Hydroelectric Power: Some Say It is Not Worth a DamI am of the opinion that some of us believe in green energy, while others of us don’t really care where electricity comes from until we don’t have it. However, no one can deny that the electricity generated by confining and taming wild rivers — thus harnessing nature’s energy via dams — is one of man’s greatest feats. However, while viable and necessary, there is a flip side to this coin in which people argue that dams actually hurt rivers and the environment by destroying what Mother Nature has provided for us.

It could be that I am overly aware of how man can interact with nature since I am one of the fortunate souls who lived in the Mother Lode area of Northern California for a period of 18 years. In fact, I was blessed to be able to build a home in a resort area approximately an hour’s drive from Yosemite Valley. During this period, it was wonderful to see my family become aware of nature’s beauty and tune into it as we enjoyed everything about the area — except for forest fires, which were downright scary.

While we lived there, you would be amazed at the number of family members and friends who wanted to visit us and it didn’t take us long to learn that there were two places that we always took them to visit. The first place was Yosemite National Park, and the other was the Hetch-Hetchy dam. This dam was built high up a steep grade in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and flowed down into the Don Pedro Reservoir. It was completed in 1923, and since then, locals have often complained that they were the ones who suffered in periods of drought while they watched their water being transferred to those in California’s Bay Area. The clash between the locals and Hetch-Hetchy dam officials has, over the years, resulted in reports that the reservoir was the result of the dam submerging an area as beautiful as Yosemite Valley. As a result of these reports, various groups, such as the Sierra Club, have over the past several decades proposed the removal of the dam in order to return the valley to its natural state.

The removal of any dam, or a proposal to remove any dam, always comes down to a cost versus benefit/damage situation. The main benefit of removing a dam is to return the submerged area back to its natural state. However, one must remember that there is every likelihood that homes, businesses, and even entire towns have now been built in the natural path of the water that would once again flow freely from its source. Along a more positive train of thought, one must remember that using hydroelectric power that the dam provides is considered environmentally friendly when compared to other sources such as coal or nuclear power plants.

However, while green energy is the topic of much concern these days, the nonprofit group American Rivers has stated that, to date, over 1,000 dams across the US have been removed. Water damage restoration is an important San Francisco goal. In fact, one of the biggest dam removal projects is currently underway in the Olympic National Park, which is located in the state of Washington. Here, experts are in the process of removing two century-old dams along the Elwha River with the hopes of restoring destroyed land to its original state. However, with this project — as well as others like it — arises the question of whether it is worth the time, trouble, and the expense to remove a dam that has contributed to what is being claimed as a much-needed resource to produce pollution-free electricity.

Environmentalists say yes, claiming that dams contribute to the extinction of many fish species by destroying the their natural habitat. In addition, they claim that the destruction doesn’t stop at the dam’s location but continues to destroy the habitats of fish and animals downstream, as well. However, the environmentalists are against a formidable opponent since the US government is against the destruction of any dam. It is apparently of the opinion that alternatives to hydroelectric power cause more serious and permanent damage to the environment. So, for now at least, it appears that this argument will continue to consume both environmentalists and governmental agencies.

Comments, as always, are welcome.

Source: Scientific American