Center for Biological Diversity: Endangered Earth - Online # 197

8/5/1999 618


The following Editorial by the Arizona Daily Star supports the dismantling of the Childs-Irving Hydroelectric Project on Fossil Creek near Strawberry, AZ. The Center has asked Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to decommission the dam and restore the flows to Fossil Creek.

Pulling the plug


In Maine, a dam is coming down. That this is happening holds out hope that other dams - including at least one in Arizona - will soon be pulled out of America's much-abused rivers.

The Maine victory shows why so many dams need to go.

Twenty-four feet high, 917 feet wide, Edwards Dam on Maine's Kennebec River never made any sense as an economic and ecological accounting.

On the one ledger, it generated just one-tenth of 1 percent of Maine's annual energy usage. On the other, the aging hydroelectric facility did serious damage to nine species of Atlantic fish by blocking them from their traditional spawning grounds, all while depriving Mainers of a scenic water course for recreation. A reassuring rationality therefore shapes this month's dismantling.

Yet what is even more encouraging about the deconstruction are its politics - and what they bode for other dams, specifically the one in northern Arizona.

The Edwards case, after all, sets a precedent: It represents the first time the federal government has ordered a dam dismantled over a private owner's objection. At last, apparently, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission - which regulates about 2,300 non-federal hydroelectric dams - is ready to begin balancing ecological values with energy yields when reviewing a dam's license.

And so the freeing of the Kennebec this month raises hopes for similar action on Arizona Public Service Co.'s archaic Childs-Irving Hydroelectric Project on Fossil Creek near Strawberry, which could become the nation's second private dam to be forced from service.

Now up for reauthorization, Childs-Irving's marginal power plant in no way justifies the environmental harm of the old-time flume system's diversion of 95 percent of Fossil Creek's cool spring water out of the streambed.

The regulators should therefore yank the dam's license and order the water returned to the creek to maintain its flow. Then a rare travertine stream, its mineral-lined pools and its riverside ecosystems could be restored.

At any rate, Arizonans should revel in the deconstruction of Edwards Dam, and hope it portends similar progress here.

Perhaps it won't take Ed Abbey's ``monkey-wrench gang'' of eco-terrorists to remove the nation's worst small dams.