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Taking a Second Look: Communities and Dam Removal

More than 500 dams have been removed in the United States, but thousands more remain to wreak havoc with fish, clean water, and the communities where they are located. A coalition of national and regional conservation organizations including Trout Unlimited, American Rivers, and the National Park Service had been working to promote the concept of dam removal around the country, and decided a video program would be the best way to significantly expand their efforts. Green Fire, on the basis of its ability to craft short, compelling documentaries that use facts and real-life experiences, was chosen from among three finalists. Green Fire was also selected because, rather than rely on rhetoric, it encourages viewers to consider and undertake innovative solutions to pressing environmental issues.

When decision makers learn that their dam is having problems, they often decide between whether to fix it, or replace it. But when presented with the potential benefits of a third choice, dam removal, they often take that information into serious consideration. Therefore, Green Fire decided that skeptics of dam removal should be the target audience for this video, and could most reliably be persuaded by their peers. The video features interviews with key decision makers including mayors, city council members, and CEO’s, along with engineers and concerned community members, some of whom initially opposed the dam removal but are now impressed by the results.

Green Fire produced a 20-minute video program that profiles three towns in Maine, Wisconsin, and California where dams have been removed and their citizens have experienced benefits to their river, community and economy. The video shows what happens when people dare to consider whether or not a dam makes sense for their community. The video was presented to, among many others, a town council in Pennsylvania that was considering what to do with their problem dam. After watching the video, the council voted unanimously in favor of dam removal. Nearly 4,000 tapes are now being used regularly by natural resource agencies, local governments, communities, city councils, and citizens considering the fate of problem dams. Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources has ordered 250 copies of the video for all of its offices to use in training and community outreach. Even dam owners and engineers that both build and dismantle dams are using the tape. Recently a Canadian engineering firm purchased 50 copies of the tape to share with their colleagues at the 2001Canadian Dam Association annual meeting to use as an effective public outreach tool to quell opposition to specific dam removal projects.

"There was a clear change of mind after viewing Taking a Second Look. Our town council was divided on the very contentious decision of whether to repair or remove the Collegeville dam. Only after watching the video did everyone wholeheartedly support removing the publicly owned dam, and we voted 5-0 in favor of dam removal." — Terrie Stagliano, Town Councilwoman of Collegeville Borough, Pennsylvania

"Dam owners themselves are using this tape to show that dam removal has very positive benefits." - Richard Donnelly, engineer, Acres International

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