May 20, 2000
A large dam is defined as one higher than fifteen meters (about the height of a four-story building), and there are more than 40,000 large dams worldwide. Building a large dam obstructs the natural flow of water, and the consequences of breaking this tie between land and river can harshly impact life. For a complete list of how dams damage the river ecosystem, please see the American Rivers website.
Dams across the United States have drastically reduced fish populations and had severe negative impact on plant and animal life around the river. Not only that, but those who love white water rafting will tell you that the large damming of these rivers has virtually wiped out many challenging runs.
These negative consequences, combined with the fact that many dams today are old, unsafe, and costly, has encouraged the 'folks in charge' to rethink our policies on damming the rivers. The good news is, large dam building has ceased in the United States. However, the damage has been done, and we are now spending great amounts of money trying to fix the problems created by our existing large dams. Some groups are even going so far as to work for the removal of many of the large dams as a reasonable approach to restore healthy rivers and riverside communities.
While there are benefits that dams can provide, such as water supply to cities, and irrigation for farmlands and hydropower, they cause considerable damage to rivers. Today, many of the dams in the United States are old and obsolete, no longer serving their intended purposes. It is these dams that are hurting rivers across the country. Recent efforts by groups such as American Rivers are aimed at removing dams that no longer make sense; dams that are doing more harm than good.
Small steps are being made. In 1997, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recommended the removal of Edwards Dam in Maine. The removal was successfully completed in October of 1999, and fish and plant life is beginning the slow road to recovery. The action to remove the dam was hailed by environmentalists and scientists nationwide. It even received Popular Science's 'Best of What's New' award. Maybe people are finally getting the picture!
So what can you do to help the decommissioning of dams in the United States? The first thing's an easy one: STOP USING SO MUCH WATER! It's all about supply and demand, remember? If water wasn't in such demand, and beginning to be in such short supply, perhaps we wouldn't feel so frightened about letting it out of the dams. You can also research alternative forms of power, such as solar, wind power, or others that are not environmentally destructive. By supporting the development of such forms of power, we can take the need away from hydropower. Finally, you can get involved with groups like American Rivers or the International River Network, which works to stop the building of dams worldwide.
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