NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Environ- mentalists Being Forced To Rethink The Issue Of Dams

March 19, 2001

For decades, it has been a point of faith among environmental lobbies that dams were ecologically evil. Previously committed to removing every dam in sight, some activists are coming to recognize that in instances involving some endangered species, removing dams can do more harm than good.

  • In central California, for example, the Lake Isabella Dam provides habitat in an otherwise hostile environment for the endangered bird called the southwestern willow flycatcher.
  • Some conservationists admit that dam removal can prove detrimental when the dam is holding back polluted sediments -- as happened when the Fort Edwards Dam on New York's Hudson River was taken down in 1973, releasing several tons of contaminated sediments toxic to fish and other aquatic and terrestrial species.
  • Rather than release PCB-contaminated sediment downstream, a dam in Massachusetts that had been slated for removal was repaired instead.
  • Dams also play a significant role in drier regions by creating year-around habitats for some water-bird species.

Dam opponents wish the structures had never been built in the first place. But they concede that it sometimes preferable to leave them in place rather that create havoc by removing them.

Source: "Not So Fast," Economist, March 3, 2001.


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