There are more than 1,400 dams on California’s rivers and streams. Dams fundamentally alter the hydrology and function of stream systems, impacting fish, wildlife, public health and recreation. Dams block access to hundreds of miles of habitat for salmon and steelhead which migrate between rivers and the ocean. Many dams create slow, stagnant reservoirs which result in dangerously high concentrations of toxic blue-green algae. Symptoms of toxic algae exposure range from skin rashes and gastroenteritis, to internal tumors and death from liver failure. Dams also cut off the flow of sediment to the coast, which in turn halts accretion, a critical ecological function to allow shoreline areas to be resilient to sea level rise. Dams also can impair recreational opportunities by impacting water quantity and quality. Climate change can exacerbate the impacts of dams by decreasing precipitation levels and thus river flows while increasing water temperatures.

JC Boyle Dam Photo by Klamath Riverkeeper

Taking Action

Local Waterkeepers are working to support and accelerate dam removal, including the Matijlia Dam in Santa Barbara, the San Clemente Dam in Carmel, and four dams on the Klamath River. In April 2016, after ten years of advocacy, litigation, and negotiation, Klamath Riverkeeper celebrated the adoption of an agreement to un-dam the Klamath River by 2020. This will represent the largest dam removal and salmon restoration project in history. The agreement was signed by state, federal and Native American tribal representatives, dam owner PacifiCorp, water users, and conservation organizations.

In addition to local advocacy on specific projects, California Coastkeeper Alliance and local Waterkeepers work to shape the way state and federal funds are invested in storage projects. Waterkeepers generally oppose the construction of new dams when other water supply options are possible. For example, the Yuba River Waterkeeper is advocating for additional conservation and restrictions to prompt local sustainable development to prevent the need for the construction of the Centennial Dam currently being considered in Yuba River area. California Coastkeeper Alliance and local Waterkeepers instead advocate for Proposition 1 investments to be dedicated to more sustainable and multi-benefit water supply projects.

Iron Gate Photo by Klamath Riverkeeper