A New Perspective in
Lake and Pond Management

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Why are dams getting removed and how will this change our rivers?

From: US Fish and Wildlife Service

Written By

Portrait of Gigi Otten in a cave with a bat flying by

Gigi Otten

Of the nearly 100,000 dams blocking our nation’s rivers, the majority are nearly invisible. Underneath their murky waters, they halt the free flow and exchange of fish, nutrients and sediments, and they pose a deadly risk to recreationists and families across the country. We at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are dedicated to removing those dams that are unsafe, negatively impact the environment and serve no modern-day purpose. Read on to learn what dams do, what targets a dam for removal and who may be affected by their removal.

What exactly is the function of a dam?

The dams we are most familiar with are large structures built with specific purposes in mind such as to generate power, reduce flooding, move ships and even contain toxic waste. Massively engineered structures, like the Hoover Dam, provide drinking and irrigation water to millions of people. With climate and precipitation patterns becoming increasingly erratic, these dams save lives. But not all dams are were made with equal forethought or planning. Without continued maintenance, most dams in the nation are now failing – these are the dams we need to address.

The average dam in the U.S. is 57 years old and ready for retirement. The vast majority are small, locally or privately owned and were originally built to control water flow, mill grains, transport lumber or create a reliable fishing spot. Thousands of these dams have begun to degrade inside of our rivers, harming aquatic, terrestrial and human life. Though they are championed as a source of renewable energy, less than 3% of dams in the U.S. are still used to generate energy. Nowadays, the main purpose of most dams is to create open water for recreation activities like fishing and swimming.

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