Open Rivers Fund


The Problem

Nearly two million dams of various sizes block rivers and streams throughout the United States. They serve a range of important purposes, including flood control, water storage, hydropower, navigation, and recreation. However, like much of the nation’s critical infrastructure, most dams are older than their projected 50-year life span. By 2025, seven of 10 dams will be more than half a century old, according to the Association of State Dam Safety Officials. What made sense to communities nearly a century ago often does not make sense today, and many dams no longer serve any significant purpose while causing environmental harm and posing safety, financial, and liability risks.

The Fund

With leadership and support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and in celebration of Hewlett’s 50th anniversary, RLF launched the Open Rivers Fund in November 2016. Over a 10-year period, the Open Rivers Fund will support local community efforts to remove obsolete dams, modernize infrastructure, and restore rivers across the western United States. RLF takes a systematic approach to pursuing dam removal opportunities in collaboration with diverse interests and local communities. The process involves assessment of resources, potential partners, challenges, and expected economic, community, and ecological benefits. RLF staff works with outside experts and the Open Rivers Fund Advisory Committee  to identify opportunities, select projects, and monitor Fund investments.

Each dam removal project requires expertise in engineering, hydrology, economic modeling, watershed restoration planning, regulatory compliance, construction and project management, political engagement, and community outreach. Working with other funders, RLF will invest in areas of greatest need. The Fund will test new models for reducing the significant financial, legal, and structural hurdles that have stalled removal of defunct dams and empower communities to address their environmental and infrastructure needs. Lessons learned through the work of the Open Rivers Fund may be applied elsewhere across the nation.

Here is a video on a recently completed Open Rivers Fund project in Oregon’s Rogue River Basin.

If you are involved in a dam removal project that appears to fulfill the aims of the Open Rivers Fund and would like to discuss our program, please contact us at