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August 17th, 2012 at 9:07 am

Daniel McCool on the rebirth of rivers

River RepublicThis week we are highlighting Daniel McCool’s River Republic: The Fall and Rise of America’s Rivers. Today, the last day of our giveaway, we’d like to share a guest post written by McCool on the river restoration projects around America. And remember that before 1 PM today you can enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a FREE copy of River Republic.

Less than a year ago a massive blast of turbid water, sediment, and debris exploded from the base of Condit Dam on the White Salmon River. At about the same time, heavy equipment began chewing away the concrete walls of Elwha and Glines Canyon Dams, both on the Elwha River in Washington. As I write this the Elwha and White Salmon Rivers are undergoing an amazing transformation.

What is going on here? Is this some form of anti-dam monkey-wrenching, or the work of crazed terrorists? No, it’s just a very dramatic introduction to a new era in river policy in the U. S. According to the river preservation group, American Rivers, 888 dams have been removed, including 60 just last year. And dam removal is just one form of river restoration; literally hundreds of other river restoration projects all across America are transforming, not only the physicality of rivers, but our relationship with rivers. For two hundred years we dammed, diverted, and polluted our rivers. There are over 79,000 dams in the U. S. Some rivers never reach their delta and simply turn to dust. And many rivers are tainted with a toxic stew that represents a significant health threat. Now, communities are un-doing the damage and reclaiming their rivers. We are beginning to realize that rivers are a tremendous asset, especially if they are healthy and free-flowing, desirable as habitat for fish and wildlife, and attractive to people for recreation. It is a new day for America and its watercourses.

The White Salmon River, the Elwha River, and hundreds of others are now experiencing a Phoenix-like rebirth. It will require our utmost ingenuity as we figure out how to bring these rivers back to life–how to restore fish runs, riparian lands, reservoir sites, and water quality. In effect, it is a grand experiment in natural resurrection. What a privilege it is to observe this remarkable stage in our country’s history.

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