The intensity and urgency of the threats of human impact on planet Earth grow greater and greater, and our need for electricity will not be distinguished in the near future. Now, and for years in the past, we have to ask, “Are dams what we need?”
by Akshitha Sahu
If there’s anything that we want more of, it has to be energy. With a new turn to renewable and clean energy, hydropower is one of the first to come to mind. The New York Times explains that about 7% of the energy created in 2019 was from the hydropower generated from dams like the Hoover Dam, one of the greatest feats of construction in the United States.
While it is true that most in our communities can explain what a dam is, there’s a lot more to a dam than what meets the eye. Having been around since the time of the Mesopotamians, dams have become commonplace in our society (National Geographic). The culture of ‘big dams’ started around the 1900s, and the dams built back then stand strong today. Today’s large concrete walls in rivers create reservoirs of water on one side of the wall and slow the force of water in order to harness energy.
Often, these dams come with great benefits as well as great consequences. Many environmentalists argue that dams hurt our environment and are not the eco-friendly solution we must strive for. Like the fights with other industries for environmental control, this issue is no different. It’s often hard to discern between solutions, and environmentalists push to bring an end to the dam industry that hurts our planet.
This is where we see the Trilemma. Should we initiate dams and operate current dams, remove dams from our rivers, or is there a possible way to reach a consensus?
Dams are exactly what we need.
In our world, luxury is a need that many seek to satisfy. Dams are beyond plain structures and provide us with benefits that give us opportunities. Perhaps the greatest benefit of the use of dams is the power that they provide, says USS Dams. Through the massive turbines in dams, hydroelectricity is harnessed. This electricity is what turns our lights on every time we press that button. When dams can provide such a necessity, is there a need to deactivate them?
While others argue that dams are not a clean energy source, they often seem to overlook the fact that dams are indeed better than energy sources like fossil fuels, which is where over half our energy originates, explains the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Unlike other energy sources, dams have the unique characteristics that allow them to function without letting out carbon emissions into our air (USS Dams).
Along with this, according to USS Dams, these structures also provide irrigation benefits and flood control. The reliability of dams as an energy source is seen in the life of dams that continue to be in use. For instance, one of the oldest dams in the world, the Cornalvo Dam in Spain, is still in operation today and serves as a reminder of the ability dams have to remain in service for longer than other sources of power (National Geographic). With all the benefits that dams provide us with, it’s clear that dams can bring several crucial changes to our society.
Dams hurt our planet.
Ecologists and environmental enthusiasts in general argue that dams are ruining our natural world. Dams damage rivers and aquatic life in rivers. The adverse effects of dams don’t stop there. Environmentalists continue to say that dams, even ones that are abandoned, prevent regular fish migration, and damage the ecosystem.
Rivers are some of the most beautiful places on this planet. This beauty and clarity, however, doesn’t seem to last. Dams have become obstacles that prevent our rivers from flowing freely. Americanrivers.org explains that rivers that are obstructed by dams slow down, which causes the temperature of the water to rise. This impacts water quality in the reservoirs and leads to an increase in algae blooms. Hence, the oxygen levels in a reservoir continue to drop.
Another part of the problem is the alteration that dams cause to river habitats. Americanrivers.org clarifies that the sediment that builds up in the presence of dams negatively impacts the river’s health. The sediment that accumulates in the fish spawning areas is detrimental to the habitat. This same source goes further to say that aquatic life is deeply disturbed because of dams in their rivers. Not only does this prevent fish migration, but the fact that many species rely on the water’s current to propel them must not be overlooked.
An article by the New York Times described a scenario where the Veazie and Great Works dams were removed. The article explained the positive response from the river life that the removal of these structures created. The rivers came back to life relatively quickly after being suppressed by dams for so long, proving that the removal of dams is indeed beneficial.
As other controversies operate, the neutral argument may be the best chance of finding a solution that can aid all of our requirements. Earlier this month, a statement from environmental organizations and the U.S. hydropower industry explained a solution that could give both perspectives an equal compromise. The statement explained that the two sides would collaborate to create a set of policies to reduce the adverse effects of dams. The two sides also finalized that they would collaborate in the effective removal of vestigius dams to restore river health. Such a solution may not have seemed probable if studied a few decades in the past, but it’s clear that the dire situation we’re in calls for all ends to meet.