The prospects for ecological and economic recovery on the Kennebec and Androscoggin River systems do not rely solely on ecological and biological interactions, but include a distinct human dimension. The Kennebec and Androscoggin Rivers were historically used as working rivers, specifically housing textile and paper mills among other industries, and such use led to the eventual degradation of their natural environments. Currently, the government of the State of Maine, various local and nationwide conservation organizations, environmentalists, economists, ecologists, and other interested parties are involved in the restoration of these rivers. However, such projects are often complex and compete with other social objectives for priority status. My research has primarily focused on the human dimension of river restoration, specifically looking at the economic and environmental effects of dam removal, economic techniques for environmental valuation, and the usefulness of such valuations in advocating for restoration.
Dam removals have become increasingly popular throughout the country as licenses for dams continually expire and require relicensing. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is responsible for the relicensing of hydropower dams, and until recently, environmental considerations were largely absent from their decision-making process. However, a specific highly publicized relicensing deliberation on the Elwha River in Washington State featured a conjunction of environmentalists, ecologists, economists, conservationists, and local Native American tribes successfully advocating for dam removal. The decision eventually required Congressional intervention, whose independent research reinforced dam removal as the only feasible means to fully restore the Elwha’s natural environment. Since this decision, hundreds of dams across the country have been removed for environmental purposes, of which the most pertinent to the Kennebec and Androscoggin Rivers is the 1999 removal of the Edwards Dam on the Kennebec. The Edwards Dam removal officially represented the first time the FERC removed a dam solely for ecological purposes. The Elwha deliberation was also significant in that it was one of the first to consider environmental valuation in the decision-making process.
Environmental valuation attempts to monetize the benefits that the environment and natural resources have to their users, and is useful because the value of natural resources is not generally captured in market prices. I studied the uses of the contingent valuation method, the travel cost method, and the hedonic property valuation method in representing the monetary value of improvements to natural environments across the country. Although what each method represents economically differs in terms of commercial, recreational, and existence values, each method generally finds positive benefits associated with dam removal, and the use of these distinct models has become somewhat of a standard when considering dam removal.
Looking forward, my research will provide background information and a literature review for Professor Herrera and his colleagues as they write concept pieces on the subject of dam removal. It will also help contribute to their pursuit of using environmental valuation techniques on Maine’s rivers in order to help fully capture the value of Maine’s natural environment in a multidimensional sense, using their results to advocate for future dam removals and a contribution to the restoration of Maine’s natural environment.
Faculty Mentor: Ta Herrera
Funded by the Sustainability Solutions Partners Fellowship