DamNation Update: The Momentum of River Restoration

The Mountainfilm Commitment Grant was created to help ensure that important stories are not only told, but also heard. What follows is an update from Ben Knight, one of the recipients of a 2011 grant.

Ninety-nine years after Olympic National Park’s Elwha River was illegally dammed, wild Chinook salmon still instinctively gather at the foot of the lower dam as if they sense a change in the current. Upstream, the usual low rumble of antique turbines generating electricity has faded, and the piercing sound of an excavator-mounted jackhammer reverberates off the 210-foot-tall Glines Canyon Dam. De-construction crews have begun the painstaking process of chipping away at its mossy, con-caved facade. This moment marks the beginning of the largest dam removal in U.S. history, unveiling the best opportunity for wild salmon recovery in the country.

Between July and October of 2011, Travis and I had driven more than 9,000 miles and put over 20 hours of footage in the can for our new film DamNation. Not unlike our past endeavors, we really had no idea what we were getting into. With 66,000 dams blocking rivers in the United States, trying to decide what stories would best encompass the issue has been one of our biggest challenges to date. There are dams that block critical salmon and steelhead migration, dams in national parks, dams that drown Native American heritage and dams that are obsolete and dangerous.  

The short-sighted development of a bygone era is growing more prevalent. In many cases, the high cost of retrofitting an aging dam,and meeting current environmental standards has led to a surprising shift in thinking: Dam owners, impacted communities and politicians are now reevaluating the usefulness of certain dams and often advocating for decommissioning and removal. Some call it a movement; others call it a generational shift in values. Regardless of what it's dubbed, an undeniable momentum behind river restoration has begun.

Currently we’re locked in the editing cave, hoping to drop the DamNation trailer and the film’s website in conjunction with Patagonia’s Dam-themed Summer catalog this June. Our hope is to hit the festival scene in early 2013. DamNation is the brain child of Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and Biologist Matt Stoecker — Travis Rummel, Beda Calhoun and I (of Felt Soul Media) are bringing it to life. We’re a proud recipient of a 2012 Mountainfilm Commitment Grant and look forward to bringing our seventh film to the Telluride audience.

Photo Credits: 

Ben Knight and Travis Rummel

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