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Dam removals and river restoration in international perspective

Chris S. Sneddon
Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH, USA; cssneddon@dartmouth.edu

Regis Barraud
University of Poitiers, RURALITES Research Team (EA 2552), Poitiers, France; regis.barraud@univ-poitiers.fr

Marie-Anne Germaine
Paris Nanterre University, Laboratoire LAVUE UMR 7218 CNRS, Nanterre, France; marie-anne.germaine@parisnanterre.fr

ABSTRACT: In the Anthropocene era, questions over institutions, economics, culture and politics are central to the promotion of water-society relations that enhance biophysical resilience and democratic modes of environmental governance. The removal of dams and weirs from river systems may well signal an important shift in how human actors value and utilize rivers. Yet the removal of water infrastructure is often lengthy, institutionally complex, and characterized by social conflict. This Special Issues draws insights from case studies of recent efforts in North America and Europe to restore river systems through dam and weir removal. These cases include both instances where removal has come to fruition in conjunction with efforts to rehabilitate aquatic systems and instances where removal has been stymied by a constellation of institutional, political and cultural factors. Drawing from diverse theoretical frames and methodological approaches, the papers presented here offer novel ways to conceptualize water-society relations using the lens of dam removal and river restoration, as well as crucial reminders of the multiple biophysical and social dimensions of restoration initiatives for water resource practitioners interested in the rehabilitation of socioecological systems.

KEYWORDS: Dam removal, weir removal, river restoration, case study, water-society relations


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Competing ideas of 'natural' in a dam removal controversy

Dolly Jørgensen
University of Stavanger, Stavanger, Norway; dolly@jorgensenweb.net

ABSTRACT: In spite of general support for removal of dam structures within the ecological sciences community, local residents sometimes contest dam removals. This article examines the competing ideas of 'natural' and 'nature' that may surface in a dam removal controversy. Using the conflict of the Colliery dams of Nanaimo in northwestern Canada, the article explores how those who want the dam to stay and those who want it removed identify what is 'natural'. Through an examination of public documents, survey data, and social media, the article shows that what is 'natural' is constructed differently in epistemological, ethical, and aesthetic terms by those for and against the dam removal. Because the two sides differ in their idea of what 'nature' is, the conflicts may be difficult to resolve. This paper stresses the role of perceptions and values in environmental issues. Understanding the complex nature valuations is where the potential for truly interdisciplinary restoration projects becomes both evident and necessary.

KEYWORDS: Dam removal, ecological restoration, environmental politics, natural



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On the political roles of freshwater science in studying dam and weir removal policies: A critical physical geography approach

Simon Dufour
Université Rennes 2 – CNRS UMR LETG, Rennes, France; simon.dufour@univ-rennes2.fr

Anne Julia Rollet
Université Rennes 2 – CNRS UMR LETG, Rennes, France; anne-julia.rollet@univ-rennes2.fr

Margot Chapuis
Université Côte d’Azur – CNRS UMR ESPACE, Nice, France; margot.chapuis@unice.fr

Mireille Provansal
CNRS UMR CEREGE – Université d'Aix Marseille, Aix en Provence, France; mireilleprovansal@wanadoo.fr

Romain Capanni
CNRS UMR CEREGE – Université d'Aix Marseille, Aix en Provence, France; romaincapanni@hotmail.fr

ABSTRACT: Over the last decade, dam and weir removal has been promoted to improve continuity along many river systems. However, such policies raise many socioecological issues such as social acceptability, integration of different river uses, and real impacts on river ecosystems. In this article, we illustrate how critical physical geography can help connect sociopolitical issues with biophysical processes. Our analysis is based on case studies located in different geographic contexts but in any case, a detailed understanding of biological or hydromorphological processes emphasises different social and political issues related to dam and weir removal. For example, riparian vegetation is usually ignored in dam-removal studies (unlike fish or macroinvertebrates) and its response to dam removal raises the issue of how different nonhuman actors are represented (or not) in the debate and weighed in the decision. An accurate understanding of sediment dynamics can also address the sociopolitical process because it identifies effective measures for reaching an objective such as the restoration of sediment fluxes. In our case studies, this understanding demonstrates that removal can be technically possible but ineffective or insufficient. From a sociopolitical perspective, this can increase the number of stakeholders (with diverse power relationships) that need to be included in the debate. We conclude that the diversity of sociopolitical issues associated with dam and weir removal is partially connected to the nature of biophysical processes and patterns and that neither aspect can be analysed separately.

