Courtesy Photo


DamNation Comes Home

Award-Winning Environmental Documentary Heads to the Lobero Theatre

Thursday, May 15, 2014
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There are good movies, there are bad movies, and then there are movies that matter. DamNation is a movie that matters. An eco-activist documentary with a refreshingly aggressive and law-breaking bend, this new film — made possible thanks in large part to the folks from Patagonia — introduces viewers to one of the most overlooked evildoers in the modern world’s assault on Mother Nature: dams. There’s no doubt that dams have served many important roles over the years, from preventing floods and providing power to storing drinking water and making urban growth possible in remote places. But this “progress” has also come at a very steep price. With a blend of history, face-melting nature cinematography, and a dash of Edward Abbey–style criminal mischief, DamNation lays bare this truth in a way that is educational, entertaining, and, perhaps most importantly, inspirational.

By Courtesy Photo

WATER WORLD: A barge-mounted excavator hammers away at Glines Canyon Dam in a scene from DamNation.

It is impossible to separate the story of dams from the story of America in the 20th century. Building river-arresting structures, be they public or private projects, was a critical part of our nation’s rebound from the Great Depression, as well as our domestic World War II–motivated manufacturing efforts and, in the years after, our need to meet ever-expanding energy needs. In fact, some 75,000 dams at least three feet tall exist in the U.S. today, more than 30,000 of which were built between 1950 and 1970. And, while these structures were certainly erected with the greater good in mind, they all share one inconvenient truth: They drastically change the way a river behaves. When you consider the fact that rivers are the proverbial lifeblood of our planet and that various critters call it home, this defining characteristic becomes a potentially insidious and deadly bottom line for fisheries, watersheds, ecosystems, and native ways of life.

“A damn is to a river what a coal-fired power plant is to air quality,” explains Matt Stoecker, a restoration biologist based here on the South Coast who, along with Patagonia’s patriarch Yvon Chouinard, produced the film. A graduate of UCSB, Stoecker, who has been in the trenches of creek and steelhead-trout habitat restoration here in Santa Barbara County for the past decade and a half, came up with the idea for DamNation while attending an environmental film festival in Nevada City with Chouinard back in 2011. Both blissfully addicted fly-fishing nuts with track records of big-picture conservation/restoration efforts, the duo recognized the powerful storytelling opportunity that was setting up that year, thanks to the planned removal that year of two very large dams in the Pacific Northwest: the Glines Canyon Dam of the Elwha River and the Condit Damn on the White Salmon River. If they acted fast, not only could they record these historic restoration-motivated destruction efforts, but they could also document the radically rapid rebound that occurs in nature when a long-stifled river is set free.

By Courtesy Photo


Filmmakers Travis Rummel and Ben Knight, the latter also providing the movie’s narration, were enlisted, and the adventure began. Anything but predictable, DamNation is an ambitious and wide-ranging film that explores the evolution of our nation’s relationship to dams and the impacts this relationship has on our natural world. Incredibly charismatic and colorful characters from the fight to protect rivers, like Mikal Jakubal and Katie Lee (the former being the dam rappelling graffiti artist responsible for giant protest murals on some of the West’s most well-known dams in the 1990s), share the screen with hydropower supporters and sweeping nature shots of rivers, rushing waters, spawning salmon, exploding dams, and landscapes both wild and conquered. The end result is a well-balanced and visually arresting call to arms that has been taking the film festival circuit by storm since premiering in March at the SXSW Film Festival and winning the coveted Audience Choice Award. As Knight puts it in the film’s opening minutes, “Knowing what I know now, it is impossible for me to look at dams the same way ever again.”

Lobero Theatre

33 E. Canon Perdido St., Santa Barbara, CA
805-963-0761. More Info


DamNation has its Central Coast premiere on Wednesday, May 21, at the Lobero Theatre (33 E. Canon Perdido St.) at 7 p.m. For tickets and info, call (805) 966-4946 or visit


Independent Discussion Guidelines

This is a movie worth seeing. FDR and his GD Dams setup the overpopulation and exploitation of the West, the destruction of the Gulf of California and is directly responsible for the downfall of the California Condor.

Hey Lois it's the water you Election Year Yankee Ho, nothing will save the California Condor, its going EXTINCT from actions of people like you on both sides of the Beltway Aisle.

Watch the trailer or better yet watch the movie and learn.

A good book is "The Cadillac Desert"

howgreenwasmyvalley (anonymous profile)
May 17, 2014 at 2:28 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I'm not sure now is the best time to tear down dams out West here.. ecosystems have also adapted. But I'd love to check out that book and movie all the same.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
May 17, 2014 at 2:46 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The US population post WII should have stayed back East where there is plenty of water. But nooooooooo, California had to provide for them, goosing our own limited and badly distributed water supplies to pretendt we could welcome them all.

