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51 Dams Removed to Restore Rivers in 2013

Stearns Dam Removal - Crooked River OR - Denise Hoffert-Hay American Rivers
The Stearns Dam is removed from Crooked River, Oregon. Photo: Denise Hoffert-Hay, American Rivers

Communities in 18 states, working in partnership with non-profit organizations and state and federal agencies, removed 51 dams in 2013. Outdated or unsafe dams came out of rivers in Alabama, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, restoring more than 500 miles of streams for the benefit of fish, wildlife, and people.

Pennsylvania topped the list for the eleventh year in a row. The top three states for river restoration through dam removal in 2013 are:

1. Pennsylvania – 12 dams removed

2. Oregon – 8 dams removed

3. New Jersey – 4 dams removed

Maine, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Vermont all had three dam removals in 2013.

American Rivers will add the information on these 51 dam removals to its database of nearly 1,150 dams that have been removed across the country since 1912. Most of those dams (nearly 850) were removed in the past 20 years. Dam removal can have many benefits for communities including restoring river health and clean water, revitalizing fish and wildlife, improving public safety and recreation, and enhancing local economies.

See the full list at www.AmericanRivers.org/2013DamRemovals.

To accompany the 2013 list, American Rivers launched an interactive map that includes all known dam removals in the United States as far back as 1936. The map features the name of the dam and river, location, year the dam was removed, and a description. Explore the map at www.AmericanRivers.org/DamRemovalsMap.

Highlights of dam removal and river restoration efforts in 2013 include:

Whittenton Dam, Mill River, Massachusetts – The Whittenton Dam was the second in a series of three dam removals from the Mill River in Taunton, MA. Built in 1832, this 8-foot high, 100-foot wide, concrete dam originally provided power for textile and other mills. Concerns over dam owner liability, public safety, and fish passage prompted its removal. A near failure in 2005 that would have caused catastrophic flooding resulted in the evacuation of 2,000 people from downtown Taunton. The issues at the dam provided the catalyst for improved dam safety regulations in Massachusetts. This successful project restored a mile of river and floodplain habitat for fish and wildlife. American Rivers and project partners are completing the designs to remove the third dam in the coming year. Together with a new fish ladder at the fourth upstream dam, this restoration effort will open access to important spawning habitat for river herring, American eel and sea lamprey.

Lassiter Mill Dam, Uwharrie River, North Carolina – Lassiter Mill Dam, a 12-foot high, 200-foot long structure on the Uwharrie River in Randolph County, North Carolina, was removed in August 2013. American Rivers, along with the Piedmont Conservation Council, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the landowners worked to restore a historic American shad run as well as habitat for other aquatic life, including freshwater mussels and native fish. The dam removal allowed access to an additional 14.6 miles of mainstem habitat and a total of 189 reconnected river miles including tributaries. This was the third dam removal in this watershed. American Rivers and partners will work toward removal of a fourth dam in the coming years.

Stearns Dam, Crooked River, Prineville, Oregon – The six-foot tall, 150-foot wide Stearns Dam was removed from the Crooked River to open up 12 miles of habitat for Chinook salmon and Middle Columbia steelhead.

Stearns Dam was a rock- and log-filled structure covered with concrete. A pioneering family led by patriarch Sidney Stearns constructed the dam in 1911. The family used the structure to divert water from the Crooked River onto their ranch lands for irrigation. The aging dam had outlived its useful purpose and was no longer used to divert irrigation flows, making it a candidate for removal.

The section of the river upstream from this dam is some of the river’s best habitat and includes the beginning stretch of the Wild and Scenic portion of the Crooked River. The Crooked River is the Deschutes River’s largest tributary and the Stearns Dam removal will benefit the fish reintroduction program underway in the larger Deschutes Basin. This project to restore fish passage and river health to the Crooked River was in development for 10 years. The project was funded in part by a national partnership between American Rivers and the NOAA Restoration Center. The local Crooked River Watershed Council and landowner, Quail Valley Ranch, were key project collaborators.