Bear River: A Working Watershed
Produced by American Rivers, this is the story of the rural town of Craig, Colorado as it faces economic transition away from fossil fuel extraction and toward a possible future that leverages its natural amenities for tourism. Traditionally defined by mining, energy production, and ranching, Craig lies in the high mountain plains above the meandering Yampa River. As the town reckons with the closure of a large coal-fired power plant and surrounding mines, a growing coalition of leaders and community advocates are working to save their town and move from an extraction-based economy to one focused on recreation and tourism, centering the health and well-being of the planet and its inhabitants. Dam removal and restoration of the river are pieces of that puzzle.
The Tulalip Tribe Natural Resources Department leads the way in a fish restoration project in Carnation, WA. Natasha Coumou Assistant Restoration Ecologist explains why.
Scenes from the first water release on the Eklutna River after the removal of the lower dam. The release was temporary and symbolic, but an important moment nonetheless in the long effort to restore the river.
Nooksack Dam was removed in the summer of 2020, opening 17 miles of habitat for fish, including Chinook salmon, an important part of the culture and diet of the Nooksack and Lummi tribes. Removal also reduces safety risk and maintenance costs to the City of Bellingham, while ensuring long-term reliable water supply and providing jobs. The project is a win-win-win for salmon, Puget Sound orca whale populations, and the community.
Removal of Nelson Dam on the Naches River tributary to the Yakima River will open 309 miles of habitat for coho and Chinook salmon, improve kayaking and fishing, provide irrigation water for the City of Yakima, stimulate the economy with hundreds of new jobs, and reduce flood risk.
Film by the Conservation Fund, in partnership with the Alaska Native Village of Eklutna. Eklutna Dam, in south central Alaska, was built in the late 1920s to provide hydropower to the growing city of Anchorage. Located in traditional Eklutna Dena’ina Territory, the dam has blocked salmon runs for almost 100 years. The dam was decommissioned in the 1950s after sediment filled the reservoir and removed in 2017.
To a rancher or farmer, water is everything. On the Bear River, the Booth Diversion Dam was an inefficient irrigation structure that blocked fish passage. This project removed the structure and replaced it with a series of rock structures that provide small elevation gains so that water can still be diverted upstream. The project brought together diverse stakeholders working toward common goals and showcases potential for similar efforts in the region that improve water delivery for landowners and restore fish passage. “It made my life a lot easier,” says Wade Lowham, owner Arrow Ranch.
The Smith-Meyer-Roper diversion dam was built in the early 1900’s to provide irrigation water. The structure blocks coho and steelhead from accessing spawning and rearing habitat. The dam was removed in 2019 and replaced with a roughened channel and headgate that continues to allow landowners to divert water for irrigation, while also allowing fish passage. “We really like to think of this project as being win-win-win in terms of salmon habitat, land management goals, and helping out the local economy,” says Alexis Larsen, Project Manager, Rogue River Watershed Council.
Beeson-Robison Dam was an inefficient irrigation structure located on Wagner Creek, a tributary to Bear River, that was removed in 2017. Replacing the dam with a roughened channel and headgate system allows salmon and steelhead to access cool-water spawning and rearing habitat, while providing a more efficient irrigation structure that saves irrigators time and money. “There really is no negative,” says Bob Hackett, landowner on Wagner Creek.
Film courtesy of Wahoo Films and the Warner Basin Aquatic Habitat Partnership partners: The Western Native Trout Initiative is helping the Warner Basin Aquatic Habitat Partnership fund 10 projects over 6 years to benefit water users in this critically important watershed while also benefiting Warner Lakes Redband Trout and Warner sucker.