DamNation (2014) - full transcript

This powerful film odyssey across America explores the sea change in our national attitude from pride in big dams as engineering wonders to the growing awareness that our own future is bound to the life and health of our rivers. Dam removal has moved beyond the fictional Monkey Wrench Gang to go mainstream. Where obsolete dams come down, rivers bound back to life, giving salmon and other wild fish the right of return to primeval spawning grounds, after decades without access. DamNation's majestic cinematography and unexpected discoveries move through rivers and landscapes altered by dams, but also through a metamorphosis in values, from conquest of the natural world to knowing ourselves as part of nature.

Play one of the best new FPS shooters,
search Steam for PROJECT WARLOCK


ROOSEVELT: This morning,
I came...

...I saw...
and I was conquered,

as everyone would be who
sees for the first time

this great feat of mankind.

Ten years ago the place
where we are gathered

was an unpeopled,
forbidding desert.

In the bottom of the gloomy
canyon whose precipitous walls

rose to height of more
than a thousand feet,

flowed a turbulent,
dangerous river.

We are here to celebrate
the completion

of the greatest
dam in the world,

rising 726 feet above
the bedrock of the river

and altering the geography
of a whole region.

The people of the
United States are proud.

With the exception of the few

who are narrow-visioned.

This great dam won
universal approval.

This is an engineering victory
of the first order.

Another great achievement
of American resourcefulness,

American skill and
American determination.

These are... this is
the tape from, uh...

Recently taped them
at Hetch Hetchy, left it,

and then just kept
them after the Elwha.

But, yeah...


A little quieter compared to this.
You know?

Go for it. But do it
bigger and better.

Definitely do it
bigger and better.

Don't, you know,
it's like, great,

25 years ago we did a
couple painted cracks on dams.

Passé, it's old, been done.
Take it a step further.

Just something, you know,
something really impressive.

I don't know what
that'd be, but...

come up with something.

MAN: Inspiration can be
a pretty dangerous thing.

Mikal's advice haunted me for
months after we interviewed him.

What sort of lunatic
rappels off a 200-foot dam

with a paint bucket, alone
in the middle of the night,

just to make a statement?

Anyway, I'm getting
way ahead of myself.

We'll get back to that.
My name's Ben, by the way.

I'll be your narrator.

It was kind of embarrassing
how little I knew about dams

when I started
working on this film.

I used to sneak inside
their overflow tunnels

once in awhile, to take photos
of my friends skateboarding.

So the extent of my knowledge
about dams mostly had to do

with how to avoid getting arrested
while crawling inside them.

Dams don't just blend in as part
of the landscape to me anymore.

Knowing what I know now,
it's impossible for me

to look at dams the same way
I did a few years ago.

Or even rivers for that matter.

Dams and hydropower represent
a pivotal part of US history.

There's no denying that.

But just like any other
resource development in the US,

we took it too far.

MAN: There are 75,000
dams over three feet high

in the United States.

That's the equivalent of building one
everyday since Thomas Jefferson.

Was the president
of the United States.

BEN: Dams have been a common part of
the American landscape for centuries.

Most early communities
were established

on the banks of rivers
so dams could be built

to divert river flows to
water wheels to run machinery.

Around the time Edison
had the light bulb dialed in,

the first hydroelectric powers was being
generated on the US side of Niagara Falls.

At one point, nearly half the country's
power was being fed by hydropower alone.

As America's dependency
on electricity grew,

new dams were
being built so fast

that the engineering technology
struggled to keep up.

One of the worst disasters
in US history occurred in 1889

when Pennsylvania South Fork
Dam failed with no warning.

The city of Johnstown was leveled
with 20 million tons of water,

taking 2,200 lives.

The flood is still referred to
as a natural disaster,

despite the fact that there's
really nothing natural

about impounding a river behind
a poorly constructed wall.

In the late 1800s, the government
was faced with a tough choice

when they began to realize that every
major fishery in the country was at risk.

Either start regulating the impact of
harvest pollution and dams on wild fish,

or mitigate that loss by
trading nature for science.

The answer was the national
fish hatchery system.

In 1902, the Reclamation Act
was passed by Congress

to promote the settlement
of the West

through the development
of irrigation projects

to support small family farms.

This well intentioned mission

devolved into
the Bureau of Reclamation,

whose short-sided projects began
a legacy of resource abuse.

Transporting and impounding
absurd amounts of water

to support unsustainable desert agriculture
and sprawling urban development.

ROOSEVELT: The mighty
waters of the Colorado,

were running unused to the sea.

Today we translate them

into a great
national possession.

BEN: In 1913, a seven-year
environmental battle,

led by the legendary
Sierra Club founder, John Muir,

ended in vain, when Congress gave the
green light to flood a national park.

Yosemite's stunning Hetch
Hetchy Valley was dammed

to provide water storage
for the city of San Francisco.

On March 12th, 1928,
12 hours after

a safety inspection by its
engineer William Mulholland,

California's St. Francis Dam
broke free from its foundation,

sending a wall of LA's water
supply plowing downstream.

Mulholland was cleared
of any wrongdoing, but

felt personally responsible
for dam's failure.

"I envy the dead," said
Mulholland at a court hearing.

"Don't blame anyone else. If there was an
error in human judgment, I was the human."

During the Great Depression,
Reclamation began the two most

ambitious engineering
efforts in US history:

The Hoover Dam on the border
of Arizona and Nevada

and the Grand Coulee Dam
in eastern Washington.

Both projects created
thousands of coveted jobs,

and were proudly embraced by the
public as national treasures.

By the time Coulee's
generators went online,

the US hydropower's system was feeding
an insatiable demand for electricity

to build airplanes, ships
and bombs for World War II.

If the era of dams had a Golden
Age, it was the following 20 years.

The Army Corps of Engineers,
the Bureau of Reclamation

and the Tennessee
Valley Authority,

were the government's
dream team.

If it flowed, it was dammed.

Any river left unharnessed

was considered a dangerous
torrent with wasted potential.

Thirty thousand private and federal dams
were completed between 1950 and 1970.

By that point, the Yellowstone
was one of very few

unauthored watersheds
left in the nation.

When the Bureau of Reclamation began running
out of ideal locations to build dams,

shit starting getting weird.

Massive dams were proposed
in Grand Canyon National Park

and Utah's Dinosaur
National Monument.

Led by environmentalist David Brower,
the Sierra Club worked quickly

to rally a massive outcry
of public disapproval.

But while Brower's attention
was focused elsewhere,

Reclamation's new secret weapon was quietly
flooding a little known national treasure

with very little opposition.

MAN: If he'd had known how
beautiful that area was,

he would've fought it
tooth and nail.

Brower now says that was the
biggest mistake he's every made.

BEN: In 1973, the Endangered Species Act
was set into motion by President Nixon.

A bold move to protect endangered
species from extinction

as a consequence
of economic development.

And dam contributing
to the demise of a species,

could now be held
accountable by law.

In 1976, the Bureau of Reclamation
set up a claims office

in eastern Idaho to Divvy out
$300 million

to the communities in the flood path
of their newly completed Teton Dam.

As its reservoir filled
for the very first time,

the 300-foot earthen dam started
to liquefy and cave away,

taking 11 lives downstream.

