Explosive Boom Signals End Of Dam, Rebirth Of River


By Rebecca R. Wodder, President, American Rivers. It isn't every day that you get to see the rebirth of a river. Think of it as destruction in the name of creation: With an explosive boom and huge plumes of dust, demolition of Oregon's 95-year old Marmot Dam began on July 24. It's the beginning of a landmark environmental restoration project on the Sandy River — the "backyard river" of Portland, Oregon.

Local community members cheered as the blast was detonated. As the dust cleared the crowd hurried toward the dam to see the cracked concrete, piles of rubble and tangles of re-bar. Excavators and dump trucks rumbled on to the dam to begin scooping away the concrete. Demolition will continue over the next several weeks and the Sandy River will be free-flowing some time this fall.The removal of 47-foot tall Marmot Dam represents a nationwide shift in how people view rivers. It used to be that a dammed river — shackled and controlled by industry -- was a symbol of "progress".

And it is true that Marmot Dam served a valuable purpose over the years. But now, we are entering a new era where people are increasingly viewing clean, healthy, free-flowing rivers as valuable community assets.

On the undammed Sandy, salmon and steelhead will soon have renewed access to over 100 miles of their historic spawning grounds. A restored river will mean higher quality of life, better fishing and boating, and a boost for local businesses.

Don Mench from the nearby town of Zig Zag said that each adult salmon that swims up the Sandy River brings in $500 of economic activity — fishermen and their friends and families spending money in fly shops, grocery stores, hotels, restaurants and gas stations. (Watch Don and others in our short film about dam removal)

Hydropower dams provide power to the Pacific Northwest, but in some cases, that benefit is outweighed by the damage the dams do to rivers . On the Sandy, Marmot Dam blocked salmon and steelhead runs, changed the river's flows, and altered the whole web of life on the river.

When it did the math, dam owner Portland General Electric (PGE) realized that bringing Marmot Dam and the rest of the Bull Run hydroelectric project up to modern standards would be too costly. For PGE, removing Marmot Dam is a business decision.

The Sandy River is a great example of how, when a dam's costs outweigh its benefits, dam removal is the right thing to do for ratepayers, local communities as well as fish and wildlife.

PGE is replacing the power lost from Marmot Dam with wind power. So this is also a great example of how we can fight global warming, embrace clean energy and pass on healthy rivers to our children and grandchildren.

I am proud that my organization, American Rivers, lead a coalition of organizations in negotiations with PGE that lead to the historic Marmot Dam removal agreement .

While we take a moment to celebrate -- there were many champagne corks popping as the concrete crumbled on Marmot Dam -- we know we have more work to do. There are other harmful, outdated dams that need to be torn down — Condit Dam on the White Salmon River (one of America's Most Endangered Rivers for 2007), two dams on the Elwha River , and dams on the Klamath and lower Snake rivers.

Hopefully the restoration of the Sandy River will inspire people and give renewed momentum to these other river restoration efforts.
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American Rivers is the only national organization standing up for healthy rivers so our communities can thrive. American Rivers has more than 65,000 supporters nationwide, with offices in Washington, DC and the Mid-Atlantic, Northeast, Midwest, Southeast, California and Northwest regions.

Image credits:: Blast Rocks Marmot Dam — Photo PG&E; Sandy as it should be — Photo Tom O'Keefe;

Tags: Oregon | Portland | Rivers