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SFSU Public Affairs Press Release

Published by the Public Affairs Office at San Francisco State University, Diag Center.

#039--December 22, 1998; For Immediate Release
Contact: Ligeia Polidora 415/338-1665


SFSU study provides guidelines to evaluate the costs and benefits of removing dams

TIBURON, CA – December 21, 1998 -- U.S. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt has been touring the nation with a sledgehammer helping bring down dams that have impeded fish migrations for decades, or have just outlived their intended useful purpose. Stream and watershed restoration groups are springing up everywhere to emulate these activities in nearby localities such as Roy’s Dam in Marin County. Dam busting has become the trend du jour for many environmentalists, and even included an international strategy workshop held in Petaluma, Calif. last in July.

But not all dams should be decommissioned and community watershed groups may be better off spending their resources on other critical problems, says Michael McGowan, senior research scientist at San Francisco State University’s Romberg Tiburon Center. That is why McGowan has begun preparing a guide to help evaluate dam removal to improve habitats for endangered fish species such as salmon and steelhead trout. A goal of McGowan’s research is finding a "balance between the beneficial uses of dams and the benefits to fish and wildlife habitats" by removing dams. According to McGowan’s study, dams interfere with upstream spawning migrations of anadromous fish, change free-flowing rivers into lakes with degraded riparian habitat, and impede the downstream migrations of juvenile fishes needing to reach the sea to grow and mature. Many dams built in years past have reached the end of their useful life expectancy. Local and international groups are actively seeking to remove many dams for a variety of social, economic, and environmental reasons.

The guide is written by McGowan and his colleagues, Bud Abbott of Strategic Environmental in Corte Madera, Barry Hecht of Lord and Associates in Mill Valley, and Bruce Lord of Balance Hydrologics in Berkeley. It is a science-based approach for evaluating dam removal from ecological, hydrological, and economical points of view at the watershed level. Their guidebook enhances the scientific understanding needed for community decisions about dams and watersheds. By providing community groups with accurate information, the book gives a clearer picture of a dam’s usefulness and the potential benefits to fish of removing or modifying the dam. Moreover, the guide assembles information because "it is more efficient to have it all in one place so community groups interested in environmental affairs don’t have to reinvent the wheel" every time they get involved with dam projects, he said. The project is funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation with support from local groups such as the San Francisco Tyee Club, community groups, the Marin Municipal Water District, and private foundations. The research for the book is currently under way and McGowan expects the guide to appear in 1999.

For more information contact Michael McGowan, Romberg Tiburon Center for Environmental Studies, SF State University, (415) 338-3514 or


This release was co-written by student writer, Chris Kilkes.

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