Dam Removal

Take Action

Do you have a dam in your town or city? Contact your representative to find out its status.

Here is an example of a letter from INHCC to the Town of Durham related to the Mill Pond Dam.

Swimming Upstream: Indigenous Environmental Justice for Our Waterways

Mill Pond Dam

*UPDATE* On Tuesday, March 8th, 2022, 74% of voters in Durham, NH voted to remove the dam, upholding a previous decision by the Town Council that had been challenged. The vote was 1,706 to 596. Town officials reported 2,365 people voted in the election, more than double the average turnout of a little less than 1,100 for town elections.

From our blog archives…

Letter from The Nature Conservancy, the Conservation Law Foundation, and the Piscataqua Region Estuaries Partnership in support of the removal of the Mill Pond Dam

Town of Durham: Supporting Documents related to Mill Pond Park and Oyster River Dam
Includes 2020 Feasibility Study, aerial photos and maps, Town Council communications, etc.
Weston & Sampson Mill Pond Study (May 2020)

Mill Pond Dam: A Community Discussion (2021 video by Ellen Ervin for the Explorations in Science and Math video series)

Restoring Our Water and Food Ways of N’dakinna (Our Homelands) (2021 video by Ellen Ervin)

News Coverage

Durham votes to remove Mill Pond dam with 74% of vote and large turnout (March 8 2022)
Removing Mill Pond Dam best for Durham and the Great Bay Estuary (March 7 2022)
Durham: A community divided by a derelict dam (March 3 2022)
Durham demonstrators try to raise awareness of upcoming vote on Mill Pond dam removal (February 14 2022)
Durham demonstrators urge voters to remove Oyster River dam. What they want voters to know (February 14 2022)
Your View: Removing the Mill Pond Dam in Durham is the right decision for our environment (September 27 2021)
Durham residents split on removing or saving Oyster River Dam (January 18 2021)
Two choices for fate of Durham’s historic Oyster River Dam (November 23 2020)
Durham to consider removing historic Mill Pond dam (June 11 2020)
Dozens of New England dams a safety risk, in need of repair (November 10 2019)
Durham seeks contractors for dam removal study (April 12 2019)
Durham cool to effort to save dam (February 22 2019)
Durham shifts focus to Mill Pond Dam removal (January 21 2019)
Mill Pond Dam’s future in flux (September 24 2018)
Councilor: ‘Writing on the wall’ for Mill Pond Dam (June 21 2018)
Our View: No easy solution for Mill Pond, dam (July 12 2017)
No easy answers for Durham’s Mill Pond upgrades (July 3 2017)

Local and Regional Dam Removal Successes

Exeter River (Great Dam, Exeter NH) 
Great Dam Removal Project (Town of Exeter)
Exeter Removes Great Dam (Conservation Law Foundation)
Documentary on the Exeter Dam (Exeter Historical Society)
Dam Removal and Habitat Restoration on the Exeter/Squamscott River, New Hampshire (Atlantic Coastal Fish Habitat Partnership)

Penobscot River
Penobscot River Restoration Project (Natural Resources Council of Maine)
Restoring the Penobscot River (The Nature Conservancy)

Bellamy River (Sawyer Mills Dams, Dover NH)
A River’s Freedom (The Nature Conservancy)
Sawyer Mills dams being removed from Bellamy River (September 17 2018)

Kennebec River (Edwards Dam)
Twenty years of dam removal successes – and what’s up next (American Rivers)
How Removing One Maine Dam 20 Years Ago Changed Everything (The Revelator)
River Rebirth: Removing Edwards Dam on Maine’s Kennebec River (National Geographic)
Edwards Dam and Kennebec River Restoration (Natural Resources Council of Maine)

Gale River (White Mountains NH)
Partners celebrate restoration of New Hampshire’s Gale River (American Rivers)

Massachusetts (Nissitisit River, Rattlesnake Brook, Shawsheen River, Cotley River, Housatonic River West Branch, Ipswich River)
River Run – A Story of Dam Removal in Massachusetts (MA Division of Ecological Restoration film series)

Connecticut River
Reconnecting Habitat for Fish (Connecticut River Conservancy)

State and Regional Resources

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: “Dam Removals in New Hampshire Benefit Public Safety, Fish Migration

New England Sustainability Consortium: The Future of Dams Project
Research Briefs
Dams Geodatabase
Publications List

