A Dam a Day Since Jefferson

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There are a lot of dams in the United States. If we’re talking about dams over 3ft high, the number is in the tens of thousands – imagine a dam built everyday since Jefferson was president. If we’re talking about large dams (>50ft/15m), the US has over 9,000, more than any other country except China (which has over 20,000). How many of those dams were worth the cost? How many of them still are?

The 2014 documentary, DamNation, offers insight into these questions (focusing on the US). In just over an hour and a half, the film takes you on an exploration of the history of dam building in the US and then shows how awareness of the effects of dams and the importance of healthy river ecosystems is increasing.

Diverse interests across the country are coming together to remove obsolete dams and find more cost-effective options to meet power, shipping, irrigation and other needs, while helping to restore rivers, preserve tribal customs, recover fish stocks, revitalize waterfronts, improve recreational opportunities and render watersheds more resilient to climate change. – DamNation official website

The film tackles a hotly contested issue and provides insight from a variety of perspectives, all with welcome artistry. Featuring intrepid activists that use climbing gear, paint, and the cover of darkness to boldly echo John Muir’s call to “free the rivers,” it’s a documentary that manages to be uplifting while delivering a strong environmental message. Watch it to learn about dams, why we build them and how they impact the rivers they interrupt. Or, if you think you know enough about dams already, just watch it for the impressive footage. DamNation is available through a variety of avenues, try Vimeo on Demand or check the official website for more options.

The Elwha River is featured in the documentary as an example of successful, large-scale dam removal. Two years following the film, a National Geographic article and accompanying short video revisited the Elwha for an update:

River Revives After Largest Dam Removal in U.S. History

Whether you watch DamNation or not, I’d recommend clicking the linked title above to read the Nat Geo article and learn a bit about the revival of the Elwha River and its nearshore environment.

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