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A watershed moment for western U.S. dams

October 24, 2023

The summer of 2023 is a notable time for water-resource management in the western United States: Glen Canyon Dam, on the Colorado River, turns 60 years old while the largest dam-removal project in history is beginning on the Klamath River. This commentary discusses these events in the context of a changing paradigm for dam and reservoir management in this region. Since the era of large dam building began to wane six decades ago, new challenges have arisen for dam and reservoir management owing to climate change, population increase, reservoir sedimentation, declining safety of aging dams, and more environmentally focused management objectives. Today we also better understand dams' benefits, costs, and environmental impacts, including some that were unforeseen and took decades to become apparent. Where dams have become unsafe, obsolete (e.g., due to excessive reservoir sedimentation), and uneconomical beyond saving, dam removal has become common. The science and practice of dam removal are accelerating rapidly, and some long-term physical and biological response studies are now available. Removal of four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River will be a larger and more complex project than any previous dam removal. The imminency of this project reflects a very different situation for dam and reservoir management than 60 years ago. Looking forward, dam and reservoir management in the western United States and worldwide will require continued collaboration and innovative thinking to meet a wide range of objectives and to manage water resources sustainably for future generations.

Publication Year 2023
Title A watershed moment for western U.S. dams
DOI 10.1029/2023WR035646
Authors Amy E. East, Gordon E. Grant
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Water Resources Research
Index ID 70249721
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center