6A.2 Mixing Water and Electricity: Hydropower

Saturday, 14 November 2009: 8:55 AM
Kendyl Elizabeth Crawford, NOAA, Hampton, Virginia

For two thousand years, civilizations have been taking advantage of water's power. Before the use of electricity, rivers helped to drive watermills, textile mills and various other manufacturing plants. Hydropower today provides about 20% of the world's electricity and about 10% of the total electricity produced in the United States. (Source: Hydropower Research Foundation) However, the use of this renewable resource does not come without its price. Hydropower negatively affects the environment in many far reaching and alarming ways. Conventional hydropower blocks the migratory patterns of anadramous fishes, stops river sedimentation, warms river temperatures, floods vast areas of land, creates sources of methane and ceases water flow. Pumped storage hydropower facilities continually move millions and in some cases billions of gallons of water everyday. They also increase primary productivity rates. Hydrokinetic hydropower is largely in development and as a result is untested. The environmental impact is yet to be fully researched. All types of hydropower come with the risk of animal impingement and/or entrapment. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), an organization under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), strives to lessen and prevent the impacts of hydropower projects on fish and the aquatic environment. NMFS cooperates with dam operators, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and other organizations to encourage mitigation, the installation of fishways and the protection of essential fish habitat. Electricity is vital to the existence of our modern society. It turns on our lights and powers our machines. It simplifies and enhances many of our daily activities. As we move through this century, we must be knowledgeable of the environmental implications of our actions and ultimately weigh whether or not the benefit we will receive truly outweighs the cost.
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