PerspectiveEcology

1000 dams down and counting

Science  01 May 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6234, pp. 496-497
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa9204

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Summary

Forty years ago, the demolition of large dams was mostly fiction, notably plotted in Edward Abbey's novel The Monkey Wrench Gang. Its 1975 publication roughly coincided with the end of large-dam construction in the United States. Since then, dams have been taken down in increasing numbers as they have filled with sediment, become unsafe or inefficient, or otherwise outlived their usefulness (1) (see the figure, panel A). Last year's removals of the 64-m-high Glines Canyon Dam and the 32-m-high Elwha Dam in northwestern Washington State were among the largest yet, releasing over 10 million cubic meters of stored sediment. Published studies conducted in conjunction with about 100 U.S. dam removals and at least 26 removals outside the United States are now providing detailed insights into how rivers respond (2, 3).