Recovering a Lost River: Removing Dams, Rewilding Salmon, Revitalizing Communities
March 16, 2011
Steven Hawley makes a powerful argument for why dam removal makes good scientific, economic, and environmental sense—and requires our urgent attention.
In the Pacific Northwest, the Snake River and its wilderness tributaries were once some of the world's greatest salmon rivers. As recently as a half century ago, they retained some of their historic bounty, with millions of fish returning to spawn. Now, due to four federal dams, the salmon population has dropped close to extinction. Efforts at salmon recovery through fish ladders, hatcheries, and even trucking them over the dams have failed.
Steven Hawley, journalist and self-proclaimed "river rat," argues that the best hope for the Snake River lies in dam removal, a solution that pits the power authorities and Army Corps of Engineers against a collection of Indian tribes, farmers, fishermen, and river recreationists. The river's health, as he demonstrates, is closely connected to local economies, fresh water rights, energy independence-and even the health of orca whales in Puget Sound.
The story of the Snake River, its salmon, and its people raises the fundamental questions of who should exercise control over natural resources and which interests should receive highest priority. It also offers surprising counterpoints to the notion of hydropower as a cheap, green, and reliable source of energy, and challenges the wisdom of heavily subsidized water and electricity.
This regional battle is part of an ambitious river restoration movement that stretches across the country from Maine's Kennebec to California's Klamath, and engages citizens from a broad social spectrum. In one successful project, the salmon of Butte Creek rebounded from a paltry fourteen fish to twenty thousand within just a few years of rewilding their river, showing the incredible resiliency of nature when given the slightest chance.
Recovering a Lost River depicts the compelling arguments and actions being made on behalf of salmon by a growing army of river warriors. Their message, persistent but disarmingly simple, is that all salmon need is water in their rivers, and a clear way home.
Listen to an interview with Steven Hawley about attempts to save wild salmon.
Read an excerpt of Recovering a Lost River here or on Scribd.