January 22, 2020

High time to rethink hydropower?

Posted on 18. May, 2011 by Administrator in Energy/Environment

The Mississippi River and its tributaries are spilling over their banks and levees—flooding homes and ruining farmlands. In the recovery, decisions will need to be made about rebuilding or relocating.  The 2011 floods are not something new. There were major floods on the Mississippi in the 30s, 70s and 90s. Most of our dams were built between 1930 and 1970 for flood control—man’s attempt to control nature. Politics changed in the 70s. Controlling nature was no longer acceptable. Man protecting nature became the mantra. The dams of man (development) were abandoned in favor of the dams of beavers (nature).  Since that time there has been an active campaign to tear down the dams and reclaim the rivers.

If the dams of man are truly unacceptable, we should not continue to rebuild in flood-prone areas. The river would be allowed to retake the land—as it would if humans had never intervened. Roy Dakka, a professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the Center for Geoinformatics at Louisiana State University, believes nature always wins. He said, “We should really be thinking about whether we want to continue to live in really stupid places, because nature is going to exploit our stupidity.” Deeper within the discussion is a question posed by Lazarus Long in the classic 1970s novel Time Enough for Love by Robert A. Heinlein: There are hidden contradictions in the minds of people who “love nature” while deploring the “artificialities” with which “man has spoiled ‘Nature.’” The obvious contradiction lies in their choice of words, which imply that Man and his artifacts are not part of “Nature”—but beavers and their dams are. But the contradictions go deeper than this prima-facie absurdity. In declaring his love for a beaver dam (erected by beavers for beavers’ purposes) and his hatred for dams erected by men (for the purposes of men) the “Naturist” reveals his hatred for his own race—i.e., his own self-hatred.

If Lazarus/Heinlein was right and dams built by men for the purposes of men are good, then before rebuilding the levees, dams should be built up river—dams that can generate electricity, control the flow of the river, and divert waters (via pipeline) to regions where the water is needed. If the “Naturists” are right and the dams of man are wrong, then the flood waters should flow unrestrained—retaking man’s creation: houses, businesses, and cities.

We cannot have it both ways.

Reality is that the people who live along the river generally understand and accept the risk. They will rebuild just like they did following the previous floods. Most of the thousands of people displaced, just like those who fled during Katrina, will want to go back home—even if home is a FEMA trailer on the family farm. Humans are not quitters. But, Americans quit building dams.

Today dams do more than control flood waters. They can create electricity needed for economic development—overcoming poverty, improving living standards, and attracting foreign investment. Canada has just announced plans for 3000 MW of hydroelectric resources in Quebec. Chile plans to build five new dams with the potential to generate 2.75 GW to help triple its capacity. Both countries cite low-cost energy and jobs as motivators—though both acknowledge opposition from environmental groups.

In the US, we need the same benefits. We have similar resources. We also have reoccurring floods which need the “dams of man” and we have drought-stricken regions that need water. Sadly, we have the same difficulties. George S. Dunlop, former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army, fought the idea that “un-improved” was always better. He acknowledged that new hydroelectricity in the US is unlikely, in large part, due to the actions of environmental groups.  Belief that the dams of beavers are good, while the dams of man are bad, will doom low-land dwellers to face periodic ruin, cost taxpayers billions in unemployment checks, subsidized insurance, and regional restoration (FEMA trailers, levee reconstruction, and reimbursement for those who lost everything while saving more populous areas), and raise gas prices as many refineries are in the flood zone.

We could have a win-win. Instead of tearing down flood control dams, they can now be retrofitted using modern technology to generate double our current hydroelectricity capacity—and this is just based on our current dams. Imagine if we could truly harness our clean, renewable hydroelectric resources. We could have the economic development, low-cost energy, and the “dams of man” could control the floodwaters and redirect them—allowing man to benefit. Now that’s smart.

Known as the voice for energy, Marita Noon is the Executive Director at Energy Makes America Great Inc. the advocacy arm of the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy—working to educate the public and influence policy makers regarding energy, its role in freedom and the American way of life. She is a popular speaker, a frequent guest on television and radio, her commentaries have been published in newspapers, blogs and websites nationwide. For more information, visit www.EnergyMakesAmericaGreat.org.

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