KEYWORDS: Sediment transfer, riparian vegetation, dam removal, critical physical geography, France



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IWRM discourses, institutional holy grail and water justice in Nepal

Floriane Clement
International Water Management Institute, Kathmandu office, Nepal; f.clement@cgiar.org

Diana Suhardiman
International Water Management Institute, Regional Office for Southeast Asia, Vientiane, Lao PDR; d.suhardiman@cgiar.org

Luna Bharati
International Water Management Institute; and Center for Development Research (ZEF), Bonn, Germany; l.bharati@cgiar.org

ABSTRACT: Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) still stands today as one of the most influential governance models in the water sector. Whereas previous analyses of IWRM have focused on the effectiveness of the institutional models it embodies and on policy implementation gaps, we examine the meanings that IWRM discourses have given to water management issues and how these meanings have in turn supported certain policy choices, institutions and practices. We use discourse analysis to study IWRM discourses in Nepal, where IWRM was introduced as the guiding policy principle for water management more than a decade ago, but not yet operationalised. We argue that IWRM discourses have operated a discursive closure in policy debates, thereby limiting the range of policy and institutional choices perceived as politically possible. In particular, we found that the promotion of IWRM as an institutional holy grail has obscured critical issues of social (in)justice related to water resources development by promoting an apolitical and techno-managerial vision of water development, largely centralised and relying on expert knowledge. We defend the need to move away from institutional panaceas and towards deliberative processes that allow alternative voices, discourses and knowledge.

KEYWORDS: IWRM, institutions, discourses, social justice, Nepal



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An infrastructural event: Making sense of Panama’s drought

Ashley Carse
Department of Human and Organizational Development, Vanderbilt University, Peabody College, Nashville, TN; ashley.carse@vanderbilt.edu

ABSTRACT: Droughts are often characterised as meteorological events: periodic precipitation deficits associated with atmospheric disruption. However, the droughts that concern our societies are typically socioeconomic events: instances in which water demand approaches or exceeds a supply diminished due to low precipitation. This article analyses a 2015-16 drought in Panama, typically among the world’s rainiest countries, to argue that some droughts might also be usefully conceptualised as infrastructural events. This analytic complements research on climatic and socioeconomic dynamics by opening up lines of analysis that reorient some basic understandings of drought events. When, for example, does a drought begin and end? Where do droughts come from? Who and what are (in)visible in drought explanations and responses? The article is organised around three key dimensions of the infrastructural event, each responding to one of the questions above. The first, momentum, makes the case for a deeper temporal understanding of drought that attends to the inertia of water-intensive socio-technical systems. The second, interconnection, examines how linkages between these systems and regional-to-global infrastructure networks can amplify situated water demands. The third, visibility, explores mechanisms through which infrastructures can normalise social and organisational water management practices in ways that shape drought responses.

KEYWORDS: Drought, infrastructure, water politics, scale, Panama



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Digital environmental governance in China: Information disclosure, pollution control, and environmental activism in the Yellow River Delta

Jiaxin Tan
Independent Researcher; Guangzhou, China; jiaxintam@hotmail.com

Irit Eguavoen
Center for Development Research, University of Bonn, Bonn, Germany; eguavoen@uni-bonn.de

ABSTRACT: The Chinese water bureaucracy increasingly utilises information and communications technology (ICT) in order to strengthen interaction with the population, which is severely affected by industrial pollution. Government webpages, mailboxes, and online interviews with officers have become prevalent tools for environmental governance, including information disclosure, and a virtual communication forum between the state and its citizens. The present study employs a mixed methods approach with a qualitative emphasis to explore the process of communication and interaction between government agencies and local residents in Dongying, Shandong Province. The results show that information disclosure of pollution data remains far from being transparent, despite the fact that the local government has implemented digital environmental governance, as encouraged by the central Chinese state. Internet technologies empower resource-poor environmental activists in Dongying to strengthen their social network and build communication with the authorities. The application of bureaucratic techniques, however, is key for them to enter the communication interface with government agencies in order to influence political decisions. Results suggest that local cadres tend to send mixed signals to activists and display wariness towards them. They also tend to take preventive measures to keep the situation under control when environmental disputes arise. The proposed communication interface approach sheds a clearer light on the complexity among the emergent ICTs, environmental activism, and digital governance.