The Nature Conservancy
Unleashing Rivers”: feature article on dam removal in New England
Removing Barriers to River Health”: provides overview of the Nature Conservancy’s work restoring river ecosystems through dam removal

New Hampshire Public Radio Dams Coverage

New Hampshire River Restoration Task Force

Dam Removal in the United States

Resources from American Rivers:
American Rivers is a national nonprofit organization, founded in 1973, that advocates for healthy rivers
Map of U.S. Dams Removed Since 1912
How Dams Damage Rivers
River Restoration Success Stories
River Restoration Tools and Resources

University of California Clearinghouse for Dam Removal Information:
A searchable online repository for documents about proposed and completed dam removal projects across the country

United States National Inventory of Dams

Indigenous Dam Removal Movement

National Museum of the American Indian teaching resource on dam removal (part of Native Knowledge 360˚ project)

Klamath River
Karuk Tribe press page: includes documents and statements regarding dam removal
Un-Dam the Klamath Wikipedia page
Dams are threatening California salmon and a Native tribe’s culture (VICE News video)
Doctor’s Orders: Undam the Klamath (High Country News)
Klamath Tribes: No more delays on dam removal
Klamath Dam Removal Historic Result of Local Activism (LA Progressive) 

Elwha River
Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe River Restoration Department
On the Elwha, a New Life When the Dam Breaks (Smithsonian Magazine)
World’s Largest Dam Removal Unleashes U.S. River After Centuries of Electric Production (National Geographic)
Freeing the Elwha: Lower Elwha Tribe Celebrates Dam Removal (Northwest Treaty Tribes)

Columbia River
Washington tribes call for removal of Columbia River dams, reject doctrine of Christian discovery (Inlander)
Speech by JoDe Goudy, chairman of Yakama Nation
Speech by Jay Julius, chairman of Lummi Nation
Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission
Yakama Nation calls for removal of Columbia River dams (Indianz.com)
Yakama, Lummi tribal leaders call for removal of three lower Columbia River dams (Seattle Times)
For this tribe, saving a river means saving the sturgeon (New York Times)

Skagit River
‘The river was stolen from us’: a tribe’s battle to retake the Skagit River (The Guardian)
Seattle’s Skagit River dams hurt salmon, orcas and Native American culture, agencies say
Skagit: River of Light and Loss video series

Snake River
A bold, comprehensive plan to restore salmon cannot wait (letter from tribal leaders in Northwest Tribal Salmon Alliance)
Northwest tribes call for removal of Lower Snake River dams (KNKX)
On the Northwest’s Snake River, the Case for Dam Removal Grows (Yale Environment 360)
New calls to remove Snake River dams (Indian Country Today)
Nez Perce Tribe calls for leadership on lower Snake River restoration and accurate, complete, and transparent information on impacts of four lower Snake River Dams (Indian Country Today)

Penobscot Nation Page on Dams

Academic Literature

An incomplete list of reports, papers, and peer-reviewed publications presenting political, historical, and ecological research on dam removal — primarily focused on New Hampshire and New England

History, Politics, and Culture:

I’ll be dammed! Public preferences regarding dam removal in New Hampshire (Natallia Leuchanka Diessner, Catherine M. Ashcraft, Kevin H. Gardner, and Lawrence C. Hamilton, Elements 2020)
Study uses telephone polls of New Hampshire residents to address two questions: 1) What does the public want to see happen with dams? and 2) How do public preferences regarding dam removal vary with demography and politics? Finds that a majority of respondents favor removing dams.
Further coverage of this research can be found here

Flowing Power: Rivers, Energy, and the Remaking of Colonial New England (Zachary M. Bennett, Ph.D. dissertation Rutgers University)
Dissertation explores the critical role that dams played in the colonization of New England, as a means of securing control over waterways critical for energy, food, communication, and transportation. Demonstrates the importance of dam construction in the dispossession of Indigenous peoples.

“The river is us; the river is in our veins”: re-defining river restoration in three Indigenous communities (Coleen A. Fox et al., Sustainability Science 2017)
Through three case studies in the US, New Zealand, and Canada, explores how Indigenous knowledges are enacted through Indigenous participation in river restoration and how they affect restoration outcomes. Shows why cultural approaches to restoration are important, and what opportunities they open.

