Clean Water and the Effect of Dams

The 1930s hailed the building of the biggest dam in the world at the time, the Hoover Dam, on the Colorado River, to form Lake Mead. Lake Mead was capable of holding more than twice the annual flow of water in the Colorado River. It was going to forever provide water for CA, CO, AZ, UT, NV, NM, and WY,  plus 1.5  million acre-feet to Mexico, annually.

 Today, the Colorado River  is in trouble and can’t even make it to the sea, much less deliver its quotas. Each year, about 10 million tons of salt enter the system, but virtually none reaches the ocean, according to environmentalist, Fred Pearce, (When the Rivers Run Dry.)

 The Hoover Dam held the expectation of clean water and endless power. Now, 80 years later, we learn that the actual cost of building and maintaining large dams has far greater financial, commercial, ecological, and maintenance costs than the power or clean water they generate.

 Dams have always been opposed by native people everywhere, not only because a dam usually means displacement of great numbers, sometimes millions, of native people. They opposed going against the flow of nature. Dams were an insult to sacred rivers of the earth. Now, the need for us all to revere nature’s plan for river waters is clear.

 Native peoples knew that fish need to swim up river to spawn and that dams would prevent this. The Grand Coulee and other dams on the Columbia River destroyed one of the world’s largest Salmon fisheries. The produce would have been worth more than the electricity generated by the dams.

 Native peoples knew that nature purified water with waterfalls, rapids and fast moving water and were careful to respect natural laws.

 Perhaps the greatest delusion humans have is the sense that we can prevail over nature. We had to learn the hard way that when we build huge dams:

1. Fish have difficulty reproducing.

2. Those fish that do survive in manmade lakes are poisoned with mercury rising from decomposing vegetation in the lakes for 20-30 years, and cause health problems for the humans who eat them.

3. When soil is irrigated with sprinklers, there is a tendency to overwater, waste water through evaporation, and wash chemical residues from fertilizers and pesticides into the groundwater and aquifers.

4. Rivers absorb these wastes in their sediments.

5. Sediments build up behind dams where the water stagnates, grows warmer, and is not fish friendly.

6. Full reservoirs increase vulnerability to devastating floods.

7. Rivers begin to run dry and to be unable to complete their journey to the ocean to deposit accumulated salts.

 All of this and more prompted Daniel Beard, retired commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation (which has built more dams than any other body in the world), to declare, “No more dams!”

 We do need to dream up new ways of accessing green energy. But let us not be naive enough to think, with today’s abundant research on the effects of dams, that corporations won’t still try to build them. We know that the way corporations continue to make profits at any cost is to invest enormous sums to hide unfavorable research,  generate misinformation, and control land.

 Here in New England, we have abundant water.Quebec is already smarting from the effects of too many dams in their province, simply to produce power for Hydro-Quebec, despite public protest. We do need to explore other ways to generate power for our future needs. We can save ourselves time, money, and grief by safeguarding our waters and not supporting hydro power that has the potential to threaten our NH rivers.

 The research is there; we’ve been forewarned. Here’s to keeping each other well!


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