Dam Removal a Good Idea for Several Reasons
Morgantown Dominion Post
26 August 2013
MANY YEARS AGO, I sat in a seminar given by a fellow faculty
member, Dr. Steve Hollenhorst, in the Division of Forestry and
Steve taught in the Recreation program and he was an exceptional
professor. When he mentioned that we would soon see many dams
removed in this country, I perked up. I didn’t believe it, but I
listened. Turns out that Steve was far more astute in his
assessment of that situation than I was.
Obviously, dams can do good things for society, and there are
thousands of them across the country and around the world.
Consider our own Cheat Lake dam. It provides a beautiful setting
for homes, and thousands of boaters and fishermen enjoy the
benefits as well. And we can’t forget the original purpose: It
Dams are built for various reasons: Flood control, power, water
supplies, recreation and others. Many were built in the early
1900s, and many have outlived their usefulness. There are
problems. One major problem with dams along the Atlantic and
Pacific coasts is that they block fish spawning runs. For example,
in both the Northwest and Northeast, salmon populations have
plummeted because of dams. As a result, many dams in those regions
Another problem with old dams is, sediments accumulate behind
them. We see that in Cheat Lake, and it is a major problem with
many old dams. They fill with debris and sediment and eventually
their original purpose is lost.
Safety issues can also be a problem with old, obsolete dams.
No question that removing big dams is expensive, but taking a
fish-dead river and bringing back salmon often proves to make dam
removal economically viable. The fish are worth millions to a
community. Thus, in 2012, 62 dams in 19 states were removed.
Pennsylvania removed 13 dams, Massachusetts 11 and Oregon nine.
This year, the Veazie Dam was removed from the Penebscot River in
Maine. Other dams on that river are scheduled to go, and when they
do, that will open up more than 1,000 miles of habitat for
Atlantic salmon and many other species of native fish that run
from the ocean to breed in fresh water. In the 1800s, more than
50,000 Atlantic salmon ran up the Penobscot, and when the dams are
gone, they will return.
One small dam was removed on the Potomac near Cumberland, Md., in
2007 by Pittsburgh Plate Glass. That opened up five miles of river
to trout. In January, a federal grant was awarded to study removal
of another Potomac River dam at Cumberland. They will test for
contaminants in the sediment that might be released by the
demolition. No decision on removal has been made.
North Carolina is using mitigation banking as an incentive to
remove dams. Developers who might hurt a stream must improve or
restore one somewhere else in order to allow them to develop. A
private investor buys a dam, removes it and gets mitigation
credits allowing development. Such projects improve the ecology
and economics of an entire area. It’s an innovative approach, and
it apparently works to the benefit of communities and stream and
Dams serve useful purposes, but some are outdated and obsolete.
Others are unsafe. And others block fish spawning and economic
benefits to an area. That is why Steve Hollenhorst was right when
he predicted dam removals. In the past 20 years, more than 800
dams have been removed in the United States, and the effort will
DR. DAVE SAMUEL is a retired wildlife professor and writes the
“Know Hunting” column for Bowhunter magazine. Visit his website,