KEYWORDS: Water pollution, NGO, information disclosure, ICT, Yellow River Delta, China



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The failure of the largest project to dismantle hydroelectric dams in europe? (Sélune River, France, 2009-2017)

Marie-Anne Germaine
Paris Nanterre University, Laboratoire LAVUE UMR 7218 CNRS, Nanterre, France; marie-anne.germaine@parisnanterre.fr

Laurent Lespez
Paris Est Créteil University, LGP UMR 8591 CNRS, Créteil, France; laurent.lespez@u-pec.fr

ABSTRACT: The removal of two hydropower dams announced by the French government in November 2009 would have been an unprecedented operation at European scale due to their dimensions (36 and 16 m high). But this project has been strongly criticized at local level by elected officials and users. The Actor Network Theory is used to reconstitute the successive stages of the consultation process, from the first discussions about the future of the dams (2005) to the downgrading of the project (2016), finally leading to a simple draining of the lake and inspection of the dam. The ANT approach and the methodology based on stakeholder interviews and participant observation are fruitful to identify the actors – humans and non-humans like salmon or lakes – and to analyse their position in sociotechnical networks pro or against dam removal. This method aims to reconstruct the whole process of setting up the campaign groups and their trajectory and to understand the shaping of representations and values. It shows the opposite visions developed by the opponents and defenders of the dam concerning salmon and running/standing water. The way the dialogue process was conducted also plays a crucial role. Interrupted and characterized by many uncertainties, it failed in allowing a translation between expertise and local knowledge.

KEYWORDS: Dam removal, Actor Network Theory (ANT), micro-politics, governance, France


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Science of the dammed: Expertise and knowledge claims in contested dam removals

Chris S. Sneddon
Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH, USA; cssneddon@dartmouth.edu

Francis J. Magilligan
Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH, USA; fjm@dartmouth.edu

Coleen A. Fox
Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH, USA; coleen.fox@dartmouth.edu

ABSTRACT: Historically, science and its associated expert voices often serve multiple roles in the context of complex environmental conflicts: investigators of undesirable environmental conditions; guarantors of “value-free” and de-politicised expertise and information regarding those conditions; authors of rationales that support one management decision over another; and sources of authority used to persuade sceptics or the public that a certain environmental action is logical and desirable. However, recent thinking in science and technology studies (STS) and political ecology emphasises how scientific knowledge and expertise are co-produced with the political, economic, and cultural arrangements characteristic of a given society and a given locale. In many environmental conflicts, expert knowledge is challenged on the grounds that it is out of touch and politically compromised. This paper examines the diverse scientific discourses and environmental narratives surrounding dam-removal processes in the region of New England, United States. Dam removals are increasingly seen by environmental advocacy organisations and state agencies as a means to rehabilitate degraded riverine systems, and these actors muster an array of science-based arguments in support of removal. Conversely, opponents highlight their place-based knowledge to counter the claims of removal advocates and question the motivations of expert knowledge. These competing claims feed into conflicts over dam removals in intriguing ways, and understanding how scientific knowledge and expertise are used (and misused) is crucial to understanding conflicts over river restoration and developing more participatory strategies of water governance. The question is not so much whose claims are truthful, but how such claims are inserted into, and negotiated within, controversial ecological interventions.

KEYWORDS: Dam removal, expert knowledge, public understanding of science, political ecology, New England


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How provincial and local discourses aligned against the prospect of dam removal in New Brunswick, Canada

Kate Sherren
School for Resource and Environmental Studies, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS, Canada; kate.sherren@dal.ca

Thomas M. Beckley
Faculty of Forestry and Environmental Management, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, NB, Canada; beckley@unb.ca

Simon Greenland-Smith
School for Resource and Environmental Studies, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS, Canada; simon.greenland-smith@dal.ca

Louise Comeau
Faculty of Forestry and Environmental Management, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, NB, Canada; louise27comeau@gmail.com

