Thursday, August 09, 2007

Guest Blogging: Dams - beauties or beasts?

Spray Lakes, Kananaskis Country, AB

Sunset can hide a lot from the eye. Here it is the complicated and laden subject of hydroelectricity. Just beyond the foot of the mountain on the right is a dam that controls the waterflow of the lake and that creates hydroelectricity that gives the town of Canmore, lying a few kilometers beyond that dam, a lot of its necessary power. It could be argued that dams provide green energy, because no burning of gas, coal or oil is needed. However, dams have huge impacts on the environment and not seldomly also on (indigenous) people. The lakes that form behind the dams flood huge areas and the plant material there will slowly rot, releasing methane. Methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 is, so the CO2 emissions that dams save is at least partially nullified by that. The changes caused by the sudden appearance of a large lake takes the natural system quite a while to adapt to, especially if wildlife corridors or important habitat is suddenly lost. In the dammed river too, the changes are huge. The river itself of course is one big wildlife corridor and fish and other animals and plants are much hindered in their travels. Dams have caused dramatically reduced diversity in rivers, including the loss of breeding grounds for salmon in many parts of North America and the rest of the world.
In quite a few cases the building of dams led to the forced moving of native people (not only in North America!), not seldomly without any compensation for their losses. In some cases, where these people lived in such remote places that it was perceived to be too much trouble to seek them all out, they were not even warned and simply suddenly saw the water rising above their heads.
Such is the thirst for power (in more than one sense of the word) that dams have been built in many places thoughout the world, arguably producing green power, but at huge costs.

Brilliant Dam, near Castlegar, BC

Read a related article here.

Written by Arthur Sevestre

In support of Project Canada this blog will feature small articles written by Arthur Sevestre about environmental and conservational issues in Canada. If you are interested in the goals of this project, please check out the website.