Damming a river is one of the most dramatic changes we can make to its flow. The resulting lakes, reservoirs and hydroelectric generators can be useful for people, but dams are often damaging for fish species unless safe passages are included in the design. The Middle Fork Nooksack River Dam in Washington State was just such a deleterious dam, but no longer. Lobbying efforts led to the dam’s removal in 2020, which you can watch unfold in just over two minutes thanks to timelapse footage from Swiftwater Films. Fans of fish, rejoice!
Removing Dams to Give Fisheries a Boost
How did we end up with a dam on the Nooksack River that doesn’t include fish passages, such as lifts or ladders? Swiftwater Films explains in the video description:
“The Middle Fork Nooksack River Dam was built by the City of Bellingham for water diversion and supply in 1961. Though state law at the time required fish passages, dam construction was permitted without the inclusion of passage. The dam obstructs access to approximately 16 miles of river and tributary stream habitat for three anadromous Endangered Species Act-listed Puget Sound species: Chinook salmon, steelhead and bull trout, as well as other native resident fish species. For years, the Nooksack Tribe and Lummi Nation advocated for fish passage at the dam.”
Other Ways to Beat a Blockage
According to American Rivers, a longstanding national advocacy organization, 69 dams were removed in the U.S. during 2020. But dam removal and building ladders and lifts aren’t the only ways to help endangered fish get around a blockage.
The Bay Journal reports that when a fancy fish lift went offline at Conowingo Dam in Maryland, local biologists resorted to an older technique. Conservationists captured spawning shad below the dam and drove them further up the Susquehanna River by truck. Hitchhiking fish may not be quite as Mother Nature intended, but it’s much better than simply spinning our wheels.