ABSTRACT: In 2013, the state-owned electrical energy utility in New Brunswick, Canada, announced that a problem with concrete expansion was shortening by 40 years the expected life of the 660 MW Mactaquac Generating Station on the Saint John River. Its construction late in the 1960s, and the subsequent inundation of 10,000 hectares (ha) was part of a regional modernisation programme. Locals lost homes, agricultural land, communities and landmarks and a new mill changed livelihoods and attracted new people. In the intervening decades, the reservoir has become locally cherished for waterfront living and pleasure boat recreation. Since 2012, independent social science research about the fate of the dam and headpond has been undertaken in parallel with stakeholder engagement and public relations by the electricity utility. The final decision was delivered late 2016. The chosen option was to extend the dam’s life through repairs in situ, not one of the options formally under consideration. This paper presents provincial-scale discourses on the Mactaquac decision, using a 2014 energy survey of 500 New Brunswick residents which included questions about the Mactaquac decision. Analysis reveals how provincial preferences aligned with local qualitative research (summarised in an Appendix), revealing preferences for ongoing headpond amenity and the avoidance of further trauma associated with major landscape change. Preferences of First Nations to remove the dam may yet prove disruptive to the announced option. The discussion summarises aspects of the case study relevant to other instances of dam removal and landscape transition, as well as exploring options for further theoretical development, testing or application. These opportunities include: why males and females demonstrated different scales of concern around Mactaquac; the implications of different framings of hydroelectricity development (e.g. sacrificial landscape or local energy) on removal debates; and, how public decision-making can usefully engage with rather than dismiss uncertainty and path dependency.

KEYWORDS: Amenity, energy, gender, hydroelectricity, multifunctionality, path dependency, sacrificial landscapes, social imaginary, stakeholder engagement, uncertainty, New Brunswick, Canada


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Centring fish agency in coastal dam removal and river restoration

Caroline Gottschalk Druschke
University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, USA; caroline.gottschalk.druschke@wisc.edu

Emma Lundberg
University of Rhode Island, Kingston, Rhode Island, USA; emma_lundberg@my.uri.edu

Ludovic Drapier
LGP UMR CNRS 8591, Université Paris-Est Créteil, Créteil, France; ludovic.drapier@lgp.cnrs.fr

Kristen C. Hychka
University of Maryland, Center for Environmental Science, Solomons, Maryland, USA; khychka@gmail.com

ABSTRACT: This article considers the agentic capacity of fish in dam removal decisions. Pairing new materialist explorations of agency with news media, policy documents, and interviews related to a suite of dam decisions in a New England, USA watershed, we identify the ways that river herring seem constrained through technocratic discourse to particular human-defined roles in dam removal discussions. We suggest, meanwhile, that existing human relationships with salmonids like brook trout might serve as a bridge for public stakeholders and restoration managers to recognise the agentic creativity of fish in dam removal and river restoration decisions.

KEYWORDS: Actor Network Theory, brook trout, dam removal, river herring, transspecies



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"They have kidnapped our river": Dam removal conflicts in Catalonia and their relation to ecosystem services perceptions

Mathias Brummer
University of Bayreuth, GCE Koordination Lehrstuhl für Biogeografie Universitätsstr, Bayreuth, Germany; mathias.christian.brummer@gmail.com

Beatriz Rodríguez-Labajos
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Institut de Ciència i Tecnologia Ambientals, Barcelona, Spain; beatriz.rodriguez@uab.cat

Trung Thanh Nguyen
Institute for Environmental Economics and World Trade, Leibniz University Hannover, Germany; thanh.nguyen@iuw.uni-hannover.de

Dídac Jorda-Capdevila
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Institut de Ciència i Tecnologia Ambientals, Barcelona, Spain; dd.joca@gmail.com

ABSTRACT: River restoration is essential to guarantee access to ecosystem services provided by free-flowing rivers. One mechanism to restore rivers is the decommissioning of run-of-the-river dams, but restoration can create opposition as anthropised landscapes form part of the environmental history and imaginary. To facilitate decision-making, actorsʼ perceptions on ecosystem services for and against dam removal should be considered. We analyse perceptions on ecosystem services at two levels of study in Catalonia (Spain): the Catalan context and two local cases of dam removal in the Ter River Basin. Local case studies illustrate that combining participatory mapping and interviews makes contrasting values conspicuous and contributes to conflict understanding. Additionally, we acknowledge a dichotomy of perceptions between locals and outsiders, and the relevance of cultural values, environmental aesthetics, and history for actorsʼ positioning. We propose the engagement of local stakeholders at the basin level through participatory approaches for the sake of understanding water conflicts, as decision making will rarely achieve social sustainability without local support.

