Category talk:Dams

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The page as it exists perpetrates a harmful but sadly commonplace "eco-myth" about dams; that only humans build dams, and that dams only exist for the purposes of humans and are harmful to the environment in all or nearly all cases.

FACT 1: There are far fewer dams today in the Eastern United States than before the European colonization. First-person historical references and archeological evidence both agree that a healthy ecosystem in the USA was at one time integral with the activities of castor canadensis, AKA the common Beaver. All streams on the East Coast were heavily impounded, and the extinction of native game fish throughout the mid-Atlantic coast is directly linked to the destruction of the beaver and the species that co-evolved with them, such as brook trout and stream mollusks.

FACT 2: Human deforestation and the endemic nature of giardia lambda (or "beaver fever") in the North American beaver population make it impractical to reintroduce beaver on the scale that would be necessary to restore health to Eastern US streams and estuaries. Fantasies of "if humans just leave the streams alone the beaver will come back and all will be well" run aground on the cultural shibboleths of private property and aesthetic land management, as well as the practical need for public health in densely populated areas. Beaver can and are being succesfully reintroduced in some (relatively unpopulated) western areas.

FACT 3: Dams that produce profit to humans (or beavers!) are maintained by those who see profit. Human-built dams that are not profitable are nearly universally abandoned and become increasingly hazardous to downstream inhabitants. Today, with nearly all beaver dams and mill dams destroyed by economic and/or legislative forces, many US states use tax dollars to purchase vast numbers farm-raised non-native rainbow trout and periodically introduce them to sterile streams where humans compete to catch them before they inevitably die. A less "natural" stream ecosystem can hardly be imagined!

The current mania for "restoring" streams in the Eastern United States by eliminating dams is a recipe for environmental disaster; the only thing worse than the environmentally harmful dams that currently exist would be no dams at all - something far too many so-called "green" organizations are actively working to achieve.

A few forward-looking researchers are working on developing low-head hydro-electric generating systems that incorporate dams designed to encourage stream health rather than disrupt it. They should be encouraged rather than ostracized by the self-designated "green" community, which currently disdains them. Power generation systems need not incorporate fish-choppers, and dams need not prevent passage of fish and other stream life. Technology can be used to enhance and truly restore the health of streams, while simultaneously providing alternatives to fossil fuels; this is a place where small investments can make huge payoffs, particularly in extremely damaged areas such as the US mid-Atlantic coast.

Human-built structures that serve both the global ecosystem and local human caretakers will be maintained indefinitely -- but only if we can stomach the dose of sanity that is sorely needed in regards to dams today, and give up anti-dam myths and hysteria.

--Charlie Brooks, 2009-04-13

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