How hydroelectric dams can affect the environment?

Energy is a big part of our lives. After all, we use it for everything from working, heating, traveling, and more. But the question that remains is where does all this energy come from?

Nowadays, most of the energy we consume comes from fossil fuels that include natural gas, coal, and oil. However, part of our energy also comes from nuclear, renewables, and biomass.

Even though fossil fuels are still the primary source of our energy, the truth is that it’s becoming more costly to pump not to mention the fact that it affects the environment in multiple ways. Some of these effects include oil spills, acid rain, degradation of air quality, and the one that keeps being mentioned all the time, global warming.

One of the things that most people don’t know or don’t realize is that fossil fuels are scarce resources, meaning they will end. And the estimation date for this to happen is somewhere within the next 50 to 100 years.

But the fossil fuels aren’t the only kind of energy that has problems; the nuclear energy also has its share, Some of them include nuclear radiation hazards and dangerous radioactive waste.

Based on these facts, it’s not a very big surprise that there has been an increase in the investments in renewable energies such as geothermal, solar, the wind, and hydropowerof course. From these four, the oldest and the most used one is the hydro power.

Hydropower is the largest source of electricity in the entire world (more than 20%) and for some countries – Paraguay, Venezuela Switzerland, Brazil, New Zealand, and Canada -, this is how they generate most of their electricity.

Even though hydropower is considered a renewable energy, it also has some disadvantages.

Following are some of the ways hydroelectric dams can effect environment:

1. Disrupts Aquatic Ecosystems
In most cases, hydropower dams are built in the middle of the rivers without taking into consideration the aquatic life. So, fish and other river animals are obliged to swim against the water stream for multiple reasons. The first one is that they need to breed, and the second one to avoid being trapped and killed in the penstocks or turbines.

In some occasions, dams are built in the middle of the fish migrating paths. So, there will be a drastic cut on the fish population.

2. Dams Are Huge

The truth is that when a dam constructed, it won’t just be built in the river. It will also take a huge part of the land that surrounds the river. It’s not that uncommon to see huge forests being destroyed just to build one dam. As you can imagine, this affects the natural ecosystems.

3. Initial Costs Are Very High

An hydropower plant is no small project. In fact, the average cost of building a small one (not an average or a big one) is about $10 million. In case we’re talking about a large scale power plant, it can cost about $450 million dollars.

Even though these numbers may seem a bit exaggerated, the truth is that they’re not. Just consider the size of the water reservoir that needs to be constructed. And this is all that you see from the outside. Inside, there has to be a lot of different tunnels in the bedrock on both sides of the dam. In most cases, dams are being constructed in some parts of the rivers that don’t have the necessary roads to allow the materials to get there. So, new roads and, sometimes, even new bridges, need to be constructed from scratch as well. Only the water reservoir can cost between $10 to $200 million, varying from case to case.

Then, there is the need to have the infrastructure that allows the generated power to be transmitted to the grid. Everything adds up to the costs that can be astronomical.

4. Forces People To Move

As we mentioned above, most dams that are built need to have some land on the surroundings of the river. In some cases, this will force people who lived in the area to move out. Even though there are compensations, the reality is there isn’t compensation enough to move from your land, from where you had your home and established your business. This is why when this happens you always see a lot of angry people protesting against the construction of the dam.

One of the most famous and classic examples where this happened was with a project called “Sardar Sarovar” in India. Even though the dam construction would benefit millions of people, the government failed in addressing the resettlement for people who lived in the area. This was one of the biggest protests in India, and it included police attacks on protesters, hunger strikes, and huge protest marches.

5. The Construction Materials Need To Be The Best

When a dam is being constructed, only the high-quality materials can be used. Otherwise, there can be a dam breakage, just like the one that happened in China, in the Banqiao Dam. Due to the massive flooding, 171,000 people died and millions lost their homes.

6. Environmental Impacts

Even taking only into consideration the construction of a hydropower plant, there are already huge effects for the environment. But the problems are just starting. In some dam constructions, the natural course of the river may need to be changed. And this can dramatically interfere with both the fauna and flora. The forests around the dams are destructed as well as people are forced to move out.

The water reservoirs are a huge contributor to the emission of greenhouse gasses that can have a huge impact on plant and animals lives.

7. Dam Safety

While in the old days most people who worried about the safety of a dam were the people who lived nearby, this is no longer the case. When we see acts of terror almost every day, we can also see that a dam can be a great target to kill thousands of innocents. This is one of the reasons why the security in a dam is extremely tight, which also increases the construction cost.

8. The Risk of Drought

Since the electricity prices and the power generation are directly related to the amount of water available, we may have a huge problem when there is a severe drought. When this happens, a river tends to dry up. So, this may mean that there is no electricity generation which will make prices to rise.

Even though you may be thinking twice about how good hydropower is, the reality is that the benefits are bigger than the disadvantages. And there are several methods of Hydropower generation without the use of dams. Some of these methods are affordable, reliable and environment friendly.

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