Saturday, March 01, 2008

New dams in the western US? Really?

Yes we need water, but dams come with a cost. We've learned many painful lesssons from the great dam-building era in the American west. Nevertheless, Western states are now out in the hills looking for new dam sites.

Killing salmon is one of the major results of dams in the northwest. Dams block habitat, kill fish directly, and make rivers a poor home for salmon.

We've learned these lessons, and even begun to remove dams from rivers when salmon restoration costs more than the dams are worth.

With this knowledge, it's a harsh bit of news to read that new dams are being considered. But we're in a tough situation. Just like proposals to generate electricity from ocean wind, tides, and waves, it's probably not right to just say not in my backyard (NIMBY) to all proposals for construction in rivers and the ocean.

Can we do dams right, knowing what we know now? Certainly not if we rely on the kind of planning we had in the last round of dam-building. We need to choose carefully where we build new large natural resource projects, and some important places should be strictly off limits. We need to talk openly and clearly about the tradeoffs and what's lost when we build. And people who care need to have a voice.


Anonymous said...

Mark, what are your thoughts on nuclear power? I know it's a whole other can of worms and the ultimate "not in my backyard" scenario, but it does intrigue me as a viable power alternative. Or are people too scarred from Three Mile Island syndrome to consider?

Mark Powell said...

Nuclear power may look more attractive in the future as oil gets more expensive and CO2 proves to be a serious threat. I think nuclear will make a comeback, but not as THE solution.