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Hydropower’s Unintended Consequences Essay

1257 words - 5 pages

Hydropower’s Unintended Consequences

As more emphasis is being brought to renewable energy, hydroelectric power is often seen as a viable and clean alternative energy source. Hydro electric has been a longstanding source of power for this and many other countries. In the 1940s dams were supplying 40% of our nation’s electricity, and now they only generate about 10% (science bulletins). Hydro power can be a clean alternative to fossil fuels; however it should not be considered an environmentally friendly alternative of energy production. Dams built for hydroelectric production have had staggering effects on the ecosystems of which they invade, both aquatic and terrestrial, and have rippling effects linked to ecosystems far outside the site of the dam itself. Dams can have adverse effects on water quality, fish species, migration of aquatic animals, and can create biological isolation by cutting off access of species from one side of the dam to the other.

Dam building took off in the United States after World War Two. This can be seen in the official slogan of the Bureau of Land Reclamation: “Our Rivers: Total Use for Greater Wealth” (science bulletins). Since then, the ambitious dam building is fully noticeable. “At least 68,000 large dams, and up to 2 million small dams, block virtually every American waterway” (science bulletins). The most highly hydroelectrically developed river in the country being the Colorado River (Lang). A river that drains over 259,000 square miles and flows through seven states (Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Wyoming, and Utah) as well as one Canadian province, is dammed by over 400 dams (Lang). These dams create endless barrages for aquatic water life in what is called “arguably the most significant environmental force in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States” (Lang).

Dams can flood some ecosystems while drying up others while at the same time changing water quality and the chemical, physical and biological processes of river ecosystems (science bulletins). The most noticeable result of dams that has been seen, however, is the negative effect it has had on many vital fish species, especially migratory or andromonous fish species. Of all species that have been affected by hydropower dams the Atlantic salmon is perhaps the most in danger of losing its battle to survive.

Atlantic salmon start their lives in freshwater rivers and after maturing migrate to the Atlantic Ocean. They then return to these very rivers in which they were reared to spawn. They were once prevalent as far south as Long Island Sound in New York, now they are mostly found north of the Connecticut River in the U.S., mostly in Maine Rivers. Salmon were considered threatened on September 20, 1995 and have since been registered as endangered (W.E.S). Their numbers today in the U.S. are thought to be as low as 160 adults, where as in the past they reached as high as...

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