When Hydropower is Unsustainable

DamNation: The Problem with Hydropower

Directed by Ben Knight (2014)

Film Review

This documentary concerns the growing US dam removal initiative At the time of filming, the US had 75,000 dams over three feet high. There is growing consensus that dams built (especially those on the Colorado River) to supply water to desert farms and cities in Southern California  were misguided and unsustainable.

America’s 75,000 dams have caused untold damage to US fish population that return upstream to spawn.¬† Despite spending billions of dollars on fish hatcheries and fish ladders, current US salmon and trout populations are less than 9% of their pre-dam numbers. The film depicts images of salmon trying to leap up 12 foot dam walls to reach the upstream shallows where they hatched.

It would be Nixon, with his 1973 Endangered Species Act, who provided the greatest boon to migrating salmon. The Act holds dam operators responsible when a fish species becomes endangered. The Edwards Dam on Maine’s Keanebeck River was the first major dam to be removed (in 1999). This saved taxpayers several millions of dollars annually on (largely unsuccessful) endangered fish mitigation schemes. Thus far the Elwha River Dam on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State was the largest dam to be removed (in 2011).

The segment of the film I like most concerns the ongoing campaign of US Army Corps whistleblower Jim Waddell. It was Waddell who first brought to light a $35 million Army Corps feasibility study that recommended “breaching” all four dams on Washington State’s Snake River.

The Army Corps, which owns the dam, spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year on failed salmon mitigation to sell power at a loss (due to competition with local wind and solar power). Even more distressed than endangered Snake River salmon, are starving Puget Sound Orca whales who feed on them. The latter are literally on the verge of extinction. See Orcas Extinction Via Bureaucratic Bungling and Stupidity.

Please support the bill Representative Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) has introduced to breach the three Lower Snake River dams. (See GOP Congressman Proposes Snake River Dam Removal).