In the first half of the 20th century, Americans built dams all over the country to provide growing population potable water for homes, farms, and communities. They were also a source of clean and sustainable hydroelectric power, a welcome alternative to fossil fuels. In 1935, the Hoover Dam, today, still a modern marvel of human engineering, began its operations. It was an emblem of national pride and swept the country into a dam-building frenzy throughout the next three decades.
But now in the 21st century, it has become clear that some of these dams are extremely destructive to the local ecosystems, depleting the fish population, polluting the rivers, and worse, not even producing acceptable amounts of power. Thousands of rivers and waterways across America are currently blocked and in a way - impounded - removing natural wildlife, placing obstacles in migratory fish routes as well as displacing millions of people from their homes, many of which were tribal grounds of the Native American Indians.
There is a growing awareness or shift in how people see dams, that yes, they are engineering wonders but that behind them are slowly dying wild rivers that need to stay alive and healthy for our benefits. And with this change in mindset, there is now a movement to take down dams that are causing more harm than good. These dams include those that block migratory fish routes, notably salmon. While dams no longer necessary to support the population and farming communities, thanks to more modern alternatives such as wind power, are another.
Even thinking about dismantling dams was looked down on even in the 1990s, nothing more than a fringe or radical idea. Dams were - and still are - big business, not to mention removing them could affect the jobs and communities it supports. But since 2010, America has been leading the world in dam-removals, the first major one being the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams in Washington State where wild steelhead and salmon returned to the river even before the completion of the whole removal project.
But there is still a long way to go. Removing a dam isn't something as simple as going in there and blasting it all with dynamite. There are important issues to address on both sides of the dam debate. Some farmers need the dam for water to irrigate crops. Native American people want to get their lost culture back and there are lawmakers who see those who don't want these dams to operate as anarchists or environmental extremists.
Many pros and cons have to be considered. Thankfully, Dam-busting is now a routine part of conversations between environmental groups, government agencies, the communities that will be affected both positively and negatively by their removal, and even the dam owners themselves.
There are ongoing removal arguments with powerful opponents, bureaucratic red tape, and struggling grassroots community and environmental groups sitting on either side of the fence. But what can't be denied is that once a dam is removed, and the rivers heal, most are happy about the outcome once they see the benefits for humanity that it reaps.