Aug. 6, 2001 For many years, society viewed dams as the wave of the future, providing hydroelectric power, water reserves and controlling floods. Now their removal, especially of older dams, appears to be the new trend.
As dams are removed however, new issues begin to emerge, especially concerning the health of the river and all those affected upstream and downstream. Simply taking the dam down may not be enough, and scientists have begun examining the effects of dam removal on river ecosystems.
On Friday, August 10, 2001 a group of researchers will gather in a symposium to explore "Dam Removal as River Restorations: Linking Ecological, Engineering, Social and Legal Perspectives." Part of the Ecological Society of America's 86th Annual Meeting in Madison Wisconsin, the session combines the minds and ideas of ecologists, geologists, economists and several non-profit organizations.
David Hart from the Patrick Center for Environmental Research (PCER) will begin the session with a presentation entitled, "Dam removal: Challenges and opportunities for ecological research and watershed management." As interest in dam removal grows, researchers are presented with unique opportunities to examine the linkages between physical, chemical, and biological changes in river ecosystems.
Drawing upon their studies of dams and dam removal in Pennsylvania, Hart will propose methods to advance ecological understanding of dam removal and improve the scientific basis for dam removal decisions.
Society plays an important role in dam removal too, an aspect which Sara Johnson of Trout Unlimited will explore in her talk, "What's the big deal about small dams: Societal perspectives on dam removal." Beyond the decisions made by courts, public opinion inevitably plays a major role in determining whether a dam stays or goes.
Johnson suggests these decisions are based too often on incomplete information, and when combined with uncertainty the decision-making process can become highly emotional and divisive. Drawing upon the social sciences, including social psychology and communications, she will suggest methods to improve public understanding of dam removal. The potential roles for ecologists to affect social change around river restoration and dam removal will also be addressed.
Margaret Bowman of American Rivers will conclude the symposium with a presentation entitled, "Legal perspectives on dam removal." She will provide an outline of the legal issues associated with decisions about whether or not to remove a dam and decisions about how to remove a dam.
According to Bowman, many of the laws for dam removal focus on environmental protection, and can often discourage environmental restoration activities. The discussion will examine how environmental laws regarding restoration activities such as dam removal could adjust to better restore ecosystems.
Five other speakers will present information on topics ranging from river structure to the economic impacts of dam removal. Emily Stanley (University of Wisconsin, Madison), Stan Gregory (Oregon State University), and James Pizzuto (University of Delaware) will each explore how river features change with the removal of dams.
According to the scientists, the movement of built-up sediment impacts nutrient and water flow, habitat, and flood patterns. Patrick Shafroth (US Geological Survey) will describe dam removals' effects on river plants and Ed Whitelaw (ECONorthwest and the University of Oregon) will cover the economic effects of tearing down dams.
For more information about this symposium, and all ESA Annual Meeting activities, visit the ESA website: http://esa.sdsc.edu/madison. Held in scenic Madison, Wisconsin the theme of the meeting is "Keeping all the Parts." Over 3,000 scientists are expected to attend.
The Ecological Society of America (ESA) is a scientific, non-profit, 7,800-member organization founded in 1915. Through ESA reports, journals, membership research, and expert testimony to Congress, ESA seeks to promote the responsible application of ecological data and principles to the solution of environmental problems. ESA publishes three scientific, peer-reviewed journals: Ecology, Ecological Applications, and Ecological Monographs. Information about the Society and its activities is published in the Society's quarterly newsletter, ESA NewSource, and in the quarterly Bulletin. More information can be found on the ESA website: http://esa.sdsc.edu.
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