Dam Removal Spurs River Renaissance

10/20/2010 04:50 pm 16:50:05 | Updated May 25, 2011

The Patapsco River, which flows through Baltimore into the Chesapeake Bay, holds a special place in our nation's history. It was at the mouth of the Patapsco at Fort McHenry where Francis Scott Key was inspired to write The Star Spangled Banner nearly 200 years ago. The Patapsco River was a place of pride then, and it is again -- for different reasons -- today.

Now, the river is the site of a major restoration effort that is creating jobs, improving clean water, revitalizing fish and wildlife habitat, boosting recreation, and reconnecting people to our natural heritage. In fact, the Patapsco is on the leading edge of a major river restoration trend. This coming year will be the 'Year of the River' as several big dams are torn down from Maine to Washington State.

Backhoes and excavators will soon be hard at work on the Patapsco, dismantling the 209-foot-long concrete Simkins Dam. The dam removal is part of a broad effort to bring the river back to life. Removal of the outdated Union Dam upstream was completed last month. Studies are underway for the future removal of the hazardous Bloede Dam downstream, where several swimmers have died in recent years. The dam removals will help boost Maryland's economy by supporting jobs in the construction, engineering, and scientific and technical consulting sectors.

American Rivers is proud to have played a lead role in what will be the largest dam removal to date in Maryland. This project and others have made the state a leader in river restoration and clean water protection. And thanks to the partnership of American Rivers, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Friends of the Patapsco Valley State Park, the effort on the Patapsco will reverberate downstream -- improving the health of the ailing Chesapeake Bay with renewed transport of sediment and habitat for fish and wildlife. Hopefully the dam removal on the Patapsco will be a catalyst, spurring other restoration and protection efforts on the river and in Baltimore Harbor.

The Patapsco is a model for how we can restore rivers and reconnect communities to rivers across the region, and the nation. In fact, the Obama Administration should take special note of this success as it puts the final touches on its America's Great Outdoors initiative -- the administration's strategy for 21st century conservation, to be unveiled next month.

Tearing down old, unsafe dams opens up all kinds of new opportunities. Healthy rivers give so much to our communities in terms of economic, health, recreation, fish and wildlife, and quality of life benefits. Healthy rivers are a wonderful source of civic pride. The Patapsco is still a place of resilience and inspiration. I hope the rebirth we witness as these dams come down spurs others to restore rivers in their own backyards.