Hydropower

Dams Should be Decommissioned in Canada

Two groups on Canada’s west coast have released a list of dams that should be decommissioned or dismantled.

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, CA, 2001-04-11 <SolarAccess.com> The Outdoor Recreation Council (ORC) and the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) say the province developed a large number of hydroelectric dams 50 years ago as a means to develop B.C.’s economy. Their report, ‘River Recovery – Restoring Rivers Through Dam Decommissioning,’ says attitudes have changed as people witness the serious environmental and social costs of dams. “All over the world, citizens and governments have begun to review their system of dams,” says the report. “Hundreds of dams have already been dismantled in an attempt to restore the health and vitality of rivers.” “Canada has so far made little progress on this issue,” it adds. The United States has more than 75,000 dams, and the “environmental consequences have been devastating for rivers,” as the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest shows. Dozens of dams built over the last 60 years have blocked the passage of fish, destroying salmon runs that once reached as far as Idaho. “The tide has begun to turn, and now the United States is a world leader in dam decommissioning,” it explains. “Grassroots organizations across the U.S. have launched campaigns to dismantle marginal dams in their communities and, to date, more than 300 small to medium-sized dams have been removed.” The Edwards Dam on the Kennebec River in Maine was removed in 1999, and the river is running free for the first time in 160 years. The federal government has become an active partner in dam decommissioning projects, and former Interior secretary Bruce Babbitt fully embraced decommissioning as a positive remedy for dams that have outlived their original purpose. In Europe, two dams on the Loire River in France were recently dismantled and both were relics of the 19th century, says the report. Their removal will help restore one of Europe’s most important spawning grounds for Atlantic salmon. In light of the growing public resistance to large dams around the globe, the World Bank and the World Conservation Union asked dam experts from around the world to form a World Commission on Dams, which was critical of many large hydro projects. “There are many dams in the province that have outlived their usefulness or provide only marginal benefit,” says ORC chairman Mark Angelo, who estimates that 10 percent of the dams in B.C. could meet this criterium. “The decommissioning of some of these structures would create some wonderful habitat restoration opportunities.” The report says one dam has eliminated formerly vibrant salmon runs while another abandoned facility has damaged salmon populations. “There is a need to identify those dams in the province that are no longer useful or provide only marginal benefit, and the decommissioning or removal of some of these structures will create some wonderful habitat restoration opportunities,” says the report. Emphasis for removal was placed on dams that are abandoned, that provide marginal benefits, that impede fish passage, that threaten public safety, and dams with reservoirs full of silt. “Dams don’t last forever,” warns the document. There are 2,500 dam structures in the province, of which 400 have been classified as high or very high hazard where loss of life or property may occur should the dam fail. The U.S. Association of Dam Safety Officials says the average life expectancy for a non-maintained dam is 50 years, and half the dams in B.C. are at this age or older. “While removal or decommissioning strategies have been, and will continue to be, a viable option for alleviating impacts and risks of dams, the BC Outdoor Recreation Council is not calling for the removal of all, or even most dams,” the Council stresses. “Rather, the goal is to ensure that the viability and need for certain dams is regularly reviewed and that every effort be made to restore our rivers and lessen dam related impacts on our waterways.”