Largest Dam Removal Project In U.S. History Will Rejuvenate Salmon Habitat and Create Restoration Jobs

By Tom Kenworthy, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress.

A little more than a week ago, a grand experiment long in the making began unfolding on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State: the removal of two large dams on the Elwha River and one of the most important river restoration efforts ever undertaken. Dave Reynolds of the National Park Service explained the beginning of the process at Glines Canyon dam, while jackhammers and construction crews work behind him:

I think this is a historic day for the National Park Service and for the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, the start of this three-year process here at Glines Canyon dam and, in a few days, at Elwha Dam. Of course preparations have been ongoing all summer, but this is a great day to really get removal started and the beginning of this process. It’s a new beginning for the Elwha River.

Watch it (video courtesy of Peninsula Daily News):

Appropriately enough, much of the media coverage – including an ambitious multi-media report by the Seattle Times – focused on how the removal of the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams will restore epic salmon runs that were destroyed nearly a century ago and heal a 70-mile river ecosystem stretching from the ocean to the mountains of Olympic National Park.

But almost lost in the coverage was another important story: that restoration of rivers and landscapes scarred by old commercial enterprises can be an economic boon as well. At the Elwha River, a National Park Service study of the dam removal project found that 1,150–1,240 jobs will be generated by dam removal and river restoration, while even more jobs will be generated from increased tourism to Clallam County, Washington.

Restoration, especially in the western U.S., is a serious job creator. As the Center for American Progress’ recent report entitled “The Jobs Case for Conservation,” concluded in regard to restoration:

Thousands of long- and short-term jobs can be created through restoration and reforestation of public lands. Various government and independent analyses have found that every $1 million invested in restoration activities such as river and road restoration, hazardous fuels reduction, and tree planting creates between 13 and 30 direct, indirect, and induced jobs, many in the private sector.

And so it will be on the Elwha River project. In its 2005 environmental and economic analysis of the proposal to remove both dams, the National Park Service projected that total benefits over the 100 years following removal would be about $355 million, almost twice the cost of actually removing the structures. Most of the benefit would come from increased fishing, recreation and tourism opportunities.

At the same time as excavators began breaking down the concrete of the two Elwha River dams, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced the completion of technical studies on another possible Pacific Northwest dam removal project: a plan to tear out four dams on the Klamath River near the border of California and Oregon. That project would create some 450 jobs annually from both dam removals and improvements to fisheries and water quality.

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber said the studies were proof of the great economic potential in restoring degraded natural resources:

This is just one example of the tremendous opportunity we have to get Oregonians back to work across the state restoring the health of our watersheds, fisheries and forests and better position Oregon for long-term prosperity.

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