Damned if you do, dammed if you don’t: Debates on dam removal in the Swedish media

Ecology and Society 18(1) (2012): 18

co-authored with BM Renöfält

Dam removal is an increasingly common practice. Dams are removed for various reasons with safety, economics, and ecosystem restoration being the most common. However, dam removals often cause controversy. Riparian land owners and local communities often have a negative view on removal and the reasons why vary. It may be loss of recreational benefits like swimming and boating, loss of cultural and historical context tied to the dam, or fear that removal may have a negative effect on aesthetic values. Since controversies are often picked up by local media, and media in itself is an important channel to build support around a cause, the way dam removals are reported and discussed is likely to influence the debate. In this article, we examine the ways in which proponents and opponents of dam removal frame the services provided by two contrasting ecosystems—an existing dam and the potential stream without a dam—by performing a discourse analysis of the reasons given for removal and the reasons presented for the dam to remain in place. Our source material includes web-based newspaper articles and public comments on those articles in four dam removal controversies in Sweden. Our results indicate that public opposition is not based on knowledge-deficiency where more information will lead to better ecological decision-making, as is sometimes argued in dam removal science; it is instead a case of different understandings and valuation of the environment and the functions it provides.

Read online (open access) at the journal website

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