So, mild spoiler alert…I’ll be making references to a show on NatGeo tonight called Dam-Nation. The show was about dams in the US. It was pretty interesting. My main issue with it is that it was pretty one sided, so thought I’d come here to see if there is a debate here…and maybe get some insights into this that I don’t currently have.
The show revolved around the supposedly sordid history of dams in the US. The main theme of most of the show is that rivers should be free, that to have a healthy ecology you need to allow the rivers to flow, and that dams are bad. There were some with a more nuanced view on this, but the main theme was praising people who want to bring the dams down by any means or put graffiti on the dams to demonstrate they want them down. They gave a number of examples of how dams have been decommissioned and brought down and how that’s helped a lot. I get that, and it seems a good use of resources to me to bring down obsolete dams that have pretty obviously outlived their usefulness and in some cases are doing quite a bit of harm. I also get that many dams built in the 19th and 20th century in the US disregarded the importance of the ecological impact, disregarded the native peoples and, to me importantly, disregarded other industries such as fisheries in favor of power generation, water retention, flood control and such. I’m totally good with bringing down dams that would restore a balance, especially to dams that we don’t even use anymore. According to the show there are over 50k dams over 3 feet in heights in the US…which is a huge amount.
However, I’m not sure that ALL dams really should be brought down. To me, there has to be some sort of cost to benefits analysis…not all dams are worthless, not all serve no purpose, and even if there are negatives to some dams if the positives outweigh those negatives I’m not sure why we’d bring them down. But I have to admit that, outside of looking at the figures of US hydro-electric generation wrt our overall mix occasionally, I haven’t really ever thought much about them one way or the other. I’ve been to and seen the Hoover Dam many times, and been on Lake Mead, I’ve even been to the dam at Bryce Canyon, which were dams they talked about in the show.
So, figured I’d come here to see what folks think of this idea of getting rid of some, most, all dams and returning them to their natural states, or at least to something like their natural state. Also, thoughts on dams in general, on the fact that the US isn’t really building them anymore, and perhaps on other countries that are building them today (China springs to mind, but India is also building them, as are many other countries) and perhaps the cost to benefit of building a dam instead of, say, a coal fired power plant.