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Experts share remarkable effects of removing restrictive dams from river: 'A case study in how we can improve habitat'

"We're watching fish every day try to jump over that dam."

"We're watching fish every day try to jump over that dam."

Photo Credit: iStock

A multimillion dam removal project in Colorado is already having a positive impact on a river, and experts believe further investigation will provide valuable insights into restoring ecosystems.

The Denver Gazette reported that rainbow trout and brown trout are now easily able to swim to their spawning grounds after crews finished breaking down the concrete Colorado Springs Utilities diversion dam in 2023. 

Around $4.8 million was invested in the project, which connected 45 miles of river and aimed to prevent the possibility of dam failure. Prior to the deconstruction of the dam, the trout were unable to get where they needed to go.

"We're watching fish every day try to jump over that dam and just bounce right off," FlyWater construction manager Nick Saylor told the Gazette in October 2023.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, dam removals can go a long way toward restoring the health of our rivers and aiding biodiversity. Since 1970, freshwater species populations have dropped by 83% on average. That, in turn, impacts humans who rely on those species for food, recreation, and income. 

River restoration also makes the surrounding areas more resilient amid the uptick in severe weather events supercharged by a changing climate

Fortunately, nonprofit American Rivers reported that the United States deconstructed 80 dams in 2023. Projects in Maine, California, and Oregon are among the initiatives that have already resulted in remarkable ecosystem recoveries. 

Now, according to the Gazette, scientists are monitoring a streambed of Eleven Mile Canyon. Since dams don't typically get removed in steep mountain canyons, the data is unique. 

"The idea is that we can take what we gained from this study, to make it easier to predict how other places will respond if we remove dams like this in the future," Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station research geomorphologist Charlie Shobe told the news outlet.

Researchers are also investigating the impact of dams along the South Platte River, at Eleven Mile, and the Cheesman Reservoir, which are remaining to help the region meet its water demands.

"It's kind of a case study in how we can improve habitat over large reaches of a river and improve the functioning of the river channel while still meeting user water needs," Shobe added

Restoration efforts are ongoing, with crews revegetating the area with willows and grasses expected to support migratory birds. A new wheelchair-accessible trail is also being created so that more locals can get out and explore nature. The area is expected to reopen to the public in 2025.

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