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IRN: River Revival - July 1998 International Dam Decommissioning Strategy Workshop
 IRN's River Revival Project  

July 1998 International Strategy Workshop & the formation of Living Rivers

July 1998 International Dam Decommissioning Strategy Workshop
Walker Creek Ranch, CA
July 23-25, 1998

In late July 1998, IRN hosted the first International Dam Decommissioning Strategy Workshop for activist leaders working on dam decommissioning and removal. What follows will give you additional insight into how the workshop came about and what the outcomes have been. For more information on the workshop participants, see the organizations campaigning on decommissioning.


The idea for this workshop, which took place here in Northern California, emerged in response to the growing number of dam decommissioning campaigns springing up around the world. Many of IRN’s colleagues, both in the US and abroad, expressed interest in forming an informal network of organizations involved in dam removal in order for groups to more effectively share information, learn from each other’s experience, and build international support for river restoration. The workshop was thus intended as an opportunity to lay the foundation for such a network.

In recent years IRN has started to see our principal strategy begin to shift from being primarily on the defensive - stopping the construction of big dams - to one that is on the offensive, advocating the restoration of river systems and the rehabilitation of communities whose lives have been degraded by past projects. To further this evolving strategy, IRN saw a potential useful role as facilitating and supporting non-governmental organization (NGO) activities directed at decommissioning dams. IRN’s institutional interest in organizing this decommissioning workshop was to better understand how we could do this.

The Need for an International Dam Decommissioning Network

As the number of decommissioning campaigns has grown, so too has the need for examples – "successes" to point to promote dam removal as a viable form of restoration, as well as "failures" to learn from. What did not yet exist before the July workshop was an efficient mechanism by which the international community interested in decommissioning could effectively share this information. Yet, increasingly over the last few years, groups involved in individual campaigns had been questioning what examples existed, and to what extent they might be part of a larger international movement to correct the mistakes of the past. Over the last decade, anti-dam activists have mobilized a powerful global force that is not only stopping dams, but successfully challenging development policy in many countries. It seemed the natural evolution of this movement to use the momentum it has gained to assist in the launching of a global campaign to begin bringing dams down.

Groups in some parts of the world are particularly interested in decommissioning efforts in the US. The US role is uniquely important as the act of challenging the inevitability of dams has had a significant positive impact in other countries. The US dam-building era has been used by the dam-building lobby as a model to justify hundreds of similar destructive projects on rivers from Brazil to China. US dam decommissioning campaigns have encouraged similar activities among dam-fighting NGOs in other countries. These groups requested IRN to provide information and contacts on US dam decommissioning campaigns. The most effective means of doing so, from IRN’s experience, was to promote cooperation between groups interested in dam removal through formation of an international network on this issue.

Workshop Outcomes: Living Rivers International Coalition and the Role of IRN

So for three days, activists from seven countries came together to discuss these challenges and opportunities for river restoration through dam decommissioning. They agreed to form "Living Rivers: the International Coalition for the Restoration of Rivers and Communities Affected by Dams," as the seed for growing a global movement on these issues. IRN's River Revival project is working to help service and bu ild this coalition. Click here to learn more about how you can get involved and join the Revival.

 Additional Information

For further information, please contact:

Elizabeth Brink
E-mail: riverrevival@irn.org
Phone: +510.848.1155