Tag: dams

Life on Mekong Faces Threats As Major Dams Begin to Rise

Life on Mekong Faces Threats As Major Dams Begin to Rise

"Life by the Mekong River" by International Rivers (Photo from Xayaburi Dam site, October 2012)
“Life by the Mekong River” (Photo by International Rivers from Xayaburi Dam site, October 2012)

Seven upstream dams  have already altered flows, reduced fish populations, and affected communities along portions of the Lower Mekong River, which flows through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. But the impacts may soon get much worse as a new era of hydroelectric dam-building begins in the Lower Mekong Basin. Eleven major hydroelectric dams — mostly within Laos — and dozens of dams on tributary streams that feed into the Mekong have been proposed or are under construction.

River experts say that if a dam-building boom proceeds as planned, it could diminish essential flood pulses and decimate fisheries and riverside gardens that are dependent on variable flows and sediment. That, in turn, would affect the diets and livelihoods of 40 million people dependent on the Mekong, the “greatest inland fishery in the world,” according to Ian Baird, a geographer at the University of Wisconsin who lived and studied in Laos for 15 years.

“Life on Mekong Faces Threats As Major Dams Begin to Rise”

Yale Environment 360, February 20, 2014

Water projects stuck in regulatory limbo

Water projects stuck in regulatory limbo

Construction of Moffat Tunnel near Denver, 1936 (Denver Water)
Construction of Moffat Tunnel near Denver, 1936 (Denver Water)

In the past decade, Jeff Drager has watched his two daughters grow up, graduate from high school and college and start their first jobs. Yet he’s still stuck on the same project at work – winning state and federal approval to build a new water reservoir.

Begun in 2003 and scheduled to be up and running by 2011, the project, known as the Windy Gap Firming Project, like many others across the state, still is mired in regulatory delays.

Whether or when Windy Gap will be built is still unclear 10 years after the first regulatory review took place.

Three other major water projects face similar delays and uncertainty.

Similar delays and cost overruns have plagued nearly every other major Colorado water-development project that has sought regulatory approval since the 1990 defeat of Two Forks Dam.

After more than a decade of drought and a new wave of growth, water utility planners believe the project review system is broken and must be fixed. Legal experts and environmental watchdogs say the projects themselves are outdated in concept and that utilities need to rethink how they obtain, store and deliver water.

Drew Beckwith, a policy analyst with the Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates, compares large water projects to the lyrics of sad country-western songs: They’re always late and in need of money. They don’t live up to expectations and they’re risky. Beckwith said he believes the delays and overruns are more indicative of a planning issue than a process problem.

“It’s no surprise that the environmental-review process takes a long time,” he said. “These are big, complex projects that have lots of impacts on communities and the environment, and it’s appropriate to take a long hard look.”

“Water projects stuck in regulatory limbo”

BizWest (Northern Colorado Business Report), September 6, 2013

Big Hype, Small Dams

Big Hype, Small Dams

pc_toothrock_tunnel_bonneville_dam_1940sIn the July 27 issue of High Country News, I have a news story looking at the push for small dams in the Pacific Northwest — and the rest of the country. Utilities claim that small-scale hydropower is green energy, like wind or solar, but environmentalists say dams are as awful as, well, dams.

From the article:

Boosters tout small-scale hydroelectric projects — defined as generating less than 30 megawatts, or enough to power up to 30,000 homes — as carbon-neutral and more fish-friendly. And the resource has staggering potential: Just a fraction of the possible sites on [the state of] Washington’s waterways could power millions of homes.

But although utilities, investors and speculators are getting into the game, small-hydro development won’t be easy or cheap without policy incentives and tax credits. And not everyone thinks it’s a good idea. “We look at our watersheds and waterways in the Northwest as pretty stressed already. The impacts are apparent everywhere,” says Rich Bowers, Northwest coordinator for the Hydropower Reform Coalition, a network of 140-plus environmental and outdoor recreation groups.

It’s no surprise that the two interests have different takes on the potential and consequences of small hydro, but the battle is still playing out as Congress bats around which energy sectors will score incentives as “renewable” energy. Federal and state policy moves and tax breaks will play a major role in how these projects move forward.