Thinking about Dams

DamReading the news and watching YouTubes on my computer I see that six dams have been blown out in my home state of Colorado during the rain storms. As I travel the Rocky Mountains, I am oftentimes fishing below the large dams in their tailwaters. The damming of our rivers is a controversial topic that raises many issues.

I picked up the Livingston (MT) Enterprise this morning to learn about some local news and came across an article on dams where I learned a few things. We have over 80,000 dams in the country, most of them built for flood control, to aid in river navigation, to store water, or to create recreational areas. About 2500 dams provide 8% of our nation’s power in the form of hydroelectricity.

As we struggle to keep up with our power demands, many suggest that we consider expanding our hydropower capability by 15% and fit 600 of our existing dams with generators. There are arguments that power from this resource is more reliable than wind or solar power. As I travel the west this year, I see real problems with water shortages (except in Colorado right now) and wonder if this is a good solution although alternatives like coal power and nuclear power certainly bring up environmental issues.

When a dam is created (and the resulting reservoir), there are many issues including the loss of natural habitats in the flooded area, the blockage of sediment, the inability for fish like salmon and trout to migrate, and the production of methane gas leading to greenhouse gas emissions. On the other hand, our agricultural communities and populations need to have a resource for water during years of drought.

It’s always dangerous to write about something that you know very little about, which is certainly the case with me, but as I visit my 52 rivers this year, it is certainly something that I have thought about a lot. What do you think?

 

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