How to destroy a dam: RETURN OF THE RIVER

Return of the River 2.12.2012 from Jessica Plumb on Vimeo.

As celebrity activists like James Cameron and Sigourney Weaver have argued, dams may be low-carbon forms of energy harvesting, but they’re definitely not “green.” They often result in flooded land, broken ecosystems, and separation of indigenous peoples from the the sources of their food. Dams are impressive engineering feats, but the negative impacts last for generations: we’re still dealing with the damage created during the great age of American dam building in the early 20th century.

The obvious answer to existing dams: tear them down. But isn’t that just too big a step? Hasn’t development often grown up around the dam that would be destroyed? Don’t nearby communities now rely on power created by hydroelectric generators? Wouldn’t the costs be too high for the benefits on biodiversity and native communities?

The documentary RETURN OF THE RIVER explores those questions in the specific case of dams on Washington’s Elwha River, built just over one hundred years ago. Filmmakers John Gussman and Jessica Plumb look at the thirty-year effort by environmentalists and members of the Elwha Klallam Tribe to take the dams down, and restore the river and surrounding ecosystem. In 2011, the dams were removed, but, as the film makes clear, that result was by no means assured: rather, it took nearly a lifetime of work by activists.

The film’s completion isn’t assured at this point, either: Gussman has taken years of footage on the story, but he and producer Plumb are seeking funds for editing the film. Like others documentarians we’ve pointed to recently, they’ve gone to Kickstarter to raise money to complete their work. Take a look at the trailer above, and if you think this is an important story to tell, consider contributing to this project: they’ve still got a ways to go to their $10,000 goal.

Know more about the Elwha River, or other dam projects? Share it with us in the comments.



Image credit: Screenshot from film trailer