Boom! Removing 81 dams is transforming this California watershed

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Last spring the Forest Service, aided by U.S. Marine Corps members, blasted apart 13 more dams in the Trabuco ranger district in Southern California’s Cleveland National Forest.

It’s the last phase of a groundbreaking project that began more than five years ago to remove a total of 81 dams from four streams in the mountains of Orange County.

“Nobody’s really taken on a project this large and with this many partners and methods,” says Forest Service fish biologist Julie Donnell, who’s been working on the project.

The mammoth undertaking is designed to help boost populations of native aquatic species — most importantly Southern California steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss), which are federally listed as endangered.

It may also be a crucial learning tool due its sheer scope. Last year an estimated 90 dams were removed across the country, and nearly a quarter of those were in the Cleveland National Forest. That makes what’s happening in California the place to watch as organizations plan for other multi-dam removal efforts around the country.

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