Cadillac Desert reveals Democratic Gov Edmund "Pat" Brown said to give them water in Southern California via the CWP, because he did not want this new population boom ruining his beloved Northern California. Though he had no problem welcoming more Democratic votes. Just put them where he did not have to see them.

Thus it began, a massive Democratic social engineering project but with a malignant political heart at its inception. As with all similar Democrat feel-good schemes, we end up paying much further down the road.

And finally the bills have come due. Welcome to the Golden State. True blue and boo hoo.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
May 17, 2014 at 2:53 p.m. (Suggest removal)

thanks, howgreen, I hadn't remembered these dams had wrecked the once fantastic Gulf of Calif/Sea of Cortes, and yes, CADILLAC DESERT is still terrific and not dated at all in its general outlook/analysis.
However, all these people are here so don't know...?

DavyBrown (anonymous profile)
May 17, 2014 at 3:08 p.m. (Suggest removal)

People came out West for jobs primarily, jobs and cheaper land at the time. the California aqueduct and Hetch hechy damns for sure helped facilitate this, long before FDR's time.
After WWII ended, many people who came out to work in the war factories, combined with returning GIs who had no interest in going back to the farm; further added to the California's population.
In addition, real estate advertsing promoted California as the land of plenty, a bountiful oasis in the desert. Other industries also promoted that image of California to promote their own products; all as early as the 1900.
See "The Sunshine Gatherers" from Del Monte Fruit Co. (1921) which includes the SB Mission.
Along with real estate, California Culture also became both a commodity and a lure, and still is to this day.
Local promoters refer to "The Santa Barbara Lifestyle" for example, but what is that really in the 21st Century?
You can blame FDR but it all really started with a man named Sutter, a writer named Helen Hunt Jackson, and a brilliant engineer named Mulholland.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
May 17, 2014 at 3:11 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Keep in mind all these dams were constructed to serve people already here, and to create emergency reservoirs for droughts such as we have now. Not to lure more people. Still looks like an interesting film (not to confuse issues.)

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
May 17, 2014 at 3:20 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Of course we now have more people and the same number of dams. I doubt another one will ever be built.

Botany (anonymous profile)
May 17, 2014 at 3:32 p.m. (Suggest removal)

KV: do read Cadillac Desert, or at least the chapter about Gov Brown's California Water Project. Educating your brain every day in every way is a Good Thing, remember. Even when it comes from free advice.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
May 17, 2014 at 3:38 p.m. (Suggest removal)


The massive Oroville Dam is the newer CWP main collection basin built in the 1960's, as well as massive other collection basins further down the system which play important roles in this state water and population re-distribution scheme.

You are getting your state and federal water projects all mixed up, KV.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
May 17, 2014 at 3:45 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Destroy the Owens Valley for Los Angeles Water, completed 1913 and 1970.

Destroy Hetch Hetchy Valley for San Francisco Water, completed 1934.

Central Valley Water Project (Federal CVP) :

Work began in 1937 with the Contra Costa Canal which began delivering water in 1940. The next facility built was Shasta Dam, the keystone of the project. Work on the dam began in 1938, and water storage started even before its completion in 1945. Congress subsequently passed 13 separate measures to authorize the development of other major project facilities over the next 3 decades. The final dam, New Melones, was completed in 1979.

I cannot seem to post the News Paper Clip but it says,"

"Support President Roosevelt's National Recovery Program for California

Central Valley Water Project, Proposition Number One"

Hoover Dam (FDR depression) Colorado River Aqueduct in 1941, water into Los Angeles.

Governor Brown I

The Burns-Porter Act, formally known as the California Water Resources Development Bond Act, was placed on the November 1960 ballot. Also known as Proposition One, its chances for passage were unpredictable. Heated and continuous negotiations were still ongoing, with MWD withholding its endorsement until days before the election. The San Francisco Chronicle strongly opposed the proposition. California’s North-South regional rivalry was a strong factor in the election

howgreenwasmyvalley (anonymous profile)
May 17, 2014 at 8:10 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I'm personally glad we have these damns and aqueducts. Many of them are marvels of human achievement. Not all progress is bad.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
May 17, 2014 at 8:12 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The massive water Projects in the entire West, all the western states, belongs to FDR and his National Recovery Act.

"People came out West for jobs primarily, jobs and cheaper land at the time. the California aqueduct and Hetch hechy damns for sure helped facilitate this, long before FDR's time."

howgreenwasmyvalley (anonymous profile)
May 17, 2014 at 8:13 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Republicans want to build new dams and reservoirs, Democrats want to fund conservation and recycling projects. And the Bay Area, Southern California and the Central Valley all have competing interests.

Since 1970, California voters have approved 15 of the 16 water bonds they've considered, though most of the money has gone to water conservation and recycling, as opposed to water storage. The last time a water bond passed was 2006, when voters approved Proposition 84, authorizing $5.4 billion in spending on water projects.