“You kill the dam, you are killing a part of me”: Dam removal and the environmental politics of river restoration (Coleen Fox, Francis Magilligan, and Christopher Sneddon, Geoforum 2016)
Takes a political ecological approach to investigate the role of regional history, identity, and aesthetics in forming attachments to place and shaping conflicts over dam removal in New England. Highlights the political and social dimensions of resistance to dam removal in the region.

River restoration by dam removal: Enhancing connectivity at watershed scales (F.J. Magilligan et al., Elementa 2016) 
First interdisciplinary, region-wide assessment of social and biophysical impacts of dam removal in New England. Constructs an updated GIS database of New England dams, irrespective of size and volume. Suggests that a regional dam removal strategy could provide an opportunity to enhance river re-connection, improving watershed resilience in response to human impacts on the environment.
Further coverage of this research can be found here

Does small dam removal affect local property values? An empirical analysis (Bill Provencher, Helen Sarakinos, Tanya Meyer, Contemporary Economic Policy 2008)
Analyzes the impact of small dam removal on property values, using a case study in south-central Wisconsin. Finds that shoreline frontage along impoundments provides no increase in residential property value compared to frontage along free-flowing streams—and that nonfrontage residential property located near a free-flowing stream is actually more valuable than similar nonfrontage property located near a small impoundment.

Dam Removal: Case Studies on the Fiscal, Economic, Social, and Environmental Benefits of Dam Removal (Headwaters Economics 2016)
Report compiled by an independent, nonprofit research group summarizing fiscal, economic, social, and environmental benefits of dam removal. Formatted by case studies, including dam removals in Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. 

Ecology and Environmental Science:

Centuries of Anadromous Forage Fish Loss: Consequences for Ecosystem Connectivity and Productivity (Carolyn J. Hall, Adrian Jordaan, and Michael G. Frisk, BioScience 2012)
Analyzes dam records of Maine rivers to find where fish populations were prevented from accessing their native habitat by dams built between 1600 and 1900. Concludes that successful restoration of ecologically important fish species can occur in places where dams are removed. 
Radio coverage of this research can be found here

Effects of Dam Removal on Fish Community Interactions and Stability in the Eightmile River System, Connecticut, USA (Helen M. Poulos and Barry Chernoff, Environmental Management 2017)
Tracks the temporal effects of dam removal on fish community interactions in the Eightmile River System of Connecticut. Suggests that, following dam removals, it may take decades to centuries for restored sites to approximate the community structure of nearby undisturbed sites.

Shortnose Sturgeon in the Gulf of Maine: Use of Spawning Habitat in the Kennebec System and Response to Dam Removal (Gail S. Wippelhauser et al., Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 2015)
Provides the first evidence that shortnose sturgeon began to spawn in the restored Kennebec River after the Edwards Dam was removed in 1999. Highlights the importance of the Kennebec system to shortnose sturgeon throughout the Gulf of Maine and the role of dam removal in river ecosystem restoration.

Undamming Rivers: A Review of the Ecological Impacts of Dam Removal (Angela T. Bednarek, Environmental Management 2001)
Reviews ecological impacts of dam removal, including increased biotic diversity, increased habitat diversity, and fish passage. Suggests that suffocation and abrasion resulting from increased sediment load are short-term effects.

Contaminant Sampling to Facilitate Dam Removals/Habitat Restoration in New England (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Report, 2008)
Surveys sediments of nine New England dams investigated for possible removal. Suggests the importance of conducting contaminant testing early in the dam evaluation process to factor sediment abatement measures into the total cost of removal.

Opening the tap: Increased riverine connectivity strengthens marine food web pathways (Bia Dias, Michael Frisk, and Adrian Jordaan, PLoS ONE 2019)
Models the increases in energy flow and population productivity resulting from improved ecosystem connectivity following dam removal. Suggests potential for biomass increase of several species with high economic value and for a major increase for species of conservation concern. Emphasizes the benefits of increased connectivity between freshwater and ocean ecosystems.

Dam Removal Effects on Benthic Macroinvertebrate Dynamics: A New England Stream Case Study (Connecticut, USA) (Helen M. Poulos et al., Sustainability 2019)
Examines the effects of dam removal on the structure, function, and composition of benthic macroinvertebrate communities in a temperate New England stream. Indicates that effects of stream restoration on benthic macroinvertebrate communities are site-specific and that interactions among benthic macroinvertebrate taxa are important determinants of the post-dam removal community.