Canada's Syncrude Tailings is the largest. Tajikistan Nurek is the tallest. Brazil's
Itaipu is the most powerful. Damn dams are everywhere and they're getting bigger all
the time dammit!
Hydropower is one of the oldest methods of power generation in the world. Today, we often
think of Hoover dam, but ancient Greeks used the power of turning waterwheels to grind
grain. That power was harnessed even in the early Americas when colonists built mills
on creeks with enough drop to run waterwheels. Today, instead of a waterwheel on a creek,
hydropower often involves building a massive dam to hold back a water source. With enough
water pressure and drop, the water can turn giant turbines and generate electricity.The
Department of Energy says "70 percent of Washington State’s electricity comes from hydropower…
and 11 states get more than 10 percent of their electricity from hydro." The thing is,
only 3 percent of the 80,000 dams in the U.S. generate electricity, and even if they do,
dams inevitably alter thousands of square miles of waterways in both directions, affecting
fish and wildlife, forests, farms, and (of course) human populations. China is the largest
producer of hydroelectricity, followed by Canada, Brazil, and the United States, according
to the Energy Information Administration.
The Xayaburi dam is a three-and-a-half billion dollar project on the Mekong river in northern
Laos scheduled to be completed in 2019. It's one of 11 dams planned to be completed by
2025. Though they'll provide 8 percent of the region's electricity, and 3.7 billion
a year in income; it will affect more than 200-thousand people in the region and result
in "possible extinction of fish species, reduced fish populations, inundation of river bank
gardens, and loss of nutrients for floodplain agriculture equivalent to 500 million dollars
a year," according to a 2011 International Rivers report. Plus, construction of the dams
could expedite the extinction of these cute but weird-looking Irrawaddy dolphins.
Most people are aware of the impediments these dams make for spawning and migrating fish,
but it's not just that... Water in a reservoir is stagnant, gathering more sediment and growing
more aquatic weeds and algae -- causing problems with downstream life. Fish are used to certain
temperatures and levels of oxygen in their river water. Dams not only block the fish,
but the deep reservoirs held by the dam result in damn cold water with VERY little oxygen.
Opening the reservoir to respond to a sudden demand for electricity causes this cold, barely
oxygenated water to rush into rivers, suffocating and killing fish, this is according to the
Union of Concerned Scientists. On top of all that, the river itself suffers, because sand,
rocks, wood and other natural sediment builds up in the reservoir rather than spreading
On top of ALL THAT, The Union of Concerned Scientists found large hydroelectric dams
DO pollute with greenhouses gases. As the reservoir behind the dam grows or floods over
plants; that material decomposes releasing CO2 and methane; especially in tropical areas.
Emissions vary, but are just underneath the lowest levels from a natural gas plant. The
Balbina hydroelectric dam in Brazil flooded over 900 square miles (2360 sq km) of land
-- an area the size of Delaware, that's a lot of decomposing vegetation.
Dams are considered symbols of human achievement and national willpower, but that can come
at the expense of our national resources and still cause pollution and destruction. We
didn't even talk about earthquakes or the construction of the dams themselves -- which
can take as long as a decade. So what can we do? Two, century-old, dams on the Elwha
River in Washington state are blocking a key salmon spawning channel -- and they generate
very little electricity -- so they're being demolished! Aside from tearing them down,
some hydropower plants simply divert water rather than daming a whole river, and you
can even generate power using natural wave surge in the ocean!
Another way companies are using nature to power our appliances is with wind energy,
but what about when the wind's not blowing? Then you just capture the wind in a cave and
use it later! It sounds like a cartoon, but it's REAL. Check out this REALLY OLD DNews
video about it here And if you love DNews, you really should click that subscribe button, that's
how we know you're coming back to watch more. Go ahead and do it dammit! No, i mean, don't
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