During an interview with
the High Country News in 1995,

Clinton appointed, Bureau of
Reclamation commissioner Dan Beard

stated that, "The Bureau's
future isn't in dams.

The era of dams is over."

In 1997, the 162-year-old
Edwards Dam,

on Maine's Kennebec River,

became the first major
dam removal in US history.

River conservation
organization, American Rivers,

declared 2011,
"The Year of the River,"

as multiple dam removal
projects began,

including the largest in US history,
on Washington's Elwha River,

in Olympic National Park.

WOMAN: We are here today to say, "Free that
beautiful Elwha River, let her run free."

Uh... We're here to say,
"Welcome back," to the salmon.

We want you to live free, again.

There are a grand total
in that pool over there,

someone counted them yesterday,
73 salmon. Not 72, not 74.

I love people with fisheries and wildlife,
"There are exactly 73, governor."


So, to those we say, "We want 73,000 more.
Welcome back, come on back."

That's what this day
is all about.

See a lot of people don't realize how
deep this... really deep this is.

Until you get right here
to the edge and you look over.

Yeah, I mean it was... you know it was
kinda known that today was the last day

of our final operations
up here on the dam.

It was... yeah,
a little reflective.

MAN: You come into a plant,

and as you learn to operate
and spend time with them,

you learn to listen to certain
sounds that are not normal,

certain vibrations
that are not typical.

But this machine,
for as many years as its ran,

we would block load it and
she'd just run and run smooth.

I think she'd just kept on
runnin' for years and years.

June 1st was a big day, that was hard...
I'll be honest with you.

To shut down two perfectly good
running power plants, it wasn't easy.

We, as a country right now, are
infatuated with tearing things down.

It's not just an enterprise
to blow something up

and build something
new and grander.

Uh, I mean, we're
removing these for good.

And we're not just taking dams out but
we're having to relocate families.

And they're losing their jobs.

Yeah, I have... I probably have
some personal feelings towards...

...especially being
a hydropower guy.

I think there's a very
intentional movement,

by various groups in our country
to remove every dam.

There's not doubt about that.

We're all anxious to see,

was this thing really worth it?

Was is worth the $370 million to
the American taxpayer to do this?

Did it really make a difference?

And if in ten or 20 years down
the road we look back and say,

"Nothing really
changed that much,"

then I think we're all going to
come to some similar conclusions.

And only times going to tell is if
that's going to be true or not.

MAN: What's your gut say?

YANCY: What's my gut say?

Uh, I just assume
not say anything.

INTERVIEWER: That says a lot.

I'm not running
for politics, buddy.

I made a statement about
taking out Elwha Dam

in my first months in office.

And it caused a lot of trouble.
The president...

President Clinton
took me aside and said,

"Bruce, what's all this talk
about removing dams?"

MAN: When I first moved to the
state of Washington in 1991,

I was told, "Gotta get involved
with the Elwha Dam removal project!

It's gonna happen any year now."

So, 20 years later,
it's actually happening.

The dams, both of them,
were illegal to start with,

because of existing legislation,
which stated essentially that

any dam built, had to have
passage for migrating salmon.

All the species of wild fish
that have ever live in Elwha

are still there,
biologists know that.

MONTGOMERY: Adult Snook Salmon
still beating their head

against the bottom of the dam,

A century later,
they're still trying

to get upstream, into
Olympic National Park.

MAN: Taking a dam out and
opening up a watershed,

reconnecting it with the fish that were
there for hundreds of thousands of years,

it's a very powerful experience.

MAN: There's three things
that come to mind:

Hope, humility and happiness.

The hope of recovery
in a lot of these places,

the humility when you go to
places like southwest Alaska,

um, and other places
where you see the abundance.

A just a basic spiritual happiness
that you can't find in...

I can't find in
a lot of other things.

MAN: It was the elders that
kept the memory alive.

It was the elders that
passed that knowledge,

the knowledge of this
river in its origin.

They don't forget.

They don't move on.

They remember and they persistently
seek restoration of what was once.

WOMAN: It's an answer to
our ancestor's prayers.

And I'm just grateful that we're able
to see it happen in our lifetime.


So, that's what we're doing,
we're saying thank you

for making sure that the fish
come back and sustain the people.

MAN: The people of
the lower Elwha,

they entered into
a treaty in 1855

that gave the word
of the United States,

that they would be able to
continue their way of life,

and to live off the
abundant resources

of that free-flowing river.

Although the US Constitution

says that treaties are
the supreme law of the land,

the people of the lower
Elwha saw only injustice

for about 100 years.

But there's a healing now,

because that is changing.

All of Indian country
is here in spirit,

and their eyes are focused on
the people of the lower Elwha.



DUNCAN: "Where had
they come from?

The answer sounds
like a fairy tale.

The far reaches of the sea.

How had they arrived?
Another fairy tale.

By swimming against one of the
most powerful rivers on Earth,

past eight deadly dams all
the way up from the Pacific.

Why had they made such an
insane journey? Another wonder.

These colored stones and clear
currents so high and far

from the sea,
once gave them life.

So they'd become
mountain climbers.

Literal mountain climbers, though
they possess no legs, hooves, feet,

They'd climb the Rockies to the pebbles
of their berth by swimming home,

at the certain
cost of their lives,

in order to create
tiny silver offspring."

I just want to welcome
you folks to Grand Coulee Dam.

This is the largest producer of
hydroelectricity in North America,

and the largest concrete
structure in North America.

For many years it was
the largest in the world.

gallons of water a second

going through each
of the big penstocks,

and when it's
really cranking good,

it can actually vibrate
through the bedrock,

you can sometimes feel it
clear across the river.

So you just really know
there's a lot of power there.

There are those that would take out every
dam just to save a couple of salmon.

There are those that think the
Native Americans got a raw deal.

Some of them, of course, would like to go
back and have their native salmon runs

and live off the land.

But things progress...

The Elwha, the Condit,
they were old dams,

obsolete in terms of efficiency,

so if we want to
selectively take out

some of those older,
smaller dams,

not really a problem there.

We can do that,
restore some fisheries,

but this dam, I can't
conceive of anybody

really, seriously,
wanting to take this dam out.

MONTGOMERY: A dam, for salmon,
essentially is, lack of access.

Their basic life history requires the
juvenile fish to go out to the ocean,

and the adult fish to come back
to their spawning stream.

So, anything that blocks
a river, like a dam does,

is end of story in terms of
their ability to access

part of the world they need
to complete their life cycle.

BEN: Some people still define
the Pacific Northwest region

as anywhere salmon can swim.

It's a romantic thing to say,
but that would mean

the territory has been
cut in half by dams.

At one point, the Columbian
Snake River, shown here in red,

were the most productive wild
salmon fisheries in the lower 48.

Now the runs hover around
8% of their former glory.

Every fish that passes this
window at Bonneville Dam,

has to find and negotiate an
elaborate passage to move upstream.

The only chance for their
offspring to get to the ocean

is if the dams are spilling water,
but that equates to wasted power.

So you'll commonly see juvenile
fish being transported in barges

and trucks downstream,
past the dams.

Tens of thousands of now
endangered Snake River Sockeye

used to make the 900-mile
journey to spawn

in Idaho's Redfish Lake.

