Undamming the Hudson River

Undamming the Hudson River
February 29, 2020 Christina Mullin

Free-flowing creeks are part of what binds ecosystems together. These waterways are the circulatory system of our landscape. Riverkeeper, along with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) are behind the growing movement to remove dams from the Hudson River estuary and restore the waters to their natural, free-flowing state.

There are at least 1,600 dams in the Hudson River estuary watershed between Albany and New York City. Most are small structures installed by factories that have long since closed, and serving no purpose now but to block fish and other aquatic species, impair river ecology and alter water flow.

For centuries, fish have traversed these tributaries, moving between feeding, nursery, and spawning grounds. When dams block those pathways, the accessible habitat area is reduced, causing ecosystem disruption and population decline among fish. Dams are a barrier for fish trying to follow their instincts and migrate up a tributary of the Hudson River, as their parents and ancestors did before them.

When the dam from the Wynants Kill (a Hudson River tributary) was removed, restoring a spawning habitat for river herring that had been blocked for 85 years, within 5 days, the species had returned to the creek.

The drive to undam waterways is not unique to the Hudson Valley. Environmental groups from coast to coast are advocating for the removal of obsolete dams large and small: In 2012 and 2013, two enormous dams were demolished on the Penobscot River in Maine, which had seen its fishery all but collapse since the early 1800s. Now fish have returned in droves: Atlantic salmon, alewives, baby eels, shad, and brook trout. On the West Coast, four large dams on the Klamath River, which flows from Southern Oregon into Northern California, are slated for removal by 2022, streamlining some 400 miles of habitat for migratory fish.

On the East Coast, efforts are underway in Connecticut to eliminate obsolete dams from rivers that connect with Long Island Sound.

Watch the short documentary by Jon Bowermaster,

 Undamming the Hudson River.