After persuading authorities to approve Canada’s first large dam decommissioning, a west coast recreation group is to review dams around the province in a bid to identify more that could be dismantled.
In March, the Outdoor Recreation Council of British Columbia (ORC) persuaded the provincial government to decommission a dam on the Theodosia River, north of the coastal town of Powell River. In 1956, the year the 90 metre (292 foot) dam was built, the river thrived with 100,000 pink salmon, 50,000 chum salmon, and 10,000 coho salmon.
By last year, pinks had disappeared, and only 2,000 to 3,000 chum returned with three dozen coho. Habitat restoration is at the heart of today’s launch of the Dam Review Project, ORC chairman Mark Angelo told ENS.
"There is a need to identify those dams in the province that are no longer useful or provide only marginal benefit," said Angelo. "And the decommissioning or removal of some of these structures will create some wonderful habitat restoration opportunities."
There are 2,167 licensed dams in B.C. and several hundred more smaller, unlicensed dams built several decades ago. Most are owned privately, or by local governments. Angelo estimated 10 percent have outlived their usefulness and should be either decommissioned or dismantled.
"Once a dam gets to be 50 years old you have to look at the safety aspects and whether it still serves its purpose. We need to make good case that we would be better off environmentally, culturally, socially and economically, by decommissioning or dismantling a dam.
"Decommissioning is a staged approach to restoring the flow of the river. It’s not always necessary to eliminate the entire structure," said Angelo.
ORC represents 40 groups with a membership of 120,000 people. It plans to enlist its members in the review project by collating information at a local level throughout the province.
"There’s no doubt that there is a lot of information at the local level and this is the first attempt to collate that information," said Angelo.
By the end of November ORC will have a website online. The site will provide information about dam decommissioning activities and allow the public to make submissions and give feedback about dams in their communities.
Despite the size of the project, Angelo expects ORC will issue its first Dam Review Project report next June, possibly listing the first candidates for decommissioning. "We will be asking the government to take a look and hope to get the support of NGOs [non-governmental offices]."
ORC’s initiative is similar to decommissioning projects in the United States and elsewhere in the world. Last year, two dozen dams, from Idaho to North Carolina, were either decommissioned or dismantled. This year, another 18 were earmarked for action.
The most significant of last year’s projects was the Edwards Dam on the Kennebec River in Maine. When the dam was breached in July 1999, allowing the river to run free after 162 years, it marked the first time a dam has been removed solely for environmental protection.
The deal struck on the Theodosia River involved agreement between the provincial government and Pacifica Papers Inc., which used water diverted by the dam to generate hydroelectric power for its paper mill.
The company agreed that the cost benefits of diverting water for power generation had to be weighed against environmental concerns.
The B.C. Heritage Rivers Board listed the Theodosia River as number two on a top-10 list of the province’s most endangered rivers in 1999. It is widely felt that the dam was the main reason for the collapse of salmon stocks in the river.
SOURCE: Environmental News Service