In 1992, only one fish made
it home past all eight dams.

If you equate the number
of Snake River Sockeye

that have returned
in the 20 years since,

to the amount of money
spent on recovery efforts,

it comes to $9,000 per fish.

The rivers are run
like machines.

Every aspect of their flow
is controlled by computers

in a Portland office.

During spring runoff,
when the rivers are cranking,

there's actually a surplus
of energy in the grid at times,

leaving wind generated power with
nowhere to go and no one to pay for it.

Seeing thousands of wind
turbines generating wind power

in the Columbia Gorge with no impact
on salmon runs and water quality,

definitely raises the
question as to how

hydropower could be
marketed as green energy.

One things for sure though, the pro-dam
crowd seems a little threatened by it.

It's like Beanie Babies,
the fad of Beanie Babies.

Everybody had to
have Beanie Babies.

Well, wind is a fad,
everybody has to have wind.

And then you buy
all of these Beanie Babies

and you load up the shelf
and you got all of these

Beanie Babies and
what are they good for?

Well, not much.

And that's just the same
as the wind, it's just a fad.

BEN: It's really hard to have
a balanced conversation

on the subject of
dams versus salmon.

When the most outspoken pro-dam
politicians in the country

refused all of our
requests for interviews.

Well, one of them reluctantly let us in, and
then not so reluctantly asked us to leave.

I can't say I really blame these
guys for not wanting to talk to us.

But I couldn't help but wonder what
their rhetoric would sound like.

Lucky for us, we heard they
were throwing a little party

to introduce a bill that would
prohibit federal funding

from ever being used
for dam removal,

or the study or dam removal,

unless explicitly
authorized by Congress.

MAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman,

thank for your leadership
on this issue.

Thank you, especially for holding
this hearing to examine and expose

The continuing drive
of the environmental left

to destroy our nations
systems of dams.

Some people seem to have forgotten that
before the era of dam construction,

the endless cycle of withering
droughts and violent floods,

constantly plagued
our watersheds.

Our dams tamed these environmentally
devastating events.

They turned deserts into oasis,

and laid the foundation
for a century of growth

and prosperity
for the American West.

But over the last
few decades, radical

and retrograde ideology
has seized our public policy.

It springs from the bizarre
notion that Mother Earth

must be restored to her
pristine pre-historic condition

even if it means restoring
the human population

to its pristine
pre-historic condition.

They're not satisfied with merely
blocking construction of new dams,

they're not seeking to destroy
our existing facilities.

We'll be required to
stretch and ration

every drop of water
and every wad of electricity

in their bleak and stifling
and dimly lit homes.

Homes in which gravel has replaced green
lawns and toilets constantly back up.

To me, these glaring hypocrisies
destroy their credibility

and reveal an unabashedly
nihilistic agenda.

This is the kind
of lunacy we are facing.

As you deal with these people,
you begin to realize

we are literally dealing with the
lunatic fringe of our society,

and they are in charge of our
public policy on these issues

because we let them.

We're not going
to let them anymore.

BEN: As tempting as it was to stay and
high-five all our new pro-dam friends,

there was a place just a few miles
away that I wanted to visit.

Just 57 years ago at this spot
on the Columbia River,

the Army Corps of Engineers
committed today

what would be called an act
of cultural genocide.

DUNCAN: As Sherman Alexie, a
Spokane Coeur d'Alene Indian says,

"Salmon are the Eucharist
of the tribes."

The Eucharist, like,
the blood and body of Christ,

it's that serious a symbol.

And to run the dams in a way
that wipes out their culture,

their spirituality
and their revenue,

is like there being
a federal bureaucracy

that removes the cattle
from ranches and tells cowboys

that they're doing them a favor.

WOMAN: This is Celilo Falls.

The age old fishing grounds
of the Columbia River Indians.

Here is a fisherman
swinging his net.

Gathering fish
for the salmon feast

given to welcome the spring.

MAN: And my dad woke me
up and it was dark yet.

"Come on, son, let's go,
the fish are coming."

Took me outside the tent,
he said "Listen."

It sounded like a thousand people
with an oar beating on the water.

It was salmon
coming up the river.

WOMAN: The Celilo Falls
was the, you know,

the grandest rendezvous
place for our people,

and plateau tribes, in general.

It mattered not whether you was
Yakama, Nespers, Umatilla, Cayuse...

Whatever you were,
didn't matter.

You was a part of it.

This mist and the roar of that
water is just...

I think about it right now
and I can hear it.

That's one of my great things
that... in my memories.

When I think about it,
I can actually hear it.

MAN: This is the first, and
unfortunately the last time,

that we will ever have
a film of this ceremony.

As you will see,
the great Dalles dam,

which is being built
several miles below here,

will soon back up
over these falls.

They will cover the great fishing
grounds, and the way of life

that Indians have had here
will disappear forever.

CROW: Celilo Falls was gone.

So how do you think I felt?

I knew what was there,
and I knew what they done.

Sometimes I get out and I look
over that place and...

...I can still see where some things
should be and they're not there no more.

The wind has changed...

...because of the flat surfaces
coming up the Columbia.

The temperatures
of the waters have changed.

The dead water makes it harder
for the fish to get up and down.

And now all it is, is a big
body of water, is all it is.

It means nothing to me.

All it means
is what they took away.

What these dams have done,

they completely tore
my country apart.

This is not the same country
as it was that we remember.

BEN: Dating back more than 10,000
years, Celilo was one of the oldest,

continuously inhabited
communities in North America

until it was flooded in 1957.

At one point,
the Army Corps of Engineers

offered to lower the water
backed up behind the Dalles Dam

long enough for the tribes to see
the falls again, just for a day.

There was a resounding
"no" from elders

that they could not live through
seeing them flooded again.

There were some elders that
have never even been back there

because it was so devastating, like
a death is what they called it.

Like a funeral, and they could
not go through it again.

BEN: Just upstream from Celilo, where
the Snake River meets the Columbia,

you'll find what many agree,
are the most ill-conceived

and environmentally
destructive dams in America.

Fed by 23 major tributaries,

the Snake River was once
the gateway to 5,500 miles

of pristine wild fish habitat
in Idaho alone.

Before lower Snake dams were built by the
Army Corps of Engineers in the '60s,

with the stated purpose
of flood control irrigation,

navigation, recreation
and hydropower,

combined, the dams only generate
about 4% of the regions energy.

These are run of river dams, which means
they provide little to no water storage.

That also means they're physically
incapable of flood control,

and it cancels out
their need for irrigation.

The main purpose of all four
dams was river navigation,

so a giant system of locks allows barges
to haul goods up and downstream to port..

It's hard to ignore
the simple fact that there's

a perfectly good railroad,

spanning the length
of the shipping corridor

from Lewiston to Portland.

If area farmers continue
a recent progression

towards shipping
their grain by rail,

It'll be hard to deny that
barging is unnecessary.

The lower Snake is technically
open to the public for recreation,

but I'd heard stories
of boaters being harassed

for simply trying
to paddle downstream.

I wanted to see first hand if
there was any truth to that

so I managed to talk my friend
Travis into one of

the worst ideas I've ever had.

But I'll get back
to that in a minute.

