On the hunt for hidden dams

Scientists say the "ghost dams" scattered throughout the country's waterways pose ecological risks

February 10, 2023
A river runs through a forest of trees. Water flows over a small barrier in the foreground, and continues on through rocks covered in fall leaves.
Some dams are giant hydroelectric powerhouses; others, like this one, are less conspicuous. [Credit: Dawid Zawiła | Unsplash]

When you imagine a dam, what comes to mind? Maybe it’s the hulking concrete wall of the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River or the Grand Coulee on the Columbia. Large barriers on large rivers, looming large on the horizon.

But colossal structures like these make up only a fraction of the dams that chop up waterways across the United States. The nation’s rivers, streams and brooks are full of smaller dams — many of which aren’t monitored at the state or national level. And even though they’re small, these barriers can alter aquatic habitats and cause trouble for the species that live there.

In this podcast, Madison Goldberg speaks with scientists about the issue and goes on a dam hunt of her own.

You can also listen to this episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Stitcher.


“Tower of Mirrors” by Blue Dot Sessions | CC BY-NC 4.0

“Copley Beat” by Blue Dot Sessions | CC BY-NC 4.0

About the Author

Madison Goldberg

Madison grew up in northern California and attended Harvard University, where she studied Earth and planetary sciences and education. She fell in love with journalism while reporting on issues like abandoned mines and stormwater infrastructure at the NPR affiliate in Harrisburg, PA. She enjoys writing about all kinds of science and focuses especially on the interactions between humans and the environment. When she’s not writing, she enjoys hiking, doing crossword puzzles, and fawning over her cat.


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