Dams Wreak Havoc on Fish

Dams Wreak Havoc on Fish

Salmon swimming in a river

Dams have been built with the purpose of serving society. Some of a dam’s benefits may consist of flood control, irrigation, water storage, and the generation of hydroelectric power. However, few people stop to consider the negative consequences a dam can have on the environment. A river’s features can be drastically altered by a dam, and potentially the biggest victims are the fish living in the vicinity. One of the more obvious issues fish face is surviving the journey through the dam. The turbines used to generate electricity can kill some, or all, of the passing fish depending on the type of turbine. Fish that pass through the dam unharmed may not survive the freefall to the lower water surface on the dam’s other side, or may become dazed and more susceptible to predation. Dams commonly impede fish’s migration to their spawning grounds. The structures also can alter the water temperature. The majority of dams slow the water flow, which increases the water temperature. The effect has been detrimental to the salmon of the Pacific Northwest’s Snake River. Other dams cool the water, such as ones found on the Colorado River that have contributed to the near-extinction of the Bonytail Chub. Dams are responsible for a number of ecological threats, and it is no wonder they make life difficult for fish.

Fortunately, there is growing awareness of the issues dams create. A total of 69 dams were demolished in 2020 with the hopes of restoring the rivers where they had stood. There are still thousands of remaining dams in the United States, and American Rivers is a not-for-profit entity leading the charge to demolish more of them. The conservation organization has been a key contributor for over 200 dam removal projects, including helping to secure funding for the deconstruction of the Middle Fork Nooksack River dam in Washington State last summer. Its removal has not only proved beneficial to the salmon that can now swim freely down the river to prime spawning habitat and to the Pacific Ocean, but also for the killer whales that feed on them.

Dam removal projects can be controversial since the structures typically serve a purpose. However, there was no longer a need for the Middle Fork dam. It had previously redirected water to a nearby mill for manufacturing paper, but the plant was closed over a decade ago. The dam also helped the city of Bellingham pull in drinking water from the river. After the dam removal, this need was met by a new intake system that does not harm or impede fish. This dam’s situation was not unique. From the vandalized Enloe Dam blocking salmon in Washington State to the hazardous Imperial Dam that acts as a salmon barrier in the Adirondacks, unused dams are scattered across the nation. The biggest obstacle to removing unused dams is the cost. For example, the Middle Fork dam removal project cost an approximate $20 million. This is why the work American Rivers does to educate the public and assist with the funding efforts for these projects is so important.

Klean Kanteen is an avid supporter of American Rivers. The company provides American Rivers with annual grants and helps to back their film projects such as the 2020 film that follows Rica Fulton’s adventure on the Little Snake River and underscores the importance of this waterway. Klean Kanteen manufactures reusable, stainless steel water bottles and other types of containers. Part of their product line includes 100% plastic-free options. This includes the Insulated Reflect 20 oz. water bottle, which can keep beverages cold for 20 hours or iced for 40 hours (not recommended for very hot liquids). The steel 10 oz. cups are another plastic-free product. Both the steel bottle and cups are more eco-friendly compared to disposable alternatives. Additionally, Klean Kanteen products are recognized for their durability. On his website ‘We Travel And Blog’, Gabriel Harding writes about his Klean Kanteen bottle surviving multiple drops from his roof and other mishaps. Klean Kanteen products can be purchased from their website, Amazon, as well as at Target and REI Co-op stores.

Certified as carbon-neutral in 2020, Klean Kanteen strives to operate their business in an eco-friendly manner. Their support of American Rivers will help to deconstruct more dams at the benefit of many fish.



Effects of dams on fish populations in Michigan – michigan.gov

Purposes of Dams – Importance, Functions and Applications – aboutcivil.org

‘Removing the Middle Fork Nooksack dam is one of the most important salmon restoration projects’ – bellinghamherald.com

69 Dams Removed in 2020 – americanrivers.org

A Dam Comes Down — and Tribes, Cities, Salmon and Orcas Could All Benefit – therevelator.org

Retreating Glacier Could Impact Bellingham’s Water Supply – whatcomwatch.org

Klean Kanteen Achieves Carbon Neutral Footprint – backbonemedia.net

Photo of dam by Vince Mig on PublicDomainPictures.net

Photo of salmon by Ryan Hagerty, USFWS on Pixnio

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