In the meantime, I want to
introduce you to this fella,

who randomly walked up
to the mic at a public meeting

and managed to simultaneously end his
career and blow every mind in the room.

I'm Jim Waddell, I'm not sure
I have a question but,

I wanna tell you something.

I'm from the Army
Corps of Engineers...

From hearing all this stuff
about the lower Snake dams,

and here I am, I know.

I probably know better,
as a civil engineer,

better than anyone in this
country about those dams,

and given what I knew, I just
couldn't sit there any longer.

And I'm going to get fired for
what I'm about to tell you here...


...but it's time.

Those dams are a travesty.

They always have been,

from the day that Congress first
authorized those, it's been a shame.

Part of what I did
was to manage and lead

the lower Snake
feasibility study.

BEN: In 1995, the Army Corps
was forced to address

the environmental impact
of the lower Snake dams

when the Snake River sockeye
was listed as endangered.

Their answer was the $35 million
lower Snake feasibility study.

WADDELL: I read the thing,
I worked on this thing,

and based on that, you know, I believed
those dams needed to come out.

On the Snake River, for the Snake River
salmon, it's four dams too many.

I mean, the taxpayers,

the people
in Washington and Oregon,

are not getting a good deal
out of those dams.

They're losing fish, and the
economics are not helping them.

So, anyway, it comes time
for a decision,

the colonel sits down with
each one of us separately.

And I read the first paragraph.

And basically what it says is,

that my recommendation,
based on this document,

was that we should pursue professional
authorization to bridge the dams.

BEN: Travis checked out
the Army Corps website

and found a friendly
little page that detailed

how to pass through
the Snake River lock system,

if you're in
a non-motorized craft.

This is where
my terrible idea was born.

I wanted to see what
the Army Corps had once built

as some sort
of recreational utopia.

Everyone we spoke to in Lewiston confirmed
that it was a seriously bad idea.

Even this piece of art seemed
like some sort of bad omen,

as if every canoe in the state had been
retired as a memorial to a lost river.

Our plan was to kayak
through all four locks,

from Lewiston, Idaho
to Pasco, Washington,

where our truck was parked
about 100 miles away.

It seemed almost wrong to call this
seemingly dead body of water a river.

Usually, if you stop paddling on a
river, you still move downstream.

Here, not so much.

Day one sucked.

Usually, when it's 100 degree out, you
just look for a tree to sit under,

but they were all under water.

I was feeling pretty grumpy when
Travis turned the camera on me.

I think he wanted me to admit that my
idea was a legend among bad ideas,

but I wasn't ready to give him
the pleasure of knowing that.

My nerves were wearing on me
as we approached the dam,

mainly because
I'm a pessimist, but also

because I can't swim
for shit and I kept imagining

getting sucked through a turbine and
pureed like am out-migrating salmon.

There was hardly anybody in the district
that would even talk to me anymore.

Anybody that thinks we
should breach these dams,

is obviously a communist
and doesn't belong, you know,

to be working around here, so I've been
branded as not loyal to the organization.

I kinda feel like
I failed at my job,

because here I was
in charge of this study,

and in spite of my best efforts, I
let $35 million worth of research

end up ignored.

As a public servant, that's our
job, to make hard decisions.

I happened to end up with
someone that didn't have

the fortitude or the strength to take
that decision and go forward with it.

MAN: I think we can have
a win-win situation.

Remove those dams, save the
taxpayer money, improve a habitat,

put more dollars back
in this community

because people will come here
to use this river.

And not only is it important
to the ecosystem, it's amazing.

Just amazing that they come 900
miles into the Snake River system.

And it'd be a lot of teardrops

of joy to see that
river running again.

DUNCAN: It's the largest
possible salmon recovery venture

of which humanity is capable.

Would be simply the removal
of those four dams.

Nobody's ever heard of them.

Nobody's ever been there.

It has to become
a national issue.

BEN: The Snake River
is a public waterway.

Our tax dollars pay to maintain
these locks and these dams.

The lower Snake feasibility
study was ignored,

and Jim Waddell's recommendation
to breach the dams was removed.

Despite hundreds of millions
a year, not one of the four

endangered Snake River salmon
species has been delisted.

DUNCAN: There's a great good here
that belongs to the American people,

that's being stolen
from the American people

by a very small corrupt branch
of the federal government.

BEN: The Army Corps website
said to pull a cord

to speak with a log master
upon arrival,

but we couldn't
find it anywhere.

The last thing I wanted to do
was get out of my kayak,

but I knew our window was
about to close any minute.

I found a couple workers that
told me how to find the cord,

but also warn me
that security was on the way.

Right as I was about to pull
the elusive cord,

we made some new friends.

Hey, how's it going?
Not too bad...


Why not?



I think we should get
the sheriff to come down.

Don't you?

BEN: And just like that,
I was off the hook.

Travis had come up
with an idea worse than mine.

Despite the depressing reality
of the situation,

I couldn't stop laughing as two police
cars and Army Corps security truck

were trying to figure out how to pull
over two kayaks from a nearby road.

One of the more excited cops
deleted the video

of the conversation
you're about to hear,

but he didn't notice
the fuzzy microphone

sticking out of my life jacket.


BEN: The more the layers
peeled off this story,

the deeper I wanted to go.

There's one particularly
divisive issue

when it comes to dams that no
one seems to want to talk about

and that's fish hatcheries.

But before we tackle that beast,

I think it's important
to have a little appreciation

for one of the species that
deserves our respect.

DUNCAN: You cannot have a
creature come in from the ocean

and enter the extreme
state of vulnerability

that is spawning
in shallow water.

Unless the people in that watershed
agree to greet this wild creature

with great compassion
and sensitivity.

BEN: I think most people have
heard of a rainbow trout

or had one wiggle out
of their hands at some point.

Burt few have had the honor and
privilege of meeting a Steelhead

These highly respected
sea run rainbows,

have been severely
impacted by West Coast dams,

and eliminated entirely
from some watersheds.

It's not uncommon for a fly
fisherman to go weeks,

or even a season, without
feeling a pull of a Steelhead

but their devotion to these storied
creatures seems to fuel them.

There's a uniquely cold
stretch of water in Oregon,

where a pod of these wild steel head have
gathered for ages to rest before spawning.

These particular fish have
a special friend named Lee

who lives about 30 feet away.

Lee is their guardian,

and he's kept notes on
everything that happens

in and around the river,
for nearly 12 hours a day,

for six months a year,
for more than 13 years.

LEE: This pool is known to a lot of
local people as the "dynamite hole"

because of the two, possibly
three, humanly generations

when dynamite
was readily available,

and no one else was up here.

And it was used in this pool,

possibly as much as two,
sometimes three times a year.

And, of course, for every
dynamiting, there are

probably 20 or 30 snaggings
or nettings or you name it.

To mess with fish that
have passed through the

gauntlet that these
fish have gone through,

after they're up here and home free,
just seems like it's ridiculous to me.

One of the things that never
ceases to amaze me is,

how curious these fish
are about everything.

I think the curiosity that
I see possibly represents

their feelings of vulnerability,

of being in this pool.

Which is, compared to the
Pacific Ocean, a puddle.

And they sometimes respond,
idiosyncratically, to people.

Some people put these fish
in a conniption fit.

