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Goodbye old dams, farewell. (On First Reading).

Since the 1800s, 75,000 dams have been constructed along rivers and streams in the United States to harness water for hydroelectricity, irrigation, drinking water, sawmills, recreational areas and flood control.

Many now are past their prime, pose hazards for residents and block migratory fish from their habitat.

To deal with the problems of these aging structures, the Maine Office of Environmental Affairs has begun an interagency dam removal program--River Restore--and is working with the federal government, conservationists, dam owners and local communities to tear them down.

One of the larger projects released a river and allowed it to run free for the first time in 162 years. The Edwards Mill Dam on the Kennebec River in Maine was breached in July 1999 and set a precedent for dam removal.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) refused to relicense the hydroelectric dam, determining that the barrier it posed to migratory fish outweighed the benefit it provided in generating electricity. FERC ordered removal of the dam, setting a national precedent and marking the first time in United States history that a dam was removed solely for environmental reasons.

Other states and federal agencies have begun campaigns to remove dams. The Marines helped blow up the Rains Mill Dam in North Carolina, opening spawning areas for several fish species along the Little River. The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources has been responsible for removing dams on the Neuse and Little rivers, opening up some 1,100 stream miles.

Wisconsin work crews removed the Linen Dam last year, allowing the Baraboo River to flow freely for 115 miles. That project was the last step in a six-year effort by state, local and federal agencies and natural resources groups to tear down four dams along the river.

For the last 12 years, Maryland either has removed dams or added bypasses for migratory fish to reach their spawning grounds. The multi-state Chesapeake Bay restoration agreement calls for reopening more than 1,350 miles of tributary rivers by 2003.

But dam removal is not without controversy. Dams along the Snake River in the Pacific Northwest are at the epicenter of conflict. Population growth in Boise and other northwestern cities has created an additional demand for municipal water. So water once stored for irrigation now needs to flow downstream for use by people. While environmentalists promote dam removal, local residents oppose it because of fire control and the recreational uses of the lakes created.

Idaho Representative Tom Trail believes there is a compromise that would both maintain the dams and improve the habitat for wild salmon. One such concept: a stream bypass around the dams that would be 'user friendly' for salmon. The estimated cost for an engineered stream is about $1 million per mile, compared with the more than $3 billion already spent to date on salmon recovery, Trail says.
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Publication:State Legislatures
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2002
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