And we will have to pay even more tomorrow
We're Paying the Price Today for Decades of Relentless Dam Building
When the powerful get to spend nigh unlimited amounts of OPM (Other People’s Money; pronounced "opium"), then civilization's progress gets distorted. We could avoid such outcomes by using geonomics, by replacing taxes and subsidies with sharing Earth's worth. We trim this 2008 article posted on Alternet on September 18.
by Rachel OlivieriAs they stood at the base of Hoover Dam, the beaver told the rabbit: “No, I didn't build it myself, but it's based on an idea of mine."
The beaver doesn’t dam up major rivers but builds small organic dams on its many tributaries. In these temporary ponds, ecosystems evolved and produced abundant life. They reduced flooding and erosion, enhanced groundwater penetration, created the valley's precious topsoil, and fed a radiant food web including decomposing bacteria, amphibians, fisheries, insects, birds, herbivores and carnivores.
Civilizations’ dams have created a seemingly unlimited oasis in arid and semi-arid regions of the world and have produced unimaginable population centers in water-stressed locations, made possible food production on marginal arid lands, and provided cheap taxpayer-subsidized water, and artificial lakes aplenty for fishing, camping and boating.
But our dams also fragment, divert, and subjugate the world's rivers. In one long lifespan, beginning with the inauguration of Hoover Dam in 1936, the engineering marvel of the 20th century, civilization has altered the most important function that makes the earth work, water. Can millions of dams exist worldwide strangling the lubricant of life itself?
The volume capacities of 29,484 large reservoirs throughout the world is about 8.7 billion acre feet (BAF) of freshwater. That's enough water to make a nine foot lake out of Alaska, Texas, California, Montana, New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada combined. Nature's freshwater storage system stores only .016 percent of all the circulating freshwater in all natural lakes, rivers, streams, creeks and atmosphere combined -- preferring instead to store 80 percent to 90 percent of the world's circulating freshwater underground free from evaporation and sedimentation. The evaporation rate of the world's 8.7 BAF of reservoir stored water is about 2.5 years of total California rainfall and 16 years of California water draws for agriculture.
The downside of dams makes one wonder how they ever got financed: the destruction of life-supporting ecosystems and fishery resources; the displacement of 80 million people from their homelands; dense populations downstream made vulnerable; agricultural production on arid lands requiring large volumes of water that salinate the soil and demand large inputs of fossil-fuel based fertilizers and pesticides that runoff and pollute groundwater; debt burden, cost overruns, deferred maintenance costs, and the impoverishment of people; and the inequitable sharing of benefits and costs -- which is how dams got the go-ahead in the first place.
Between 1950 and 1970, three new dam projects were started every single day in the world. Today, primarily in China, Turkey, Brazil, Japan, and India, one new dam project begins daily with an average completion date of four years. Fifteen hundred dams are currently under construction worldwide.
A river system operates on the principle of erosion and deposition. As a river gains water volume and speeds up it erodes and picks up rock and sediment. As it loses volume and slows down it drops some of its load. Large pulses of water flush sediments onto the rivers floodplain creating fertile soil before arriving at its delta entry to the sea. A dammed river unloads its rock and sediment load filling the reservoir, ensuring the eventual uselessness of the dam.
Within the next generation, 85% of all US dams will have degenerated to the point of exhausting their operational lifespan of fifty years (ed. note: the dams near us on the Columbia are well past this average, which needs independent corroboration) requiring decommissioning or massive repairs and upgrades. Factoring ecological restoration, maintenance, repair, decommissioning, and replacement cost of the world's developed water infrastructure as it's currently engineered would likely be massively budget-busting and this cost would recur every fifty plus years or so.
Considering current global population additions (80 million per year, the equivalent of adding a new Germany annually), and factoring rising water consumption rates which triple with each population doubling, all of human enterprises will consume and significantly pollute 90 percent of all the available freshwater by 2025, leaving a scant 10 percent to support the earths dwindling water-dominant ecosystem.
The debts of temporary prosperity are all due and payable in the 21st century.
We pollute and waste it when we should share it
Unequal Water Resources Present a Challenge
Emerging Water Shortages Threaten Food Supplies, Regional Peace
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