Some people have very little
effect on them whatsoever,

and I'd be willing
to be that these fish

have as fine an appreciation
of what's going on

around this pool as I do and perhaps
finer, probably finer, in a lot of ways.

You know the things that have influenced
me in life besides blind accident,

are things of great amusement.

One of the more amusing stories I
read about Steelhead fly fishing

was by Gary Snyder,
and he said something like,

"Well, we started fly fishing on
the Russian River for Steelhead

Then we started taking
the points off our hooks.

Then we started taking
the flies off our hooks

and finally we just
decided to go swimming.

And that's... there's something
very amusing about that,

but very meaningful
and true, too.

I think I needed something
to open my eyes

to the beauty of the North Umpqua and
these emblematic fish that run her.

It would be nice to think
that these fish know me,

because I've been watching
them and their parents now

for 13 years but I think that I would
just be playing a game with myself.

Having Parkinson's has made me,
to a certain degree,

more aware of the fact that this
will have to come to an end,

perhaps sooner than I otherwise
would have liked it to.

It's wonderful to have an
opportunity to do something

as positive as this is,
and as simple as this is.

That is a great gift to me.

Well, I sometimes wonder

what the final day will be
like for me here.

I think that someone
will come along

and continue
to stay with these fish.

Because one thing is clear:

It's too easy to get here
for there not to be

a human presence here at all
times from this point on.

And there will be.
I'm confident of that.

Wild fish are the real deal.
We still have them, thank God.

And hopefully we always will.

The great beauty of wild fish
is we don't have to do

a goddamn thing for them except
leave them the hell alone.

WOMAN: Listen up! Since they've been
put through the chemical bath...

...they are not fit for human consumption.
So we can't eat them.

They are going to be processed
into fish fertilizer,

like that stuff that maybe
your folks put on the garden.

You dump it out, it's really gross looking.
It's super stinky, it makes stuff grow.

GIRL: They're big.

WOMAN: They are big!


WOMAN: No, no, no...
That's not why we kill them.

BEN: Just like their wild
cousins, hatchery salmon

sacrifice themselves for the next
generation by returning home to spawn.

But for these Columbia River
hatchery fish,

home is a government-run factory

where they're beaten to death
and artificially spawn

to create a very expensive
illusion of a salmon run.

MONTGOMERY: Historically,
hatcheries have been used

as a way to justify

trying to rebuild fish runs
without actually dealing

with the root causes
of their decline.

Sort of habitat change over
fishing and dam construction.

It's a lot easier, basically,
to adopt the philosophy of,

"Oh, we'll just make more fish."

So I call it
a type of a whack theory

where the question is how many
fish do people want to whack?

And we'll try to produce those
and bring them back.

But that isn't the same
as saving the salmon.

BEN: Bonneville power rate
pairs are saddled with

an $800 million a year burden

to fund the Columbia
hatchery system.

This is now the largest
fishing wildlife program

in the United States.

YOST: We're spending a lot of
money trying to get it right,

but it's a business operation,
and it's a big business.

BEN: Hatchery fish tend
to suck at life and equate

to a bad return on investment
for a handful of reasons.

And I don't think you have to be a
fish biologist to understand why.

If you're raised in a concrete
pool with no predators,

where delicious brown pellets
mysteriously rain down from the sky,

chances are you'll be pretty
naive when you're flushed

out of the tube
into the real world.

MONTGOMERY: If you took
a bunch of suburban kids

and dropped them off in the
middle of the Congo Jungle

and told them to walk
to the coast,

they're going to be
not very well-suited

to survive well in that habitat.

MAN: They release millions
and millions of smelts.

Very, very few of them
come back. Very few.

They're no different than
industrial agriculture.

It's a disaster in the end.

So it is true I was a critic
of the BPA's fish programs

and now I operate
BPA's fish programs.

We have hatchery legal
obligations to provide

hatchery production
to support harvest.

So the question is how do we do
that in the smartest possible way

so we're not
impairing wild fish?

CROW: That's an age old
question we continue to address

and try to resolve is where is
that balance between providing

hatchery stock that can
be fished and harvested

without harming the native
population fish that are there.

If you load up a stream
with lots of hatchery fish

the wild fish that are still
in it can be out competed.

If you look at, say,
the rivers New England,

the fish farm escapees
and hatchery fish

outnumber the wild fish in their
own rivers 100-to-1 or so.

Anybody outnumbered 100-to-1 is going
to have a hard time holding on.

If we keep piling hatchery fish on top
of these salmon recovery efforts,

we're crippling our chances
to really recover these systems.

And the second problem
is they tend to breed

with the wild fish that are
within that watershed

and that's shown to reduce their
ability to produce offspring.

The wild fish are genetically
diverse whereas a hatchery clone,

it's a bunch of first cousins
fucking first cousins.

So you end up with
a bunch of badeeps.

They're immediately being
inbred out of existence.

It really is like trying to replace
Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart

with Yanni, Yanni and Yanni.

No diversity.

There is sort of this deep
psychological need or desire

to control nature
and I think dams

and hatcheries
are the same things.

BEN: The whole purpose
of the $300 million Elwha Dam

removal project was
to restore wild fish runs.

But instead of letting things
happen naturally,

16 million went to the Elwha
Klallam tribe to build a new

fish hatchery and start pumping the Elwha
full of manufactured salmon and Steelhead.

The one common element is to build
the dam you gotta put a hatchery in.

To take it out,
we gotta put a hatchery in.

Makes you kind of wonder
what the real purpose behind

the desire for hatcheries are,

and if there's other reasons
why they tend to be

very popular
than the good of the fish.

I don't like to openly oppose something
that the tribe has a right to do...

...but in this case I feel
like they're making a mistake.

MAN: We're here to celebrate the largest
dam removal project in US history.

An extraordinary opportunity
to watch more than 100 miles

of pristine wild salmon habitat
return to its natural state

as the Elwha reconnects
with the sea for the first time

in nearly a century.

The wild salmon of
the Pacific Ring of Fire,

have evolved to repopulate
themselves in watersheds

devastated by volcanic eruptions,
earthquakes, glaciers, landslides.

They're been doing it successfully
for millions of years.

But because we've somehow
lost our faith in Mother Nature,

we're about to start releasing
inbred, out of basin hatchery stocks

into this
newly restored habitat.

Despite overwhelming evidence showing
the presence of hatchery fish

works as a powerful detriment
to wild salmon recovery,

we insist, once again,
on helping the natural process.

My wish that is that we could
somehow find the patience

and the faith to let Mother Nature
do what she has always done.

Thank you for your time.


MAN: What do you
think of people

characterizing Floyd Dominy
as an enemy of the environment?

Bulldozer in front of you
paving everything.

How do you feel about that?

I've changed
the environment. Yes.

But I've changed it
for the benefit of man.

BEN: It would be wrong to make
a film about dams in the US

and leave out the story
of Glen Canyon.

In the archeology profession,
there's a very unromantic term

used when the sole purpose
of the job is to document

cultural treasures before they are
flooded by a dam. They call it salvage.

MAN: It was the biggest
single salvage project

up to that point in
American history.

It was the most thorough thing of
its kind ever done at the time.

I think by the end of 1958
when that picture was taken

where we're all standing there

we all had a pretty good idea

that this was really something
very special.

