many may not think about this as a issue, the constant damming of American rivers over the decades has generated significant detriments to the environment.

Along with disrupting riverine ecosystems, inland marshes, and wetlands— that are important ecosystems for many birds—dammed rivers can also dry up downstream from where dams are built.

Damming has been happening for centuries in the U.S, as GNN reported this past year, piling up legacy sediment and choking rivers. But even more contemporary dams could be major hazards to rivers and the habitats they fragment whilst soaking up infrastructure tax dollars.

In 2020, dams were removed in South Carolina, Indiana, Washington, Montana, New Hampshire, and 18 other states —helping connect populations of salmon species like Chinook, coho, and pink, as well as steelhead, cutthroat, and bull trout, Bartram’s bass, greater redhorse, longnose dace, and northern brook lamprey—the latter three of which are threatened or endangered in the U.S.

The removal of one dam a mile upstream from its confluence with the St. Joseph River, the Elkhart River Dam, has helped re-open an integral migration route for more than 50 fish and other species moving from the St. Joseph.

Large contributions to the 2020 dam removal projects were made by Indian nations such as the Nooksack and Lummi.

“We’re salmon people. So the salmon is very sacred and very significant to the tribe,” said Merle Jefferson, Director of the Lummi Nation’s natural resources department, in a video.

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A 16-mile stretch of culturally sacred salmon habitat collapsed after a dam was built diverting the Middle Fork Nooksack River near Bellingham, Washington.

Removing that dam not only gave the salmon back their habitat, but the Lummi back their civilization. The Tulalip Tribes is another group that regained their ancestral salmon habitat, this time across the Pilchuck River in Washington state, where two distinct dams were completely removed .

In most cases, dams were built long ago to fortify industry, or to provide fresh water and irrigation. As technology and population densities have changed over time, a surprising number of dams are powering or helping nothing, and instead act as irrelevant tax leeches.

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Reopening rivers, as American Rivers has shown, also brings back some economic opportunity to communities by increasing recreational fishing and boating, in addition to replenishing local fish stocks which can be sold.

Featured image : David Seibold, CC license

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