As part of “Free Rivers: the state of dam removal in the U.S.”, American Rivers is spotlighting 25 projects to watch for 2022 and beyond.
Thousands of dams need to come down in the U.S., and there are opportunities for river restoration at every size and scale. American Rivers curated the following list of 25 dam removal projects to illustrate examples and highlight opportunities of the types of dam removal projects that exist across the country.
“The related crises of climate change, racial injustice, and biodiversity loss are further degrading our rivers and require us to accelerate river restoration through dam removals nationwide,” said Tom Kiernan, President of American Rivers.
“Congress, the administration, and the river restoration community need to significantly accelerate dam removal efforts nationwide if we are to prevent further declines in river health, prevent extinction of fish and wildlife, enhance communities, and safeguard the public from failing dams,” Kiernan said.
This “projects to watch” list is not exhaustive. The projects range from small dams with willing owners where river restoration will deliver important local benefits, to bigger dam removal efforts that are vital to saving species from extinction and addressing longstanding injustices across entire regions.
River: Little Sugar Creek
Dam: Lake Bella Vista Dam
Notes: Lake Bella Vista Dam is a dilapidated structure originally built in 1915 on Little Sugar Creek in Bentonville, AR as part of a vision to establish a recreational lake for a new resort. However, a 1921 flood nearly destroyed the dam and caused severe damage to several resort facilities. Further flooding in April 2021 breached the dam and washed out more of the structure. The City of Bentonville voted to remove the remains of the dam in September 2021.
Removal of the Lake Bella Vista Dam will remove any remaining hazards from the river and allow Little Sugar Creek to be restored.
Greg Van Horn
Friends of Little Sugar Creek
River: Matilija Creek
Dam: Matilija Dam
Notes: Built in 1947, the 168-foot tall Matilija Dam blocks a tributary of the Ventura River about 16 miles from the Pacific Ocean, completely blocking federally endangered Southern steelhead migration on the Ventura River and preventing passage to over 50 percent of the primary spawning.
Its removal will reconnect access to critical steelhead habitat and help with the recovery of steelhead in Southern California.
River: Brandywine River
Dam: Bancroft Mills Dam No. 4
Notes: Currently, there are 10 low-head dams littering 7.2 miles of the Brandywine River in Delaware. Many of these small dams are safety hazards and block access to spawning habitat for migratory fish.
Brandywine Shad 2020 is now working with the Delaware DNREC Division of Parks & Recreation and DuPont Co./City of Wilmington to obtain final permits, prepare final engineering plans/specifications, and retain contractors to remove three dams — including Bancroft Mills Dam — in 2022.
Dr. Jerry Kauffman
University of Delaware Water Resources Center
River: Ocklawaha River
Dam: Rodman Dam
Notes: In 1968, the natural connection of the Ocklawaha River to the St. Johns River was severed by the Rodman Dam, part of the Cross Florida Barge Canal that was never built. The dam flooded over 7,500 acres of forested wetlands, 20 springs and 16 miles of the Ocklawaha River. It also caused significant harm to threatened and endangered species, adjacent wetlands and forests, 12 miles of downstream river and wetlands and the St. Johns River. While the reservoir behind the dam, Rodman Pool, became a popular bass fishing destination, the pool has never functioned as a natural lake and must be artificially maintained and drained every three to four years to kill nuisance aquatic vegetation with herbicides.
Decades of federal and state agency science and recommendations, two environmental impact statements and more than 30 conservation organizations across the state support improving river health by breaching the earthen dam at the historic Ocklawaha River channel. This plan would restore river and spring flows and improve water quality and floodplain function
St Johns Riverkeeper