DOMINY: Glen Canyon Dam was
authorized in April of 1956.

Colorado's Storage Project Act.

We didn't have to relocate any railroads.
We didn't have to relocate any highways.

We didn't have to
build the barrier, dikes,

around any little towns. There was
nothing there. Nothing there.

BEN: Did you ever
meet Floyd Dominy?

Oh, there we go. Yeah.

No, I never met him. I'd have cut
his balls off if I'd have met him.

Or I'd have somebody else do it.

BEN: Deceptively called a
lake, Glen Canyon now rests

under the second largest reservoir
in the country that flooded it.

Glen Canyon Dam was essentially a bank
account for the Bureau of Reclamation,

built to generate power that
would fund other projects

and provide water to cool and
nearby coal fire power plant.

An estimated 45 million tons of sediment
is trapped behind the dam annually,

starving the Grand Canyon's
ecosystem downstream.

Every year as Lake Powell
evaporates under the desert sun

and seeps into
the porous sandstone,

8% of the Colorado
River's flow disappears,

one of many factors that
contribute to the river

commonly drying up before it
reaches the gulf of California.

When construction began in
1957, two archeology teams

began a five year push
to document more than

250 culturally significant
sites in lower Glen Canyon.

At the same time, a handful
of devoted river runners

began the process of saying
goodbye to the place no one knew.

The gates were going to close
and we had to at least be

finished with what was
going to be flooded.

It's going to go under but at
least we're going to salvage it

so we'll have the stuff
and the records and the data

so we can write books about it and
we can make museum displays about it

and we can have a dam.

So we can run around
on our boats. It's progress.

Two guys and me,
it seemed to be a pattern.

One of them old enough to
almost be my father and Tad,

an old friend that I'd known
since I was in high school,

and one's a photographer
and the other one knows

the river very well, Frank.
Just friends.

None of this hanky panky.
Nobody's trying to get laid

and nobody's... we're just all
enchanted by what's around us.

BEN: Why were you initially
afraid of it?

FOWLER: Because I didn't know how to swim.
Because I'd never run a motorboat.

Because I'd never
camped out in my life.

Once you get through being
afraid of the country,

it was a magical place.
Forgotten canyon.

That was the high point,
I think.

The people who walked away
about 1,300. 1,310, maybe.

They left the ashes
in the fireplace.

They left great big pots
sitting on the surface

with food remains still in them.

There was a ladder that still
went down into the Kiva,

into the ceremonial chamber.

They had just walked away.
1,000 years ago.

Nobody's been here since.
That doesn't happen very often.

LEE: Well, I actually hear
speaking in the wind sometimes.

You go around the corner, well, everybody
hears a whistle here and there, but no...

I heard more than whistles.

And I said, there's something
queer about this place.

Maybe it's scary.
At first it was.

And then I thought, no,
I think there's just something

here that's supposed
to be part of me.

Hundred-and-twenty-five side canyons,
every one of them different.

Every one of them with
a personality of its own.

We would go around a corner
and spread out before us

would be this incredible site that
A: Nobody had ever seen before.

B: Nobody had touched it.

C: It was utterly
an incredibly beautiful,

everything was in the right

all the colors were perfect.

All the senses came
just flashing out.

I could hear better,
I could feel better.

I could speak better,
everything just amplified.

BEN: What was it like to walk
naked through Glen Canyon?


Well, I'm sorry, but I can
hardly explain that.

It was just absolutely the most
natural thing in the world.

And this one I keep to myself.

I never let this one out.

I might decide to let
you guys have it.

You know, I never dream
about it.

It's because it's on my mind
all day long, every day.

There's no...

I don't need to dream about it.
I think about it all the time.

What was lost?

[GASPS] Eden.

I don't think Eden could have
touched Glen Canyon.

DOMINY: We flooded out the
rattlesnakes and the prairie dogs

and a few deer
and a beaver or two.

That's all that was flooded out
when we... and a lot of beauty.

But we created
a lot more beauty.

And we made it available,
which it wasn't before.

We haven't destroyed the world.

We've made it habitable
for a lot more people.

A young man not long ago
said to me he said,

"Are you a hero or a villain
based on your record as

Commissioner of Reclamation?"

I said, "I think I'm a hero or
should be considered it by you

because you wouldn't be here if it
weren't for the development of the West

sponsored by
the Bureau of Reclamation.

BEN: Possibly the most
hypocritical sign in history

is bolted to Glen Canyon Dam's
most popular overlook.

It warns that defacing natural
features destroys our heritage.

I can't at it without
imagining Edward Abbey

rolling over in his
unmarked desert grave.

If you've never heard of Ed, you might mane
heard of his book, The Monkey Wrench Game,

that inspired an environmental
movement called Earth First.

His first act of civil disobedience
just so happened to go down

in Glen Canyon Dam,
on March 21st, 1981.

ABBEY: I think we are morally
justified to resort whatever

means are necessary in order to
defend our land from destruction.

I see this as an invasion.

These look like
creatures from Mars to me.

I feel no kinship with that
fantastic structure over there.

No sympathy with it whatsoever.

Yeah, I would advocate sabotage.

Subversion as a last resort
when political means fail.

JAKUBAL: When I had sent he plastic
crack and when I saw pictures of it

talking to people and

How can we up this?

Wouldn't it be cool if we
could paint the crack?

And it was clearly impossible
on a damn like Glen Canyon.

There's no way you could ever
get away with it.

But if we had a damn that was
unguarded at night it would work.

At the time,
Earth First does a shirt.

It's a hand with a wrench that
says defend the wilderness.

I was wearing that shirt out
on the dam looking down

over the edge with this
kayak on the roof

that says I'd
rather be monkey wrenching.

[CHUCKLING] You just
don't frickin' do that.

At one point I looked over
and there's a ranger

looking at me with binoculars
and I go, "Oh shit!"

There's always a little period
where you have butterflies,

going, "Oh shit,
are we going to do this?"

It's ridiculous.

BEN: Michael and his friends
made history that night,

leaving their mark
on the 430 foot face.

Photos of the crack were wired to
newspapers across the country.

The plan seemed flawless
until it wasn't.

JAKUBAL: And the same ranger who
was at the dam, pulls up behind me.

He says, "What's your name?" I say, Phil
or something. I just made up a name.

He's sort of beating around
the bush, asking questions,

finally he asked for ID and I
said, sure, and then he goes,

"Wait a minute,
you said your name was Bill."

This is a federal cop.

He knows what he's doing.
At that point I had been

arrested a bunch for sitting
in trees and locking my neck

to corporate headquarters and chaining
myself to bulldozers and you know.

Was I nervous? I'm sure I was. Probably
inside my shoes, my toes are going...

Finally, he gets to
the point where he says,

"okay, look. I'm a fan of Ed
Abbey's, I read the book,"

and I assume he meant
the Monkey Wrench Gang.

He said, "We had an incident
out on the dam last night.

If you anything about what
happened out there..."

Blah blah...
three or four questions,

I said "No, no, no." He said, "okay.
Well, you're free to go."

You know? I mean, I walked
on that one. He had me.

We did the Hetch Hetchy crack.

Learned, kind of,
how to do it and realized,

"Oh, this is really cool.
We need to do more of this."