KEYWORDS: Water conflicts, participatory mapping, Mediterranean River basins, cultural values, history



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Removing dams, constructing science: Coproduction of undammed riverscapes by politics, finance, environment, society and technology

Zbigniew J. Grabowski
Portland State University, Portland, Oregon, USA; z.j.grabowski@pdx.edu

Ashlie Denton
Portland State University, Portland, Oregon, USA; adenton@pdx.edu

Mary Ann Rozance
Portland State University, Portland, Oregon, USA; rozance@pdx.edu

Marissa Matsler
Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies, Millbrook, NY, USA; matslerm@caryinstitute.org

Sarah Kidd
Portland State University, Portland, Oregon, USA; sarah.kidd@pdx.edu

ABSTRACT: Dam removal in the United States has continued to increase in pace and scope, transitioning from a dam-safety engineering practice to an integral component of many large-scale river restoration programmes. At the same time, knowledge around dam removals remains fragmented by disciplinary silos and a lack of knowledge transfer between communities of practice around dam removal and academia. Here we argue that dam removal science, as a study of large restoration-oriented infrastructure interventions, requires the construction of an interdisciplinary framework to integrate knowledge relevant to decision-making on dam removal. Drawing upon infrastructure studies, relational theories of coproduction of knowledge and social life, and advances within restoration ecology and dam removal science, we present a preliminary framework of dams as systems with irreducibly interrelated political, financial, environmental, social, and technological dimensions (PFESTS). With this framework we analyse three dam removals occurring over a similar time period and within the same narrow geographic region (the Mid-Columbia Region in WA and OR, USA) to demonstrate how each PFESTS dimension contributed to the decision to remove the dam, how it affected the process of removing the dam, and how those dimensions continue to operate post removal in each watershed. We conclude with a discussion of a joint research and practice agenda emerging out of the PFESTS framing.

KEYWORDS: Dam removal, infrastructure, restoration ecology, praxis, USA



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Removing mill weirs in France: The structure and dynamics of an environmental controversy

Regis Barraud
University of Poitiers, RURALITES Research Team (EA 2552), Poitiers, France; regis.barraud@univ-poitiers.fr

ABSTRACT: In France, as in many other parts of Europe and North America, the vast increase in the number of dam removals in order to restore ecological continuity has led to a large number of local conflicts, resulting in a significant ecological controversy. Most of these hydraulic works were connected to former water mills. This article will suggest new analytical methods to help understand and interpret this controversy through the use of two complementary approaches. The first is based on a geohistorical approach. It allows us to identify the development of the meanings and values associated with mill weirs and also to trace the development, since the 19th century, of state involvement in dealing with their ecological impact. Our second method, based on political ecology, attempts to decipher the current state of the controversy. Taking this as our objective we have undertaken a qualitative analysis of the discourse produced on a national level and also of the network of actors who make up the oppositional base to dam removal. The affective and emotional dimensions of the controversy, and also the attachment to local places, both of which are often crucial in the expression of opposition on the local scale, can be identified in the discourse. Yet, the discourse we have analysed reveals argumentative poles which translate both the opposition based on rational arguments and also an alternative vision of the development of rivers (heritage status, green and local power production). The oppositional argument which has been developed notably includes a discussion of the knowledge and scientific expertise upon which the process of dam removal is based. It also includes a critique of local consultation and decision-making methods.

KEYWORDS: Dam removal, environmental controversy, heritage, political ecology, France



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Beyond mandatory fishways: Federal hydropower relicensing as a window of opportunity for dam removal and adaptive governance of riverine landscapes in the United States

Brian C. Chaffin
W.A. Franke College of Forestry & Conservation, University of Montana, Missoula, MT, USA; brian.chaffin@umontana.edu

Hannah Gosnell
College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR, USA; gosnellh@oregonstate.edu

ABSTRACT: Over the past two decades dam removal has emerged as a viable tool for ecological restoration of riverine landscapes, partially as a result of changing societal values toward the ecological trade-offs associated with dammed rivers. Dam condition, purpose and ownership are key factors that determine the legal and political processes that lead to dam removal in most cases. In the United States removals of small, privately owned dams are most common, although the most high-profile removals are associated with large hydropower dams subject to a federal relicensing process. Scholars cite this legal process for periodic re-evaluation of hydroelectric dams as an important window of opportunity for institutionalising adaptive environmental governance toward the renegotiation of social and ecological values associated with rivers. It is clear, however, that this policy process alone is not sufficient to facilitate large-scale dam removal and larger transitions toward adaptive governance. In this paper we review several high-profile cases of dam relicensing and removal in the Pacific Northwest region of the US to better understand the combination of factors that couple with dam relicensing policy to present a window of opportunity for adaptive governance and social-ecological restoration. Examples from the Pacific Northwest reveal patterns suggesting the critical role of endangered species, Native American tribes, local politics and economics in determining the future of large hydropower dams in the United States.

KEYWORDS: Dam removal, social-ecological restoration, adaptive governance, hydropower, FERC, Pacific Northwest