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Dams may get the recreational label, Doyle says, “when we have no idea what they are for now, and we can’t stitch together what they were for when they were built.” But while many of the original uses have disappeared, the dams have not.In the very center of conservationist hell, mused John Mc Phee, surrounded by chainsaws and bulldozers and stinking pools of DDT, stands a dam. “They take away the essence of what a river is,” Stanley says. A flowing river carries sediment and nutrients downstream and allows flora and fauna to move freely along its length.Sediment eddies and drops to the bottom, rather than continuing downstream.Migratory fish can be visceral reminders of how a dam changes a river.Yet only 3% of dams in the US are hydropower facilities—together supplying about just under 7% of U. “The West developed through the construction of dams because it allowed the control of water for development,” says Emily Stanley, a limnologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.But for most dams, none of these are their primary purpose.Gordon Grant didn’t really get excited about the dam he blew up until the night a few weeks later when the rain came.It was October of 2007, and the concrete carnage of the former Marmot Dam had been cleared.

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At the Elwha Dam in Washington state, Martin Doyle recalls looking down to see salmon paddling against the base of the dam, trying in vain to reach their spawning grounds upriver. Doyle points out that salmon are just one of many species affected by dams.Mark Ogden, the project manager for the Association of State Dam Safety Officials, says many small private dams were indeed built for recreational activities like fishing.Grant, Magilligan, and Doyle have a different theory, however.Roughly 98% of the salmon population on the Elwha River disappeared after the dam went up, says Amy East, a research geologist at the U. Migratory shad, mussels, humpback chub, herring—the list goes on.He notes that the charismatic salmon are a more popular example than the “really butt-ugly fish we’ve got on the East Coast.” Dams not only upend ecosystems, they also erase portions of our culture and history.

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