Dammed if you do, Dammed if you don’t

Yes, the headline is purposely that way. From Oregon State University:

Dam construction to reduce greenhouse gases causes ecosystem disruption

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers conclude in a new report that a global push for small hydropower projects, supported by various nations and also the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, may cause unanticipated and potentially significant losses of habitat and biodiversity.

An underlying assumption that small hydropower systems pose fewer ecological concerns than large dams is not universally valid, scientists said in the report. A five-year study, one of the first of its type, concluded that for certain environmental impacts the cumulative damage caused by small dams is worse than their larger counterparts.

The findings were reported by scientists from Oregon State University in the journal Water Resources Research, in work supported by the National Science Foundation.

The conclusions were based on studies of the Nu River system in China but are relevant to national energy policies in many nations or regions – India, Turkey, Latin America – that seek to expand hydroelectric power generation. Hydropower is generally favored over coal in many developing areas because it uses a renewable resource and does not contribute to global warming. Also, the social and environmental problems caused by large dam projects have resulted in a recent trend toward increased construction of small dams.

“The Kyoto Protocol, under Clean Development Mechanism, is funding the construction of some of these small hydroelectric projects, with the goal of creating renewable energy that’s not based on fossil fuels,” said Desiree Tullos, an associate professor in the OSU Department of Biological and Ecological Engineering.

“The energy may be renewable, but this research raises serious questions about whether or not the overall process is sustainable,” Tullos said.

“There is damage to streams, fisheries, wildlife, threatened species and communities,” she said. “Furthermore, the projects are often located in areas where poverty and illiteracy are high. The benefit to these local people is not always clear, as some of the small hydropower stations are connected to the national grid, indicating that the electricity is being sent outside of the local region.

“The result can be profound and unrecognized impacts.”

This study was one of the first of its type to look at the complete range of impacts caused by multiple, small hydroelectric projects, both in a biophysical, ecological and geopolitical basis, and compare them to large dam projects. It focused on the remote Nu River in China’s Yunnan Province, where many small dams producing 50 megawatts of power or less are built on tributaries that fall rapidly out of steep mountains. There are already 750,000 dams in China and about one new dam is being built every day, researchers say.

Among the findings of the report as it relates to this region of China:

  • The cumulative amount of energy produced by small hydroelectric projects can be significant, but so can the ecological concerns they raise in this area known to be a “hotspot” of biological diversity.
  • Per megawatt of energy produced, small tributary dams in some cases can have negative environmental impacts that are many times greater than large, main stem dams.
  • Many dams in China are built as part of a state-mandated policy to “Send Western Energy East” toward the larger population and manufacturing centers.
  • Small dams can have significant impacts on habitat loss when a river’s entire flow is diverted into channels or pipes, leaving large sections of a river with no water at all.
  • Fish, wildlife, water quality and riparian zones are all affected by water diversion, and changes in nearby land use and habitat fragmentation can lead to further species loss.
  • The cumulative effect on habitat diversity can be 100 times larger for small dams than large dams.
  • Policies encouraging more construction of small dams are often developed at the national or international level, but construction and management of the projects happen at the local level.
  • As a result, mitigation actions and governance structures that would limit social and environmental impacts of small hydropower stations are not adequately implemented.

“One of the things we found generally with small dams is that there was much less oversight and governance with the construction, operation and monitoring of small hydropower,” Tullos said. “On the large, main stem dams, people pay attention to what’s going on. On a small hydropower project, no one notices if minimum flows are being maintained. Or if a pump breaks, the hydropower station might sit idle for long periods of time.”

Researchers said the key finding of the research, contrary to prevailing but unvalidated belief, is that “biophysical impacts of small hydropower may exceed those of large hydropower, particular with regard to habitat and hydrologic change.”

The study this story is based on is available online: http://bit.ly/14XWxBu

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34 Responses to Dammed if you do, Dammed if you don’t

  1. Not only that, a single hydroelectric dam produces as much CO2 as 10 million people burning fossil fuels

    http://hockeyschtick.blogspot.com/2011/07/oh-no-single-hydroelectric-dam-produces.html

  2. AnonyMoose says:

    They electricity as the reason for the dam, but then add in diversion of the water as an effect. They shouldn’t claim these are the effects of hydroelectric dams and then mix in water diversion.

