Chapter 5: Hydropower
Hydropower Dam Controversy
Hydroelectric power generation accounts for roughly 10% of the power generation in the
United States, far and away the largest contribution coming from a renewable source.
There are many advantages to hydropower over electricity generated by burning fossil
fuels, including zero emissions and no release of thermal pollution to the environment.
These hydroelectric plants can last for decades, and require little maintenance. They also
serve other purposes aside from power generation including storage of water for irrigation
and drinking, and flood control. However, there are also downsides to hydropower,
including sometimes shortened life-span due to siltation behind the dam, the danger of dam
failure, and most notably the loss of free-flowing streams and the land and habitat that is
flooded by the dam. A contentious issue in the Pacific Northwest is the effect that dams
are having on fish populations in California and the Pacific Northwest. The once abundant
fish are now in danger or becoming extinct in many parts of the west. In fact, The U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service reports that 214 of the 400 stocks of salmon, steelhead, and sea-run
cutthroat trout in the California and the Pacific Northwest are at risk of extinction, and that
106 have already become extinct. Some say fish ladders help the fish migrate back to their
spawning grounds, while others say the only way to allow for these fish to make a
comeback is to return the rivers back to their original condition. Base on this, answer the
1. Are the power generation, irrigation, and flood control benefits from hydropower facilities
worth the disadvantages that have been identified? Think about this question from both an
economic and environmental perspective.
2. Do you feel that more hydropower facilities should be constructed?