Ninety-nine years after Olympic National Park's Elwha River was illegally dammed, wild Chinook salmon still instinctively gather at the foot of an impassable dam as if they sense a change in the current. Upstream, the usual low rumble of antique turbines generating electricity has faded, and the piercing sound of an excavator-mounted jackhammer reverberates off the 210-foot tall Glines Canyon Dam. This moment marks the beginning of the largest dam removal in US history, unveiling the best opportunity for wild salmon recovery in the country.
Dam removal is no longer the work of a fictional Monkey Wrench Gang. It’s real, upon us, a cornerstone of the modern environmental and cultural movements. The benefits from dams, including hydropower, urban water supply, irrigation, and flood protection have played a critical role in the development of the United States, but river ecosystems and Native American heritage suffered greatly. Now, many of these antiquated relics of the industrial revolution are classified as public safety hazards by the Army Corps of Engineers.
The short-sighted development of a bygone era is growing more prevalent—in many cases, the high cost of retrofitting an aging dam, and meeting current environmental standards has led to a surprising shift in thinking: Dam owners, impacted communities, and politicians are now reevaluating the usefulness of certain dams and often advocating for decommissioning and removal.
Some call it a movement, others call it a generational shift in values. Regardless of what it’s dubbed, an undeniable momentum behind river restoration has begun.
DamNation is a collection of impassioned voices and spirited stories from the people entrenched on both sides of this divisive issue. Examining the history and controversy behind current and proposed dam removal projects, DamNation presents a dynamic perspective on Man’s attempt to harness and control the power of water at the expense of nature. Nothing lasts forever, not even the concrete monoliths that have impounded America’s free flowing rivers in the name of “progress” for ages.
When, as a young man, DamNation producer Matt Stoecker witnessed migrating steelhead jump at, and bounce off, Stanford University’s Searsville Dam, he recognized the destructive power of a single dam on an entire watershed and beyond. Matt is now a fish biologist, who has since spearheaded the removal of more than a dozen such barriers to migration and is actively involved in efforts to dismantle several others. He and Patagonia founder/owner Yvon Chouinard, a long-time “dam buster” who for years has supported groups working to tear down dams, share the desire to free our rivers. Together they decided to capture such efforts and their healing effects on film, and share them with the world. Teaming up with Felt Soul Media’s Ben Knight and Travis Rummel, DamNation was born.