  3. Follow the Money says:

    Gosh, I came to WWUT for some good talk about today’s New York Times (deleted)-job on Bill Nye the Science Guy. All I got are dams in Oregon.

    Any hope?

    BTW, the “reporter” failed to inquire who was funding Nye. Top flight journalism at the NYT, for sure!!

  4. NeedleFactory says:

    I am reminded of a controversy in ecology, pitting Jared Diamond (and some others) against still others (whose names I don’t recall). At issue: is it better to have one nature reserve of size 4A, or four nature reserves of size A? My take-away is that the question is not simple, since reputable scientists can come nearly to fisticuffs discussing the issue. (For those interested, see “The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction” by David Quammen.)
    The analogy I see: is it better to have one big dam or four smaller ones?

  5. OregonGuy says:

    Yesterday, Oregon State pressered “Bullfrogs may help spread deadly amphibian fungus, but also die from it.” That’s the verbatim title. Pretty declarative, innit? But scroll down in the story, and you come across this gem:

    “One possibility for the fungal increase is climate change, which can also compromise the immune systems of amphibians,” said Andrew Blaustein, a distinguished professor of zoology at OSU and international leader in the study of amphibian declines. “There are a lot of possible ways the fungus can spread. People can even carry it on their shoes.”

    Wow. One possiblity is climate change. Could also be, what, inquistive children with dirty sneakers? But it was published. So now this a part of the canon. I blame the presence of Phillip Mote on campus. Oregon State Univeristy, promoting Science, using Unicorns and Pixie Dust.

    http://oregonstate.edu/ua/ncs/archives/2013/jun/bullfrogs-may-help-spread-deadly-amphibian-fungus-also-die-it

  6. MarkW says:

    NeedleFactory says:
    June 18, 2013 at 11:09 am
    is it better to have one nature reserve of size 4A, or four nature reserves of size A?


    No doubt that they will compromise on 4 nature reserve, each 10A in size.

  7. tadchem says:

    Lose from one habitat, gain for another.
    “Diversity” is an illusion.
    All plants and animals are individuals to whom ‘diversity’ is meaningless; there is only survival or extinction.
    All species are either extinct already or are becoming extinct – someday – to make room for species that haven’t evolved yet because conditions are not yet good for them.
    “Sustainability” is also an illusion. Living systems evolve. Only “change” itself exists. Sustainability is when change happens too slowly to be noticeable.

  8. DCA says:

    OT but how will Mexico’s Popocatepetl volcano effect this years temperatures?

    http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/articles/480128/20130618/popocatepetl-volcano-mexico-spews-ash-fragments-fires.htm

  9. Alan D McIntire says:

    The number of members of each species follows roughly a Pareto distribution. Most species we’re aware of are common and widespread, but most species are rare and near extinction throught their existence. Anything we do, or nature does in producing hurricanes or droughts or floods, has a chance of wiping out some rare, not widely distributed species. The only way to AVOID the problem is to never build anything or do anything.

  10. Gary Pearse says:

    You know when you always let your children do things their way (presumably to keep things peaceful), eventually things will go bad. You have to reassert some guidance and control, and of course there is a lot of kay yayin while you’re doing it. So when do we reassert, send them to their room and get on with what has to be done?

    Ecologist (I resent the attachment of ‘engineer’ to this and others like environmental engineer to give a sense of legitimacy to activism) has just become a name for folks that are against anything that might be a benefit to humans, and, it seems, particularly for humans in poor countries, a variant of the 19th Century “noble savage” idea.

    The James Bay Project in northern Quebec, one of the world’s largest hydro projects, is a complex of dams constructed starting about 40yrs ago. The anti-dammers raised hell and saw the end of the world and a total disruption of the native peoples’ way of life. A deal was signed with the native people which paid them 4.5B over 50 years and other considerations, and now this clean energy in abundance electrifies Quebec, eastern Canada New York and other NE states

    Moose, caribou, ducks, geese, and fish are in abundance. By the way, the Cree people now own a scheduled airline, heavy construction companies, project supply companies, trucking, have bought into mining and timber companies and are doing a heck of a lot better than they were before. As a real engineer (whose been to both places), I know that Africa would benefit enormously from similar developments, perhaps only 1/100th the size. The ecological damage being done because they DON’Thave cheap, reliable and clean energy has reached terminal conditions. Their equivalent of the “snail darter”, or whatever, is doomed anyway if we leave things the way they are.

