Dam It All Dam It All
Dam It All
The majority of dams that have been removed recently-like the Edwards-have been torn down in the name of fish.The Edwards marks the turning point in America's attitude toward dams. Of the 900 dams that have ever been removed from American rivers, half have come down in the last 10 years. There have always been those who railed against them-fishermen, for example, and environmentalists-but most of the dams removed prior to the 1990s were breached in the interest of public safety, sacrificed to prevent another flood like the one in 1889 when a Johnstown, Pennsylvania, dam was breached, killing 2,200 people. The majority removed recently, like the Edwards, have been torn down in the name of fish.Dams kill fish. They keep species like salmon, shad, alewife, and sturgeon from returning to spawning grounds upstream. They trap sediment and silt in the gravel riverbeds, slow down currents, raise river temperatures, and change the mix of gases in the water. Before the Edwards, as many as 100,000 Atlantic salmon surged upriver past Augusta each year. By the 1990s, salmon in the Kennebec numbered a few dozen.
Like a lot of things in the natural world, rivers tend to fix themselves once humans get out of their wayAfter presiding over the case for over a decade, a federal judge recently hinted that he had grown tired of government delays. This May, for the first time, he explicitly put breaching on the table if fish recovery by other means is less than swift. If the decision to breach the Edwards was a milestone, it was a relatively cheap and painless one, breaking little but precedent. The next 10 years will tell how far that precedent will go.On the other side of the Kennebec River, where the Edwards Mill used to be, is a new public park with a long, freshly paved parking lot. On weekends in the summer, there's a farmer's market, but most of the time it's deserted, and you can climb down around the chain-link fence and touch what's left of a dam: twisted rebar sticking out of the concrete, a severed I-beam pointing off toward the opposite shore.
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