Archive Content

Please note: This page has been archived and its content may no longer be up-to-date. This version of the page will remain live for reference purposes as we work to update the content across our website.

Removing dams, restoring rivers

Posted on February, 28 2023

A fast, proven solution to enhance river health, build climate resilience, and benefit people and nature
WWF is hosting an official Side Event at the UN Water Conference on dam removals. The event will be held at the Nature Hub on March 23rd from 12:30-13:45 EST in partnership with American Rivers, Open Rivers Fund, Dam Removal Europe, European Open Rivers Programme and World Fish Migration Foundation.

Healthy, flowing rivers are critical to global efforts to tackle the climate and nature crises. Resilient, connected rivers help mitigate the impact of ever-increasing droughts, floods and storms, while also boosting biodiversity. But across the world, rivers are choked with dams, weirs and culverts - many of them obsolete. These barriers fragment rivers, disrupting their natural flow of water, sediments, nutrients and species - undermining their resilience, impacting subsistence fisheries and accelerating nature loss.

Dam removals are a fast, proven, and cost-effective solution with lasting benefits for communities and nature. Over ten thousand barriers - from giant hydropower dams to weirs and culverts - have been removed already, primarily in the US and Europe. By reconnecting rivers, dam removals have helped to build resilience and bring life back to dying rivers - from Finland to France, UK to Ukraine, and Maine to Spain. Dams are also starting to be removed in parts of Asia, Oceania and South Africa. And a movement is growing with increasing numbers of people realizing that dams are not forever - and that restoring rivers is critical to our future.

But hundreds of thousands of obsolete dams continue to degrade the world’s rivers and pose an increasing risk as they age. While the benefits of dam removal are increasingly understood, the pace is not enough to meet the need. We must urgently scale up river restoration to help societies adapt to climate change, which will primarily impact us through water, and reverse the loss of freshwater species populations - which have plunged by 83% on average since 1970.

This session will detail the benefits of removing dams for rivers, people and nature, highlight the growing dam removal movement, and discuss how to invest in scaling up removals to restore rivers.  the lessons learned from removals in the US and Europe - particularly how communities, companies, NGOs and governments can come together to restore rivers, including the biggest dam removals in Europe and the US. It will showcase new forms of funding and innovative communications, which are helping to change the narrative around dams and build grassroots support for connected, free flowing rivers.

This session will highlight the growing number of countries in Europe that have removed dams in recent years - inspiring other countries to look more closely at this effective solution to restore river health and build climate resilience. And it will include with commitments to scale up dam removals, which will help to achieve the current target in the draft EU Restoration Law of at least 25,000kms of rivers restored by 2030, and the global goal of the Freshwater Challenge for restoration of 300,000kms of rivers worldwide to be launched at the UN Water Conference.
Major dam removal in Finland involving government, hydropower company and WWF
© Mikko Nikkinen/WWF
River flowing freely again after successful dam removal in Ukraine
© WWF-Ukraine
Roche qui Boit dam removal on Selune river in France
© ERN Roberto Eppel
Dam removal in Spain
© Spanish River Authority