  11. Dodgy Geezer says:

    ANYTHING anyone does – sneezing or stepping out of the door, has the potential to cause VAST, IRREPARABLE damage to the environment. Depending on your interpretation of the above words, and the amount of money you are paid to support any side of the argument.

    What we need is some single-number method of quantifying the risk-benefit of all of our actions independently. Which we won’t get. So the Green Scaremongers are quite safe….

    Besides, even when they spend a lifetime being wrong, no one notices and everyone rewards them. Look at Ehrlich…

  12. Bill Parsons says:

    Ms. Tullos appears suspicious of whether local hydro benefits “local peole”:

    “Furthermore, the projects are often located in areas where poverty and illiteracy are high. The benefit to these local people is not always clear, as some of the small hydropower stations are connected to the national grid, indicating that the electricity is being sent outside of the local region.

    “The result can be profound and unrecognized impacts.”

    From the appearances of things in the U.S., small communities stand to benefit greatly from small hydro power projects in their areas – that is, if they can wrench control from the cold, dead fingers of Big Government entities like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERCA).

    There are are thousands of miles of Bureau of Reclamation conduits (irrigation pipes, ditches and canals) crisscrossing Colorado high country, many of which would supply ideal sources for local hydroelectric power. Getting government to release these resources for harmless power generation is another matter. Here are articles about several bipartisan bills presently before congress:

    http://coyotegulch.wordpress.com/category/climate-change/hydroelectric/

    It is shameful that our own government throws up roadblocks to such easily accessible energy sources. A democrat proponent of these small plants, Mark Udall, estimates that the Bureau of Reclamation-operated conduits in Colorado could generate enough electricity to power 1 million homes.

  13. Gunga Din says:

    CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers conclude in a new report that a global push for small hydropower projects, supported by various nations and also the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, may cause unanticipated and potentially significant losses of habitat and biodiversity.

    ============================================================
    Huh? Now they’re concerned about unintended consequences? What about the “bird-choppers”? Or did they know what they would do before they were built?

  14. RS says:

    I believe the solution in Soylent Green (a prophetic work for the green movement) was for the little sweaty starving people to pedal for power while Al Gore and the elite had strawberries, meat, air conditioning and blonds.

  15. Bob, Missoula says:

    The only reason hydro is even included in the renewable category is that without it renewable energy production sinks to near zero, same with bio fuel. If the warmists truly believed this nonsense we would have dams and bio fuel generators being built all over the US as there would be no one to oppose their construction. The whole idea (renewable) is utter nonsense.

  16. Timbo says:

    What about the bird and bat choppers?

  17. MattS says:

    Duh! The greens don’t want clean energy, they want to push us back to NO energy.

  18. Latitude says:

    “Oregon State University”…..nuff said

  19. hunter says:

    It is odd that the AGW mania is now attacking yet another proven source of energy and flood control and agricultural prosperity. They are killing coal, trying to figure out how to kill natural gas, are keeping nuke power in a coma. All to push wind and bio fuels, neither of which actually works, and causes tremendous landscape and avian/bat destruction, and biofules, which destabilize the food supply.

  20. Gunga Din says:

    When the Cuyahoga (sp?) River caught fire a few decades back it was one of the things that gave rise to the USEPA. One of the aims of the conservationist (they weren’t environmental wackos back then) was to clean up the Cuyahoga River. One point along the river (and the old Ohio-Eire Canal) was an auto salvage yard. They cleaned out the junk cars but then there was a debate about what to do to clean the site. Enter some beavers and a beaver dam. It’s now one of the places to see.
    What would be said now if a man-made low head dam was proposed as the solution?

  21. MattS says:

    Gunga Din,

    “What would be said now if a man-made low head dam was proposed as the solution?”

    You can’t do that. “man-made” = EVIL!!! What are you, some kind of Republican?
    /sarc

  22. Manfred says:

    “The result can be profound and unrecognized impacts.”

    Some green bureaucrat at grand central suddenly realised that power impoverishing policies were inadvertently encouraging small groups or individuals to instal hydro-electric generation that would remove them from the wider controllable grid. No, no, no, we can’t have that. The primary goal is control. The second, outright power impoverishment. The resultant cessation of life as we know it – except for the green elite in grand central.

