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A decision-support framework for dam removal planning and its application in northern California

June 1, 2023

Dam removals are occurring more frequently with the rising cost of maintaining aging infrastructure, public safety concerns, and growing interest in river restoration. So far, most dam-removals have been unsystematic in their approach. Given the several thousand dam removals expected over the coming decades, a systematic approach to plan future dam removals holds potential for aligning and delivering multiple benefits. Despite multi-sector factors driving decision-making, most existing prioritization frameworks tend to operate within single or related disciplines. Here we present a hierarchical, multi-disciplinary decision-support framework to prioritize dam removals based on opportunistic factors (Tier 1), hydro-ecological variables (Tier 2), and socio-cultural considerations (Tier 3). This framework integrates multiple decision criteria under data availability constraints, incorporates value-driven weights, and can be applied to a portfolio of dams at various spatial scales. The final output facilitates the identification of dam removal projects that align opportunistic, environmental, and social benefits. We recommend the application of this framework as a critical first step to identifying high-priority candidates for removal, recognizing that removal decisions will ultimately require detailed feasibility studies and stakeholder engagement. To illustrate its utility, we apply this framework to California's North Coast region and identify a small number of “good” candidates to be considered for removal. We conclude with recommendations for filling critical knowledge gaps and advancing systematic dam removal planning in the United States and beyond.

Publication Year 2023
Title A decision-support framework for dam removal planning and its application in northern California
DOI 10.1016/j.envc.2023.100731
Authors Suman Jumani, Lucy Andrews, Theodore E. Grantham, S. Kyle McKay, Jeffrey J. Duda, Jeanette K. Howard
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Environmental Challenges
Index ID 70244062
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Fisheries Research Center