Dams & Decision Making

Former Veazie Dam site on the Penobscot River

Deciding what to do with dams is an increasingly pressing challenge. The Future of Dams Project takes up this challenge in the northeastern US where there are approximately 7,000 dams, some of which are aging or obsolete and where 50 dams are eligible for federal relicensing in the next decade. Making decisions about dams requires the evaluation of tradeoffs for fish passage, community identity, hydropower, social justice, flood storage, and more. Focusing on communication in interdisciplinary social-ecological systems research can support the evaluation of tradeoffs, as communication fundamentally shapes collaborative research and social, technical, and policy outcomes.

As UMaine co-PI, I am helping to support and lead this multi-state initiative. My research on this project occurs in collaboration with Tyler Quiring, a Ph.D. student and research assistant, as well as more than 50 faculty and students at UMaine, University of Southern Maine, University of New Hampshire, University of Rhode Island, and the Rhode Island School of Design.

My primary research objectives on this project include advancing:

  • Dynamic Design Planning (DDP) as a unique model for studying and shaping communication practices within sustainability science.
  • A communication study of the Penobscot River Restoration Project to describe how communication shaped the process and outcomes from this river restoration and hydropower development effort
  • A news media discourse analysis in wich we are explorinng questions about news media framing and spatial patterns in news media coverage
The Future of Dams team at an All Team Meeting in Rhode Island, September 2017.