Oral Presentation International Conference on River Connectivity (Fish Passage 2018)

Capturing the WIIFMs: a citizen handbook tool for influencing public perception of dam removal and fish passage projects (#50)

Lisa Hollingsworth-Segedy, AICP 1
  1. American Rivers, Pittsburgh, PA, United States

Community support for dam removal is a crucial element for project success, especially where dams are publicly owned and publicly accessible.  Effective community engagement can be a daunting task for fish passage professionals for numerous reasons:

  • Dam removal advocates are challenged to communicate scientific information to non-scientists in a science-minimizing, fact-adverse culture;
  • Removing dams for fish passage benefits is not perceived by the average citizen as relevant;
  • Dam removal advocates provoke the fear of change because such projects threaten the community with a perceived loss;
  • average citizens lack the imagination to envision their river without the dam.

American Rivers has developed the Citizen Handbook to capture the What’s In It For Me (WIIFM) to influence public perception of dam removal for fish passage benefits.  This cost-effective and scalable handbook is a tool for scientists, engineers, and fish passage advocates to present technical information to an often contrarian lay audience in an accessible and engaging manner.  Featuring graphics and visual examples, the handbook presents benefit-risk and benefit-cost analyses for commonly-expressed public concerns: recreation access; community and infrastructure; public safety; ecological; and cost.  Each of these issues is explored via dam-in and dam-out scenarios that invert the public’s often-emotional perception of losses and gains by emphasizing the benefits that accompany dam removal compared to losses and/or missed opportunities connected to dam retention.     

American Rivers’ presentation will highlight the Allegheny River Citizen Handbook as a case study. Focusing on five federally-owned, defunct commercial navigation dams near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the handbook was developed to build a local constituency for their removal.  The presentation will summarize experiences and outcomes resulting from the community engagement process that invites stakeholders to envision the suite of ecological and community benefits and to capture the WIIFM that removal of this iconic infrastructure could provide.