  23. Crispin in Waterloo says:

    @Gary Pearse

    “As a real engineer (whose been to both places), I know that Africa would benefit enormously from similar developments, perhaps only 1/100th the size.”

    Exactly. Having operated multiple projects in Africa over decades, it is clear to me that the training and education benefits, shared managerial skills, experiences dealing with foreigners and their incongruent cultures are all part of upliftment that is meaningful. Money? Not so much. Putting people in 3-piece suits and giving them Mercedes Benzes is not ‘development’. Development means deepening life experiences and capacities to deal and shape the world. It is wholly immaterial. Material development quickly follows as naturally as rainbows follow rain.

  24. cwon14 says:

    The eco-downsides of fighting co2 are well-know but politically minimized by the chosen elite;

    http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/jamesdelingpole/100222239/why-do-i-call-them-bat-chomping-bird-slicing-eco-crucifixes/

    Think about where the Audubon Society stands in the grotesque hypocrisy;

    http://www.audubon.org/newsroom/press-rooms/birds-climate-change-press-room

    Here is the kind of whitewash they produce;

    http://www.sfgate.com/business/article/Altamont-Pass-turbines-kill-fewer-birds-4230640.php

    Just imaging if it was an Exxon refinery stacking bird death total like this?

  25. Darrin says:

    Oregon State used to do real science but they have been taken over by the Green theology. I no longer trust studies coming out of there. Sad thing to say since Corvallis and OSU is where I grew up.

  26. Hydropower is generally favored over coal in many developing areas because it uses a renewable resource and does not contribute to global warming.

    The reason hydro is popular is it is cheap and great for peak demand. And international ‘clean energy’ grants have made it even cheaper.

    The largest hydro project in Africa is slated to power much of East Africa.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Ethiopian_Renaissance_Dam

  27. Mike Bromley the Kurd near the Green Line says:

    Dammed Illiterates. What are they doing in the picture? /sarc

  28. higley7 says:

    Protecting biodiversity is the key to the UN’s Agenda 21 opposition to all forms of energy. Which is, of course, why they want to reduce humanity to a subsistence living in which we have to give up machinery (all electric motors), guns and transportation.

    AND, defining biodiversity and what it should be is orders of magnitude more difficult that determining a global temperature. Sort of like trying to nail jello to a tree.

  29. DesertYote says:

    Well, to be fair, the Salween does support an amazing number of fishes and turtles. It is one of the water sheds that I study. But this is clearly an agenda driven study. The watermelons have been raising a stink for years, trying to prevent any damming in the water shed. Now that plans for large scale damming has been shelved, and small scale dams are being proposed, the Eco-facists are trying to do everything they can to make any damming look bad. The one thing that they really fear is an improvement in the lives of rural people.

    I have not read this study yet, but I will. One thing that I find interesting is that, as far as I know, there is only one small scale dam of the type this study is supposed to be focused on. Pretty small data set if you ask me. Also, this water shed is so unique, that anything learned would not be very applicable to anywhere else.

    BTW, for anyone here who is interested in fish, the Salween watershed is home to some of the most interesting examples of torrential mountain stream habitat of the type favored by the awesome Homaloptera bilineata!

  30. Brian H says:

    All part of the campaign to demonize every power source other than Holy Sun and Wind.

  31. Lightrain says:

    “There is damage to streams, fisheries, wildlife, threatened species and communities,”
    Other than streams and fisheries that pretty much sums up Wind Mills too!

  32. johanna says:

    In fairness, hydro schemes in places where rainfall is low can have unpleasant consequences. For example, the Snowy River hydro scheme (in Australia) transformed a substantial river in a dry area into a pathetic, trickling creek, wiping out fish, crustaceans, shellfish, plants etc.

    I am not saying that hydro schemes are bad – at all. But, we should be honest about the costs. Perhaps this study highlights that for true environmentalists, a decent coal, gas or nuclear plant is preferable to a bunch of mini-hydro schemes.

  33. Bloke down the pub says:

    Policies encouraging more construction of small dams are often developed at the national or international level, but construction and management of the projects happen at the local level.

    Wasn’t it James Hansen who told us that the Chinese system of government was ideally suited to introducing green policy?

  34. Lil Fella from OZ says:

    No water means death to many things!!! But of course for some fanatically greenOs they don’t care about that.

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