Blasting Dams and the Plight of an Iconic Species

Two must-see new films for Summer 2014

There was a time in American history when erecting concrete monoliths across our great rivers—to produce everything from hydropower to a sea of new jobs—symbolized the forward momentum of humankind. Fortunately, that time is no more.

In DamNation, award-winning filmmakers Travis Rummel and Ben Knight highlight this down-with-the-dams movement and the game-changing implications that lie ahead.

Through provoking storytelling and stunning cinematography the film looks at Elwha River dam removals in Washington’s Olympic National Park, the proposed deconstruction of Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River, four sticky Snake River impediments, and a general reshaping of how people perceive progress. Where it once represented grandiose objects to be built and ogled, today it can also mean squashing the no-purpose impedimenta we can live without.

Currently, the organization American Rivers is aware of more than 925 dams that have been demolished and removed over the past 100 years. Thanks to the message conveyed here, expect that figure to continue climbing.

“All it takes a single person with a dam in mind to set the stage and start the process [of dam removal],” says cinematographer Matt Stoecker who, alongside Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, was instrumental in bringing this film to life.

While the dam deconstruction up-swell lends hope to the return of free-flowing rivers, the fact remains that affected species such as steelhead now, more than ever, are facing a survival crisis. In his newly released documentary, Wild Reverence, filmmaker Shane Anderson returns to the rivers of his youth where, over the course of several decades, steelhead runs are disappearing at a breakneck pace.
With spey rod in hand, Anderson reconnects with the water and speaks with leading steelhead advocates on the impacts of the Four H’s—hydropower development, harvest, habitat degradation, and hatcheries.

Although the story is grim at times, the resilience of this fish of a thousand casts is inspiring. And the forward-thinkers featured make an optimistic case for keeping the wild, wild—free of hatchery influence, for instance—in order to preserve this dynamic species.


Both Wild Reverence and DamNation beg the ugly question: Will this be the last generation to know wild steelhead and pristine rivers?

The answers hinge on people working collectively to make a difference. It’s ultimately up to us.