In the mid-1950s, California was experiencing substantial growth. San Francisco's Caspar W. Weinberger, Chairman of the California Assembly Government Organization Committee, held a series of state-wide hearings in 1954 and 1955 focused on creating a State Water Project that could supply the growing municipal and agricultural demands of the state. On July 5, 1956 in a special session of the California Assembly, Governor Goodwin J. Knight signed Weinberger's bill to combine the then Division of Water Resources of the Department of Public Works with the State Engineer's Office, the Water Project Authority, and the State Water Resources Board into a new department: the Department of Water Resources. Consulting engineer Harvey O. Banks was appointed by Governor Knight as the Department's first Director and given the task of developing a plan for the proposed State Water Project.

In 1959, the Legislature enacted the Burns-Porter Act which authorized $1.75 billion for the construction of the proposed State Water Project. The Burns-Porter Act was approved by California voters in 1960 and in the same year the Whale Rock Dam, DWR's first major water project located near San Luis Obispo, was completed.

In 1961, William Warne was appointed Director of the Department and oversaw the construction of a key facility in the operation of the State Water Project: Oroville Dam. DWR and the United States Bureau of Reclamation also signed an agreement to design a joint reservoir in San Luis. Because water from the Oroville and Shasta dams (from the existing Central Valley Project) would be moved down the existing Sacramento River channel into the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, excess flows would roll through the Delta and then be stored in the Central Valley until needed. Construction of the Harvey O. Banks Pumping Plant, located near Tracy, California, also began in 1963.

I thought Caspar W. Weinberger was Republican.

tabatha (anonymous profile)
May 17, 2014 at 9:12 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I think it's safe to assume we all agree water storage is a necessity, yes?

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
May 17, 2014 at 9:26 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Right Ken. There are so many people (mostly in the USA) that think the 3 gorges dam project in the Yangtze river in China was a bad idea as well. I have seen it. It is a spectacular accomplishment. It was an undertaking that no one would think of attempting here.

Many have focused on the 1M people displaced as a violation of human rights instead of focusing on the hundreds of thousands of people that didn't die due to flooding. Many also haven't considered how much in greenhouse gases that weren't emitted into the atmosphere from the coal plants that didn't have to be built due to the use of all the hydroelectric power that was generated.

Botany (anonymous profile)
May 17, 2014 at 9:44 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Tabatha, you have an odd way of presenting information in a strictly partisan and inaccurate fashion.

I suggest you continue your reading about the origins of the State Water Project and the cast of characters and history that led to California voters ultimately passing it, with conservative San Francisco at the time strongly opposing it:

foofighter (anonymous profile)
May 17, 2014 at 11:35 p.m. (Suggest removal)


First there are no Republicans or Democrats in public office just Politicians that exploit the Voters for their own self interest. Blindly following them is the mess we find ourselves in.

The Exploiters whether pursuing the trans continental railroad or the massive water projects did so for greed not some noble quest. Follow the money, you and I are just near Pawns in their games.

The Ecological Disasters caused by these people are incalculable. The genocide of Native Americans, slaughter of millions of Bison and finally the Diversion of Water that has wiped out numerous species which will include the California Condor. The tipping point has already been passed so you can play my Political Party is better than yours but in reality the sun has set.

What I have seen in 45 years of SCUBA diving in Southern California is a kin to letting off a thermonuclear device underwater.

Instead of living in harmony with nature those who came to North American have conducted themselves the same way as they did in Europe, rape and pillage but now there is no new lands to colonize on this planet.

Funding conservation and recycling projects is day late and a dollar short and building more dams and reservoirs is all mental masterbation with no water.

Mother Nature is going to have the last word and it will not be pretty, on a global scale.

Water Diversion in the West is not owned by a Political Party it is owned by Greedy Individuals, plain and simple.

howgreenwasmyvalley (anonymous profile)
May 18, 2014 at 9:54 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Legalizing genocide of the newly arrived 5 billion people on this planet is the only answer when you parse out eco-freaks hand-wringing.

Wasn't enough to just kill 50 million of them them in their wombs via legal abortions; now it is time to remove them from the face of the earth lest they rape and pillage again for the sheer greed and exploitation of it all.

Someone please phone India, China, Pakistan and Indonesia and tell them they have quotas to meet if we are to ever solve this global over-population problem.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
May 18, 2014 at 10:34 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Foofighter, all I have to do is call Comcast and I'm automatically routed to India. The next time my cable goes out, I'll take your advice.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
May 18, 2014 at 6:19 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Clausen, you only have 500 and counting more days. Then it won't even matter. Zut alors!

foofighter (anonymous profile)
May 18, 2014 at 6:28 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Probably very absorbing movie. but.... clearly promoted by proponents of nuclear energy. Haven't you heard a bird was killed flying too close to a windmill. They have to go to.

Promoting the banning or removing dams is a ridiculous farce.
Whatever you think of the movie, Don't fall for it

jazzifier (anonymous profile)
May 21, 2014 at 11:19 a.m. (Suggest removal)

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