Why dam removal is good for fish, rivers and people

By Kerry Brink

In celebration of the new Dam Removal Europe Facebook page, this post is about why dam removal is a good solution to restoring river integrity and functioning.

There are thousands of solutions to restore rivers and their ecosystems around the world. According to many experts, one of the best solutions is to simply remove barriers from the rivers. That basically means taking out a weir, a dam or a blockage from the river.

The major advantage of this, is that the river can flow unhindered and go back to functioning naturally. You may be asking yourself: “why would this be important?”

The answer is that ultimately a naturally flowing, healthy and balanced river can help ensure that there:

  • is enough water for all water uses along the river,
  • are fewer extreme conditions caused by droughts and flooding,
  • are fewer impacts from climate change,
  • are more resources in the river for people to use,
  • are better flow levels and water quality in the river,
  • are better habitats for animals in the ecosystem,
  • is a higher biodiversity of animals (birds, fish, bugs, frogs, crocodiles and more) for future generations,
  • are enough healthy populations of fish for people to catch and to eat, etc.

There are thousands of dams that have been built over the years, however, many of them now do not have a purpose, have become a safety hazard and/or are an economic drain. In the From Sea to Source 2.0 book the incentives for dam removals are further detailed.

Here are two examples of how a dam removal has improved the economy of an area:

  • 17 dams were removed in the Conestoga River in USA resulted in rejuvenated fisheries that were expected to generate approximately $2-3 million in revenue for local economies
  • In Sweden, a dam removal quadrupled the fish stocks in the region and increased the value of a fishing day for local fishermen.

Of course the removal of a dam can be a really expensive endeavor, but it also doesn’t have to be. For example removing a small dam can cost as little as $2,000.


Do you want to know more?

There are currently many sources of information online, ranging from smaller watershed groups to large organisations. Here are some examples of the sources of updated information about dam removals currently available online:

  1. American Rivers: A non-profit organization in USA that collects data annually on dam removals.
  2. Dam Removal Europe:A collaborative project of 5 organisations with over 20 supporters, which intends to create a movement in Europe around a common ambition to have healthy free-flowing rivers full of fishes by removing barriers.
  3. From Sea to Source 2.0: In the downloadable book there are several dam removal case studies, details of dam removals from around the world and a flow chart summarising the four basic steps within the dam removal process.
  4. The Dam Removal & Fish Passage Network: a LinkedIn group with almost 2,000 members.


The annual number of dams removed in the USA from 1912 to 2017 according to American Rivers. Copied out of the From Sea to Source 2.0 book:


Above photo: La Gotera Dam Removal, located in the Bernesga River, León, Spain (c) Herman Wanningen

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