The Earth First group stayed
around the area for a while.

And then we got wind that they were
going to do something up at the dam.

We put an extra ranger
on duty that night.

We drove up there that night, and
that's the first time I saw it.

I said, "Oh, this is
right for a crack."

Dropped my gear off, schlepped
it all out over the fence,

drove back down, parked the van, got on
my bicycle, rode up there stashed it,

Glines Canyon is near vertical.
It's very steep. It's dark.

It's a damp, slippery dam and
a 200 foot abyss right below.

So we've got this rope straight across
here and I clipped my rappel rope

into that, locked it off, five-gallon
bucket of paint, hooked on my harness,

and I hung off the edge of the
dam and just let go.

I remember this moment well.
It was dynamic rope, not static.

So it stretched a lot.
It just went...

At one point I was sure
I was going to get busted.

Everything was taped up
to be quiet, but that bucket.

When I jumped, that thing kind of swung
and smacked into the side of the dam.

It was just so loud
and I was like, "Oh shit!"

MAN: The guy who got through,
painted a huge crack,

and then off to the side
he wrote, "Elwha be free!"

I'd swing way over and I'd paint a bit
with the roller and I'd go swinging back.

I had a couple of moves,
back and fourth, get going,

get over there
and paint a little bit more.

My fingernails, my hair, my ears,
my eyes I was covered in paint.

So I finished the Be Free part,
finished that, and I was out of paint.

I've got "Elw Be Free!"
And I was like, "No, I

can't! There's no way.
I can't leave this."

Nothing worse than having
a gigantic typo on a dam.

I just could not live with it.
I just dropped everything,

left it all on top of the dam,
ran up, grabbed my bike,

zipped down, jumped in the van.
I had two quarts of paint.

Like a gray
and a green or something.

Mixed them up really quick,
changed the anchor, rappel down.

Dawn is really close. Somebody
could show up at any minute.

And I'm making all this noise. Now I wasn't
even being careful. I was just going for it.

If I'm busted, I'm busted.
I want to have it finished.

It was a beautiful crack. The guy was
an artist. There was no question of it.

And he did that all in one night.
It was an amazing feat.

And he was interviewed recently.

Said he didn't want to be
remembered for that,

but boy, I think he should.
He should be.

I think that sort of woke up people to
the fact that something had to be done.

DUNCAN: Water is the same
as the blood in our bodies.

Stagnation brings on death.

People who are in their
last throes, the

blood is barely moving
through their bodies.

There are parts of their bodies
that there is no flow at all.

Rivers are regions with that
same kind of stagnation.

When it's all slack
water reservoirs,

its uses are really limited
and it's not vibrantly alive.

BEN: As soon as the
reservoirs were drained

the Elwha found its path
of least resistance,

and carved a new river channel,

in the process revealing
something long forgotten.

Preserved under a century of sediment
were the remains of an old growth forest

that had been clear cut
when the dams were built.

Almost instantaneously, the Elwha's
watershed was coming back to life.

Just a year after the removal
of the lower dam,

biologists were counting fish
by the thousands in stretches

of the Elwha that hadn't seen
a salmon in 99 years.

MONTGOMERY: The beautiful thing about
Salmon? They're incredibly resilient.

If you give them half a chance,
they can come back in many ways.

But you have to give them
at least that half a chance.

When Glines Canyon Dam
is fully removed upstream,

Salmon and Steelhead
70 miles of new habitat,

reviving the flow of nutrients
between the Pacific Ocean

and the mountains
of Olympic National Park.

The science and engineering behind removing
the Elwha Dams was totally experimental.

There's no handbook to consult because
it's never been done before at this scale.

In almost every case,
the biggest hurdle

for dam removal engineers
lies behind the dams.

Decades of silt, sand, gravel,
and wood that should have

been flushed naturally through a watershed
has stockpiled in the reservoirs.

Different dams will last
for different periods of time

based on how much sediment they
trap coming down the river.

So when the reservoir
fills with mud,

it's kind of outlived
a lot of it's utility.

BEN: The plan at the Elwha was
to chip away at the walls slowly,

releasing sediment through the
watershed just a little at a time.

Massive plumes of silt
could be seen reaching miles

under the ocean at the mouth
of the Elwha,

restoring a coastline
that had been eroded

to bare stone in places.

These natural sediment flows
are insanely critical

to river habitats, wetlands,
offshore environments,

and to protect coastal communities
from storm surges and sea level rise.

Three hundred miles east of the Elwha, the
second largest dam removal in US history

was already underway on
Washington's White Salmon River.

The tributary to the Columbia
River, the White Salmon was

once home to a vibrant salmon run
before Condit Dam was built in 1913.

The White Salmon has since developed
a reputation as a world class

whitewater destination in the
stretches above the dam site.

In 1996, the Federal Energy Regulatory
Commission forced PacifiCorp,

the dam's owner, to either build an
extremely expensive fish passage facility,

or to decommission the dam in order
to meet environmental codes.

Knowing the dam's contribution
to the power grid

could be replaced by
as few as three windmills,

PacifiCorp chose to scrap Condit and
save their ratepayers some money.

Before the removal process
began, a not so subtle hint

was dropped that the river community
was ready for Condit to be gone.

MAN: A year ago I was here
at the White Salmon River

when the dam blew
there was this moment

where there was the countdown

and there's this moment of silence.
You're kind of wondering,

"Is it really going to happen?"

And then, you could feel
the ground shake.

BEN: The plan to remove Condit was a
little more aggressive than the Elwha.

It involved 800 pounds of dynamite
stuffed into the end of a 90-foot tunnel

that had been drilled
at the base of the dam.

The theory was that the weight
of the reservoir would flush

a century worth of sediment
through the tunnel

and downstream to the Columbia
in one dramatic pulse.

MAN: Due to the concussive
forces of the blast,

there was heightened level
of nervousness, if you will.

There was the possibility
of infiltration by folks

wanting to get a closer look;
Video, etc.

BEN: It came as no surprise when we were
denied permission to film the blast.

But I didn't want that little detail to get
in the way of actually filming the blast.

A couple of days before,
we scouted a hillside

with a good few of the dam
and built a crappy camera blind

for me to hide in for 18 hours.

Blast day was
unbelievably stressful.

If you've ever hid
in the woods from a guy

with binoculars and
a surveillance helicopter,

I'm sure you can totally relate.

At one point my mom called to tell
me that she had read somewhere

that the explosion
could make my ears bleed.

But luckily that thought had already
crossed my mind at the hardware store.

When the helicopter finally cleared
the area, everything was quiet.

And I knew the horn
would come soon.


You know, you start on a
project like this and it seems

so big and so insurmountable
and it's just...

The forces against you are
so intense and it feels like

many days that you're just never going
to get there and we finally did it.

This is day that I've dreamed
about for over a decade

and today is the day that we just
get out to float down the river

and enjoy this place
that we've all been

working so hard to restore
for so many years.

♪ Summer sailed in

♪ Filled my mind you see

♪ Coloring my skin

♪ I must say

♪ Saw my wings

♪ With the bodies
in the gutter ♪

♪ Feel my kiss

♪ Not say the word

♪ Knowing my hands

♪ They'll shake like crazy..


