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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