Speaker: Laura Wildman, Director, New England Regional Office, Princeton Hydro
People have been building dams since prerecorded history. Dams have served a wide variety of economically valuable purposes including water supply, irrigation, navigation, flood control, mechanical and hydroelectric power, and recreation. However with the rapid progression of dam building in the US also came significant conflict, with numerous well documented cases of protests as communities attempted to protect their public trust fishing and water rights from the impacts of dam building. As the US headed into its Industrial Revolution, early acts protecting fisheries gave way to those that protected the rights of mill owners. By the peak of the national boom of the 1950’s and 60’s, dams were being built in the US with little regard to their impacts on rivers and the environment. However, the dawn of the modern environmental movement of the 1960’s and 70’s saw the introduction of multiple regulatory acts aimed to create a greater balance between economic and environmental interests. With growing awareness of the ecological impacts of dams the seeds for the proactive dam removal in the US were planted.
Over the last quarter of a century a defined and effectively guided pro-active movement has developed in the US, linking formerly independent stakeholder efforts, to promote dam removal as a viable and effective tool for sustainable ecological restoration. This presentation documents the evolution of the pro-active dam removal efforts in the US based on firsthand experience of dam removal efforts over the last 25+ years, and through interviews with 25 experts similarly involved in dam removal and research. These experts include scientists, engineers, managers, environmental activists, researchers, and regulators form the private, academic, non-profit, state and federal sectors. By documenting this living record of events and the regulations that proceeded those events, we offer a provisional interpretation and initiate construction of a template that may be used in other regions where the cascading impacts of river fragmentation are ubiquitous and yet removing dams to restore rivers is still considered a “taboo” subject.
Laura Wildman is a practicing fisheries engineer that established and runs the New England Regional Office for Princeton Hydro focusing on ecological restoration consulting for aquatic systems. Her expertise and passion, centers on the restoration of rivers through the reestablishment of natural functions and aquatic connectivity. She is considered one of the foremost nation U.S. experts on barrier removal and alternative fish passage techniques, regularly lecturing, instructing, and publishing on these topics; including assisting with the instruction of courses for the University of Wisconsin and Yale University. She recently completed a publication for a special edition of the Journal of Engineering Geology regarding the history and human dimensions of barrier removal projects, and is currently pursuing her PhD emphasizing dam removal at the University of Southampton, in England, focusing on international issues relating to the removal of dams and the restoration of aquatic connectivity. Her work has also emphasized reconnecting communities to rivers, and the socio-economic complexities relating to the balance between natural resource management and healthy river systems. She has been involved in hundreds of river restoration, barrier removal, and fish passage projects throughout the U.S.; working on all aspects of the projects from inception through design and construction, both as a licensed professional engineer designing and managing the projects and as a non-profit project partner when she was the Chief Engineer of American Rivers. Ms. Wildman received her bachelor’s in Civil Engineering from University of Vermont and her Master of Environmental Management from Yale University, and integrates both engineering and a deep understanding of river science into her restoration work.
In 2001 she initiated and led the Northeast Stream Barrier Task Force for 8 years, which established a network for NGO’s state, and federal agencies working on connectivity issues throughout the great northeast. In 2010 she developed the Dam Removal and Fish Passage Network on LinkedIn with close to 2,000 members worldwide, and also currently co-manages the World Fish Migration Network.
Ms. Wildman was an invited participant in the Aspen Institute’s two year National Policy Group regarding dam removal and played a key role in establishing the University of CA-Berkley’s Clearinghouse for Dam Removal Information. Ms. Wildman has developed and led multiple successful symposia, one of which led to the creation of the American Society of Civil Engineers Environmental and Water Resource Institute’s (ASCE-EWRI) manual on Sediment Dynamics Post Dam Removal, for which Ms. Wildman chaired the Task Committee. She is currently a member of the Federal Interagency Advisory Subcommittee on Sedimentation developing guidelines for sediment management and dam removal, and in 2008 she headed the Environmental Impacts subgroup for Association of State Floodplain Managers’ (ASFPM) Working Group on Dams.
Ms. Wildman is the recent past President for the Bioengineering Section (BES) of the American Fisheries Society (AFS) and served on the AFS Governing Board and Management Committee. She is also a former member of the Governing Board of American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) Environmental and Water Resource Institute (EWRI), where she continues to lead and participates in multiple committees relating to fish passage, barrier removal and river restoration. In 2011, Ms. Wildman initiated an Ad Hoc Committee under both AFS-BES and ASCE-EWRI leadership to further the strategic goals of both organizations with the objective of developing a partnering relationship between the two organizations on the topic of fish passage, and helped to establish the highly successful International Fish Passage Conference for the last six years and develop a web-based repository for fish passage information.
In addition to her work in barrier removal, fish passage and river restoration, Ms. Wildman also has significant experience in fluvial geomorphology, fisheries habitat/flow analysis, dam modification/repair, open channel hydraulics, grant coordination, public outreach, policy, advocacy, and advanced hydraulic and sediment transport modeling.