When I first started this
and got involved in dam removal

and asked myself the question,

"What is it that makes
a dam removal happen?"

And you might think that it's
policies or politics or maybe

it's the guy with the plunger.

But when it comes down to it,

it's people who are passionate
about the river.

And it's the people who are
out there kayaking,

it's the people who
are out there fishing,

it's the people who are out there just
sitting on the banks of the river,

enjoying the place,
and it's the passion of those

individuals that makes it all
real and makes it happen.

MONTGOMERY: If you think of all the
sort of resources that our descendants

are going to really value in
say, 200 or 300 years,

and as a geologist I can think that long
and not think that's too far out of line,

a resource that fends for itself, grows
a huge source of proteins and omega 3s,

that then swims home so that
you can harvest half of them,

you can take half of a salmon fishery, eat
it, and they'll keep replacing themselves.

I mean,
what kind of a gift is that?

What kind of a species
throws that away?

And if we look towards feeding
the world in the future,

It's insanity to not try and recover
salmon runs as far as we can.

WOMAN: We may have fueled the
early industry in this country

and the industrial revolution
in this country,

but we've wiped out our
fisheries in the process.

So, just because a dam has been
sitting in a river for 200 years

does not mean that it's going
to stay there for the next 200.

BEN: The state of Maine has over
800 dams, many of them obsolete

and still causing a lot of harm to
their watersheds two centuries later.

For most sea run fish, efforts
to mandate these impacts

with fish ladders or elevators
haven't solved the problem.

In 2010, the Penobscot River
Restoration Trust came up

with a pretty wild idea: The trust
raised $24 million and purchased

three dams on the Penobscot River
from the local power company.

Here we are. As we sit here today
we own three Penobscot Dams.

And it feels good to own
three Penobscot Dams

knowing what we're
going to do with them.

Charles Lindbergh
said something pretty amazing.

He said, "If I have to choose between
birds and airplanes. I choose birds."

To paraphrase: If I had to choose between
electricity and fish, I'd choose fish.

BEN: The Atlantic Salmon Federation
has called the Penobscot Project

the best and perhaps the
last chance of restoring

a major run of Atlantic
Salmon in the US.

One thousand miles of habitat was
reopened to migrating species

like salmon, sturgeon, American
shad, river herring and eel.

GRAY: Seeing the results of all this
effort actually come to something

boiled with life which we had
predicted it would

and actually
see it happen... is awesome.

BEN: The most ambitious
river restoration project

every proposed in the US is slated to
begin in 2020 on the Klamath River,

which originates in Oregon and flows
through California to the Pacific.

In a historic settlement, tribes,
farmers, commercial fishermen,

and the owner of the Klamath Dams have all
signed off on the billion dollar project.

But one significant
hurdle remains.

It's now up to Congress to give the
project final approval to move forward.

With no fish passage at all,
before Klamath Dams

annihilated the third most productive
salmon fishery in the lower 48,

and caused toxic algae
blooms in the reservoirs

that have wreaked havoc
on water quality.

Like all constructed things,
dams have a finite lifetime.

It's not time to pull out every
dam in the country.

It would be
economically foolish.

But it would be just as foolish
not to rethink every dam

in the country and try to
decide, which are the ones

that actually still make sense
in the 21st century?

And which are those that we can
get more value both

economically, culturally,
aesthetically, morally,

and ecologically out of a river
system by sending it

part way back to a state
that it was in naturally?

The history of thinking in the
western world is radical ideas

eventually can become

and a couple of decades ago it
was radical in terms

of thinking you could
take a dam out.

It was unthinkable.

Go back 50 years
it was legitimately crazy talk.

You know,
the conversation has changed.

BEN: For the most part the era of dam
building is a closed chapter in US history.

But as of 2014, the state of Alaska was
rushing through the permitting process

to build a $5 billion dam
on the Susitna River.

This pristine watershed
drains a remote region south

of the Alaska range,
near Denali National Park

and is home to one of the most productive
king salmon runs in the state.

Many assumed Alaska was bluffing after
abandoning the idea twice before,

but now they've sunk 165 million
into the planning alone.

If the state succeeds, the 735-foot-high
dam will be the second tallest

in the United States and flood a
42-mile wide wilderness corridor.

After Glen Canyon was flooded, David
Brower of the Sierra Club wrote,

"Neither you nor I nor
anyone else knew it well enough

to insist that at
all causes should endure.

When we began to find out,
it was too late."

In the words of Edward Abbey,

"Sentiment without action
is the ruin of the soul."

♪ Shapes do melt
until they're small ♪

♪ Looking down
at scattered bones ♪

♪ I used to keep

♪ A slender harp

♪ Till they spread
her ghost on ♪

♪ I pulled a trigger

♪ By mistake

♪ Flowered at the aftermath

♪ Slowly recognize the scale

♪ We will be ephemeral

♪ We will be ephemeral

♪ Fact isn't what you see

♪ Not anymore
what it used to be ♪

♪ Fact isn't what you see

♪ Not anymore
what it used to be ♪

NEWSCASTER: It was no small feat,
someone or perhaps several people,

painted a giant pair
of scissors on the face

of the 200-foot abandoned
Matilija Dam near Ojai.

Ventura county owns the dam. They
believe it was done last week.

Destroying the dam has
been debated for years.

Officials say the graffiti sends a clear
message some people really want it gone.

Yeah, it's probably time
for this thing to come down.

It is time for
this thing to come down,

we're just trying to figure out
the best way to do it.

And heck,
I'm sorry they ran out of time,

because we don't know where this
stitch mark belongs on the other side.

WOMAN: It's such a
peaceful demonstration.

I don't see any harm
in the scissors.

My hat is off
to the people that did it.

MAN: Officially, there
was a crime committed

but does it rise to the level
of sending people out?

No. There's better things
to spend that kind of money on.

Near Ojai, Leo Stallworth,
ABC 7 Eyewitness News.

♪ You make my heart spin
sorrow into silk ♪

♪ You make me sleep

♪ Like a young child
with warm milk ♪

♪ You held me tighter

♪ When I pushed you away

♪ You turn my sorrow into silk ♪

♪ You turn my sorrow

♪ You make my heart spin

♪ Sorrow into silk

♪ You make me sleep like
a young child with warm milk ♪

♪ You held me tighter

♪ When I pushed you away

♪ You turned the sorrow
into silk, you turn my sorrow ♪

♪ Sorrow

♪ Superb, superb

♪ Sorrow

♪ Sorrow

♪ Superb, superb

♪ Sorrow

Every canyon at each turn...

Oh, come... Oh, hi, I'm in the
middle of an interview, dearie.

The town picnic?
I don't fucking know, honey.

♪ I'll make my heart spin
sorrow into silk ♪

♪ I'll stay awake
when you can't get to sleep ♪

♪ I promised myself

♪ If I pushed you away...

One of your attorneys... Elmer.

He said, "With all this
restoration you guys got going,

in the watershed and everything,
you have invasive species up here?

I says, "Yeah."

"Well, what are they?"

"Well, we call 'em 'mite lice.'"

♪ Sorrow

♪ Superb, superb

♪ Sorrow

♪ Superb, superb

♪ Sorrow

♪ Superb, superb

♪ Sorrow