New Horizons in Environmental Economics series
Edited by Fred J. Hitzhusen
Chapter 5: The Economics of Low-head Dam Removal: A Case Study on the Salmon River in Fort Covington, New York
David Warren and Fred J. Hitzhusen INTRODUCTION Dams have been a common site on American waterways for hundreds of years, providing electricity, water supplies, and recreational opportunities for millions of citizens. In the 30 years since the “golden age of dam building” came to an end (Doyle et al., 2003b), however, a new trend involves the removal of dams for various socioeconomic and ecological reasons. Of great concern to many proponents of dam removal is the safety hazard that aging structures pose to the general public. The life expectancy of a dam is generally about 50 years (FEMA, 1999; Heinz Center, 2002), but 25 percent of all dams in the US are already over 50 years old with estimates of 80 percent being past their life expectancy by the year 2020 (Heinz Center, 2002; NRC, 1992). Furthermore, many small dams were constructed over a century ago and are no longer fulﬁlling their intended uses while raising public safety concerns due to structural deterioration (Johnson and Graber, 2002). This is an obvious concern for states and local governments which must decide whether to repair dams, remove them, or do nothing and hope nobody gets hurt or incurs downstream ﬂood damage. Environmental beneﬁts are also important factors driving the dam removal boom as advocates increasingly point to removal as a means of river restoration (Doyle et al., 2003a; Hart et al., 2002). In Lowry (2003), dozens of dam removal case studies involving goals of river restoration are discussed, including projects...
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