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Salmon Dam’s Demise Marks Timely Trend
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Removal of dam near Puget Sound frees salmon stream, typifies trend

by Craig Weatherby

Public debates over proposals to remove big, environmentally detrimental dams, like those on Colorado’s Snake River and Washington State's Elwha River, draw ample media attention.

But the removal of many tiny dams could have as big or bigger a positive impact on, among other things, salmon populations and other desirable but threatened aspects of the country's battered coastal ecologies.

Emily Stanley, a bio-geochemist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison made this key point in an essay on the institution’s Web site: “The image is this humongous western dam, and the reality is the LDDlittle dinky dam” (Tenenbaum D 2003).

According to Dr. Stanley, there are an estimated 75,000 dams taller than 6 feet in the United States, but a whopping two million smaller dams.

The process often begins when required repairs to economically marginal or useless dams will cost more than those of removal.

Something like that happened on a salmon stream that flows into Puget Sound, and the story of Goldsborough Dam serves as a symbol of a timely, welcome trend.

We can use every salmon-spawning stream we can save or restore, since obsolete dams, global warming, and commercial interests that compete for river waters combine to threaten salmon runs in Maine and all along the Western coast of the US and Canada.

Salmon dam doomed by financial considerations

In 1885, people first dammed Goldsborough Creek in Shelton, Washingtona small but significant spawning ground for coho (silver) and chum salmon that empties into southwestern Puget Sound near Olympia.

The 30-foot-high barrier called the Goldsborough Dam was built to create a millpond to store logs. Decades later, the city of Shelton rebuilt it to generate electricity. Finally, the Simpson Timber Co. bought it to divert water destined for their lumber mill in Shelton.

The company installed a fish ladder, but conditions at the dam reduced the numbers of migrating salmon to a trickle, despite efforts to seed the river with silver salmon eggs.

After the dam was damaged by a flood in 1996, the Simpson mill’s number-crunchers deemed the structure not worth repairing.

The dam was taken down in 2001, and thanks to renovations completed recently, salmon can now navigate upstream to spawn.

Today, Goldsborough Creek is a significant new source of salmon in the southern reaches of Puget Sound.

And if you multiply this impact times the hundreds of "dinky little dams" that dot coastal watersheds from the Pacific Northwest down to Monterey, one can easily imagine the enormous benefits that could accrue to “salmon nation”.


  • Tenenbaum D / University of Wisconsin-Madison. “What’s the Dam Problem?”, 2003. Accessed online January 2, 2007 at
  • Cornwall W. Dam is gone, salmon are back. Seattle Times, Thursday, December 28, 2006. Accessed online January 2 at

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