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Let's Build Environment Friendly Dams Essay

2734 words - 11 pages

    A young boy- stands on the banks of a dried up river, a tear falling from his innocent face into the sand of the stream bed. He can't understand why a once mighty river has dried up. His father used to bring him camping along these wooded banks, canoeing down the rapids, and fishing in the clear waters. Eyes wandering to the huge mass of concrete which stands over the spot where his favorite waterfall used to crash over rocks, the boy can almost hear the roar of water which he loved to fall asleep to.


Back in town, many adults are happy about the building of the dam. The hydroelectric power is cheap, and the economy is booming. Tourists, coming to boat on the lake, have brought a great amount of money to town, and fresh produce from the irrigated fields is pouring into the grocery store. 'Life is better since the dam was built,' you can read in their eyes.


The debate over what to do about large hydroelectric dams has raged in the United States since 1935 and the construction of the Hoover Dam, on the Colorado River in Arizona. American Rivers (1989) finds that around 2000 hydro- dams are in operation and about 600,000 of 3.5 million miles, or almost 20 percent, of our rivers lie behind dams. It is uncontested by even the most vocal opponents that these dams, when properly utilized, can provide a wide variety of benefits to mankind, such as: reservoirs for times of drought, water for agricultural irrigation, recreational havens. and as sources for electrical power. As dams retain some two- thirds of our consumed water (Conservation Foundation, l984), irrigate farm lands worth in excess of 9 billion dollars, are visited by almost a billion people a year for recreation (Bureau of Reclamation, 1991), and provide about a tenth of the countries eleetrical power (Statistical Abstract, 1991), it is difficult to dispute these benefits. There are, of course, opponents who question dam poliey and the fact that only 9000 miles, or a quarter of one percent, of our rivers are protected by law (American Rivers, 1989). Progress for mankind always includes some costs; costs which these opponents of large dams feel are too great to justify the rewards. The controversy centers around this basic value argument: is the damage which large dams cause to the river's environment and recreational virtues worth the benefits which mankind receives for the dam?


Much of the publicity for dam opponents stems from thecreation of organizations sueh as American Rivers and Friends ofthe River. These increasingly professiorial organizations raisepublic awareness of river problems and lobby the government to halt dam projects. The primary souree on environmental damages caused by dams was written by Edward Goldsmith and NicholasHildyard, working for the Ecological Foundation. Other writers,such as Kyle Radigan, center their arguments around the problems of fishery depletion. Dam proponents agree that large dams may damage the environment, but...

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