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Harnessing thousands of cubic meters of water every day is what hydroelectric station do and have been doing so for decades. They are factories that convert moving water into electricity. Most hydroelectric stations build a dam across a river in a bid to raise the water levels to create the needed drop, which in turn creates the force. If not, the stations use water created and diverted by a natural drop from waterfalls or rapids. Water at a higher level is collected and flows through a plant’s intake where it is directed into a turbine. As the water flow and pressure increases, it drives the turbines connected, to the generator. The rotors attached to electromagnets create the flow of electricity. It is stepped up, through transformers and directed to transmission lines as electricity for distribution (Dennis, 2017). Hydroelectric power, also known as dams is just one way, we get electricity to support our day to day lives. Dams create a large amount of the world’s power and are a great renewable source as it does not pollute the air like fossil fuels or coal. However, dams or hydroelectric power can also be harmful to our environment as it affects the natural land area and disrupts wildlife habitats. It in return can hurt the environments natural waterways and destroy certain wildlife in an area.
However, not all dams serve to benefit the environment and its people. They at times do more harm than good. The damming of the Elwha River is such an example. The Olympic Mountain Range, where the Elwha River flows from, is an example of a dam that has forever altered the ecology of the river. By 2020, it is estimated that dams in the U.S will have maximized their 50-year life expectancy. When they age, they begin to disintegrate. Sediments clog reservoirs, spillway gates get rusty, and the walls of concrete begin to collapse . Due to this, dams fail, and the results can be disastrous . The good thing about decommissioning a dam is that it could have a positive impact on restoring the environment, as is the case with the decommissioning of the Elwha River.
In the early 1900’s it was unlawful to build a dam without some way for fish to pass through. The building of dams, which block fish pathways into well-established fisheries, is considered arrogant and negligent, even though dams produce sources of reliable electricity. The dams brought electricity, but very few families were able to afford the connection to these power lines. There were also instances when fish were in plenty, and it was not uncommon to bump into thick salmon before the building of the dam on Elwha River. The constructions of the two dams, however, prevented the fish from going up the river. It was the first stage of environmental degradation (Conserve-Energy-Future, 2018).
With dams flooded at more than 700 acres, salmon disappeared from the environment. It has caused the taking of the two dams out to try to restore the river’s ecology. Salmon fish, on the other hand, are eaten regularly as they replace themselves continuously. The undamming of the Elwha River, though it could not reverse the damage done to these species of fish, caused irreversible damage on the land. Before the building of dams, droughts and vicious floods were things that plagued waters. It seems to be the case before the undamming of these dams on the Elwha River.
Though most blame such arrogance and neglect on corruption and sabotage, the decommissioning of the dams was a last resort. It still is in the hopes that the river goes back to its former state and the fish will multiply to the plentiful numbers they were before. Also, it was in a bid to connect people, to whom Elwha was their lifeline, to the principal river from the mountains. These tribes got cheap electricity when the dams were built, and they paid a high price for this. The dams flooded and their sacred sites were destroyed, salmon faded from the river, the tribes lost their primary source of income and food, and most were forced to leave their ancestral home.
With cheap electricity and the habitat severely degraded, it was decided that the costs of the dams on the environment were more than what it did to benefit the community in terms of cheap electricity. Dam removal, though many did not think a viable solution, made sense to gain the ecosystem lost. To salvage and save any salmon left, scientists use snorkel surveying, to determine the size, amount and species of fish going upstream to get a clear number of abundance levels of these fish. The decommissioning of these dams will mean the restoration of the salmon, which not only were a source of income to some of the river tribes, but they were also food to wild animals, and they enriched the Elwha River with their carcasses. With the return of the salmon, the whole of the watershed is expected to flourish.
Despite blocking salmon from going upstream, the dam also stopped sediments from flowing downstream. In the case of the Elwha, the problem with the dams was too much sediment.
Conserve-Energy-Future. (2018). Disadvantages of Hydro Power – Conserve Energy Future. [online] Available at: http://www.conserve-energy future.com/Disadvantages_HydroPower.php [Accessed 4 Jun. 2016].
Talks more on the negative effects that dams have and highlights effects such as sedimentation, death and a reduced number of fish, and degradation of the environment. It further explains ways to better take care of the environment and conserve energy. Among many other concerns on the safety of the dams, the journal provides more insight on the geological and environmental damages dams have. Notwithstanding, there are people who are affected negatively with some of these effects being irreversible. By touching more on the disadvantages than advantages, it works to help save the environment and stop the arrogant and selfish methods to benefit a certain group of people.
Dennis, J. (2017). Hydroelectric Power. The New Book of Popular Science. 34(5), 107 – 109.
In his book, Dennis explains more what hydroelectric power is and what is used for as well as its advantages. He gives examples of hydroelectric power plants and mentions dams and pumped storage plants as examples. He explains how they are not only used to produce power but also store power. He gets into the science behind the creation of electricity from water and accredits it all to the force and drop of the water. The book tries elaborating how generators spin turbines to get water pumping from areas as rivers. By having the power stored, it can be distributed as electricity to various parts of a country but only if generators are activated to produce electricity.
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