Removing Dams — Throwing Out The Baby With The Bathwater

As a New York Times editorial recently pointed out, in the past 10 years some 430 dams have been removed.  A good number of them were in states of disrepair, but many, (the majority?) were removed because dams create problems for spawning salmon and other fish. This may seem like a good thing for wildlife and the Environment, but it’s also a bit like throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

There’s no doubt that dams, which are part of a traditional hydro-electric plant, are bad for the spawning fish.  They’re probably not the best idea for those humans living near them either.  But we don’t necessarily need to choose between closing off a river entirely and harnessing that flowing water’s power to generate electricity.  There are several designs and concepts, at least one of which has been featured here, which would act like the old fashion water-powered mills.  The flow of the water that pushes a mechanism with force enough to grind grain can certainly manage to generate some electricity — without stopping fish from pursuing their breeding cycle.

As we work towards environmentally friendly solutions to our energy wants and needs, let’s not go throwing out the baby with the bathwater.  There’s nothing wrong with harnessing energy which would otherwise go to waste, so long as we’re keeping the Bigger Picture in mind.  (No, that doesn’t mean a zillion studies and environmental impact opinions.  A bit of forethought, consideration, and good intention to make as little impact as possible, these will serve just fine.)  When these hydro-electric systems were taken down, did anyone consider harnessing energy along the river, instead of across it?

Dams are just one of the places where we may want to think and rethink how we’re solving the energy crisis and working towards indendence from fossil fuels.   We don’t want to trash the environment or be indifferent to other species in the process, but there are very few things in the world which are truly mutually exclusive.  Let’s just think things out a little better, look a bit further ahead, as we move into an era that allows us the energy we want and need without running roughshod over the planet in the process.