Home / Removal of Dams Benefits People and Environment Alike

Removal of Dams Benefits People and Environment Alike

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I woke up and read the news while laying in bed. Sunday mornings are perfect for this; it is a practice my wife and I thoroughly enjoy. We alternate on who gets up to fetch the paper and make the coffee. She might claim "alternate" is not quite correct, but regardless, it is all voluntary and subject to review and amendment at any time. I think the current arrangement works well. Besides, it will change as fall and winter move onto center stage.

Lots of stuff in the news, of course. I found an article in the New York Times by Matthew Preusch to be very interesting. Many dams that had been built on various rivers and waterways throughout the US in the 1950s and '60s are now being "dismantled" and removed. Seems they have become obsolete and no longer serve the purpose they were built for, which was to produce hydroelectric power.

The article was largely from the perspective of kayakers and others like fisherpersons, who are in direct contact with the waterways. They are thrilled. Blowing up old dams essentially allows natural waterways to find and return to their natural course. Turns out the natural course is much preferred by kayakers because it often includes rapids and such which are exactly what a kayaker wants.

But it gets better — seems fish like it, too.  Salmon have been seen returning to these freed rivers and resuming their instinctive upriver swims to spawn a new generation. It surely gives rise to hopes that fisheries will once again grow and even reclaim their former numbers. Natural vegetation has also returned with seedlings and saplings sprouting up along newly revived waterways. These in turn provide shade for the fish, keeping the waters cool enough for them to continue, and also provide a habitat for the bugs and flies and stuff that fish eat.

And yes, the kayakers are happy, too.

To me the depth of the story goes beyond just fish and kayakers and trees and even bugs and flies. After all, I think only fish truly appreciate flies.

This is a huge step in what I feel is the right direction. Power companies are relinquishing the dams; they are not economically feasible to maintain and other energy sources are more viable, such as solar, wind, and wave power perhaps. So the waterways return to a more natural state, wildlife returns, and global warming is negated to some degree. However minute each such changes might be, it is a contribution. Apparently the power companies are open to change, and in fact are causing change by continually looking for the most economical energy sources. I can't blame them for that. In this happy situation I think it is showing to be beneficial for everyone and everything concerned.

Can I have some more coffee please, hon?

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About Jerry Wilkinson

  • Reports from NSF and GLERL (dont have links, internal files)

  • I really enjoyed this article.

    (I rarely manage to beat my husband to making coffee. He doesn’t drink it, though. I think he just likes me.)

  • Hot damn. Pass the coffee.

  • Jerry Wilkinson

    Robert, where do these figures of 30% come from? I find that pretty amazing, just why would 30% of aquatic species die out, what info do you have that might support such a claim and where might this have happened?

  • Don’t make fun of the dyslexic, it isn’t nice
    oh, and I hate coffee, can you get me some tea?

  • Robert, when you open damns, you normally see a sailor cussing. To see the aquatic species die out enough for you to say “damn dams!” you need to open dams.

    Sometimes an “n” makes all the difference.

    [Ruvy turns away from the computer to ask his spouse for a cup of coffee; she is playing a computer game, and he knows he damned well not interfere – decides to wait for the coffee or make it himself]

  • Jerry, when we open damns we normally see about 30% of aquatic species downriver die out
    that alone makes me hate opening them unless need be

  • Jerry Wilkinson

    I agree Francis, not all dams are bad many serve very valuable purposes as you mention, flood control, irrigation, drinking water supplies. The gist of the article I read and referred to was addressed more towards dams that were built for the primary purpose of creating hydro power. At the time many of these were built in the 50’s and 60’s little was known about the ramifications of such dams on the surrounding environment, rather the thinking was put up a dam and create some electricity maybe even a recreational lake. The intentions were certainly not evil, perhaps a bit of greed but I can’t swear to that. What we do know now though clearly shows some of the negative repercussions of many of these dams, along with the fact that they are no longer effective. Either of these reasons is incentive to remove any one dam, in combination the reasons beg the question, why would they not be removed? It is not a blanket suggestion to remove every dam on every river but rather an observation on the benefits of removing those dams which no longer serve any purpose.The slightly larger picture I see in this is how important it is to consider all the effects our actions have. I would not be totally surprised if in 100 years our wind mills or wave machines or solar panels are being dismantled in light of new knowledge and even more efficient ways to produce energy.
    Care for a bit of sugar or creme with that coffeee?

  • Jerry Wilkinson

    It is no doubt true that opening up dams would release what ever “crap” that has been added to the waterways via chemical spraying and other man made substances. While that is an unfortunate byproduct I don’t think it is reason by itself to not open up these many dams. Negative impacts are out there no matter what we do the trick really is to get as few negatives and as many positives in each action we take. In this case opening up rivers to flow naturally again and all that such action entails is worth the few negatives it would also create I think.

  • I live in the Rhone valley which has benefited enormously from a regulation of this Alpine river since the 50′.
    All dams are not alike. Most serve irrigation purposes, navigation ( to make waterways that are energy saving compared to trucks and rail) in addition to direct energy production. They also hold back overflows. The preservation of historic cities like Avignon and , yes, Paris, is very much helped by this taming of rivers.
    I shiver to think of the enormous amount of windwanes and solar panels we’d need on every hill to balance for the lost hydroelectric production.
    No dams ?
    Oh dear, the coffee is cold.

  • Gosh, Jerry,

    I never thought I could use “it’s good for the world’s environment” to justify destroying the Aswan High Dam (and Egypt north of it). I’m going to have to bookmark this article and cite it. I like what you have to say!!

    [Ruvy turns away from the computer]

    Can I have more coffee, sweetheart?

  • There is a major issue with this, however, that is often overlooked. Damns not only hold back water, but all sorts of crap that we add to the water. Releasing dams releases this, which harms everything downstream