Movie recommendation: DamNation

This weekend, Erik and I went to a screening and discussion of DamNation, hosted at the Natural History Museum. DamNation is beautiful environmental documentary about the history and impact of dams on our watersheds, and the growing movement to decommission “deadbeat dams.”

I don’t know if it was the PMS, but I was teary-eyed through much of it, moved by the beauty of the waters, the struggles of the salmon, and the passion of the people who love the fish and their rivers. Days later, I keep thinking particularly of one man who for the last twelve years (if I recall correctly) has lived in a camper six months out of the year to guard a special resting place for trout on their migration. He has Parkinson’s disease, and knows he will not be able to carry on his mission as long as he had hoped, but has faith he’ll find someone to take his place when the time comes.

I also learned a lot about dams–starting with the simple fact of how many of them we have. Holy cow! Like “No Child Left Behind”, it seems we had a “No River Left Undammed” policy for quite a few years. I also never understood how fish hatcheries work, but I now see them as a well-intentioned but misguided attempt to manage nature.

At any rate, Erik and I both give it the thumbs up. According to the producer who spoke at the screening, DamNation is available for sale as a DVD and Blue Ray. It’s also in the iTunes store, and the cable On Demand services, and will be on Netflix within a couple of weeks. It has been doing the festival circuit in the U.S., and will be doing more tours abroad. Finally, they also have a program to help community groups host a screening.

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  1. The best dams are beaver dams; when we humans build dams, we should seek to emulate these engineering experts. I watched a documentary recently on beavers, and decided that if 1) reincarnation is a fact and 2) I have a say in the matter, I’m coming back as a beaver. The soaring eagles are magnificent and the big cats are elegant beyond words, but beavers suit my soul.

  2. I read the book and it was an eye opener! Glad to hear they made it into a movie. Thanks for the heads up. Looking forward to seeing it!

  3. I found _Cadillac Desert_ to be an informative read on the subject of water policy in the West. Not written as a thriller, but the stories about the races between the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers, to dam everything possible, are fascinating.

    I definitely have mixed feelings on the whole subject, as someone who grew up using hydroelectric power and eating salmon. Urban stream renewal projects, on the other hand, get two enthusiastic thumbs up. It has been interesting to observe the progression of events in Arizona.

  4. Thanks for the movie recommendation! I’ve been hearing lots of good things about that doc and am looking forward to seeing it. Also… I’m not sure if it’s mentioned in the movie, but people might be interested to know that there’s currently a big push to build the second tallest dam in the U.S. on the Susitna River in Alaska, near Denali National Park (a river that supports huge numbers of salmon runs, of course). This is a bad, bad, bad idea for so many reasons…. Several local people (including some of my family members) have organized a coalition to try and stop this dam, and there’s much more information on their website at

  5. In addition to the environmental consequences of dams, another important issue is that of abandoned dams that no one is technically responsible for. I recall that one of the networks did a show on abandoned dams some year ago, including a huge abandoned dam in California (I forget the name). These dams are not maintained and can fail at any time.
    This video shows the disaster caused when the Teton Dam failed in the 1970s:
    (This wasn’t an abandoned dam, but it illustrates the potential for disaster.)

  6. 1) We now need some of the dams. Our lives have changed to the point that we can’t take them all out without repercussions.

    2) Some of the dams, especially the ones no longer maintained should go.

    3) What happens to the areas downstream when these dams are released? Too many communities built near them for us to tear down any of the dams without a lot of thought and planning.

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