Saturday, December 11, 2010
My little guys went to a birthday party today and the invitation said to dress him warm, and bring skating gear. I wasn't quite sure about this plan since it has been pretty cold the last while; around -20. Today though, it warmed up a bit (to -18) and the wind died down, so we bundled him up and headed out. It turns out that these people live a bit out of town and have a pond in their backyard which is frozen all the way through. So I took Allan off to the backyard where they have a large tent set up with plywood on the ground and a woodstove inside to keep it nice and warm; there I put on his skates and helmet. He and the other boys were skating around on the pond, passing pucks, and losing them in the bullrushes; the dogs were running around, onto the ice; the chimney from the tent was sending up smoke... it was such a Norman Rockwell image of winter... it was really awesome.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
I have finally finished my research paper on the environmental impact of multiple dams on a river; in particular the reasons why the Site C dam should not be built. I have had a few mentions that people would like to read it... if you want to - here it is!
This article examines the environmental impact that dams have upon a river and its surrounding areas. In 2006, B.C. Hydro resurrected their plans to add another large dam, the Site C Dam, to the Peace River in Northeastern B.C. The plans have been met with much controversy both for and against the project. One of the many arguments for the construction of another dam on this particular river is that this river has already been compromised. The Peace River has two more large dams: the W.A.C. Bennet Dam, and the Peace Canyon Dam, just upstream from where the Site C Dam is proposed to go. According to these proponents for a new dam, the damage has already been done to this river; therefore, how would adding another dam be harmful?
Many studies and much research have been done on the environmental damage caused by large dams in terms of the negative impact on fish, water quality, habitat loss, recruitment of tree species, sediment flow to the deltas, loss of nutrient delivery to the oceans, as well as many more varieties of problems. The World Commission on Dams conducted a thorough study on dams around the world and found the environmental impact of large dams to be more negative than positive, and that they have lead to irreversible loss of species and ecosystems.
This paper examines how the environmental impacts on a river are compounded when there are multiple dams on a river. In this paper, I first explain the widespread environmental damage caused by adding a single dam. Next, I cover the problems that arise when more than one dam is placed on a river. Finally, I explain what the environmental outcome will likely be for the Peace River, when the Site C Dam is built. Thus, the research presented in this paper demonstrates that multiple dams on a river can be devastating to the environment and destroy the overall ecosystem of the river and because of these reasons, the Site C Dam should not be built.
“The 'Dammed' Site C”:
The Environmental Impact of Multiple Dams on a Single River
The Environmental Impact of Multiple Dams on a Single River
In 2006, B.C. Hydro resurrected their plans to add another large dam, the Site C Dam, to the Peace River in Northeastern B.C. The plans have been met with much controversy both for and against the project. One of the many arguments for the construction of another dam on this particular river is that this river has already been compromised. The Peace River has two more large dams: the W.A.C. Bennet Dam, and the Peace Canyon Dam, just upstream from where the Site C Dam is proposed to go. According to these proponents for a new dam, the damage has already been done to this river; therefore, how would adding another dam be harmful?
A large dam is defined by Thayer Scudder in The Future of Large Dams; Dealing with Social, Environmental, Institutional and Political Costs, as a dam that rises 15 metres or more from the foundation and has a reservoir capacity of over 3,000,000 cubic metres (2005). Many studies and much research have been done on the environmental damage caused by these dams in terms of the negative impact on fish, water quality, habitat loss, recruitment of tree species, sediment flow to the deltas, loss of nutrient delivery to the oceans, as well as many more varieties of problems. Jacques Leslie, the author of Deepwater; The Epic Struggle over Dams, Displaced People, and the Environment (2005), tells us that the World Commission on Dams conducted a thorough study on dams around the world and found the environmental impact of large dams to be more negative than positive, and that they have lead to irreversible loss of species and ecosystems.
Knowing that a single dam on a river can wreak such havoc on the ecosystem and the environment, and by looking at evidence from a variety of other large rivers around the world that are already extensively dammed, this paper examines how the environmental impacts on a river are compounded when there are multiple dams on a river. In this paper, I will first explain the widespread environmental damage caused by adding a single dam. Next, I will cover the problems that arise when more than one dam is placed on a river. This will be shown using evidence from the Columbia, Colorado, and the Nile Rivers; as these are some of the most extensively dammed and studied rivers in the world. Finally, I will explain what the environmental outcome will likely be for the Peace River, when the Site C Dam is built. Thus, the research presented in this paper will demonstrate that multiple dams on a river can be devastating to the environment and destroy the overall ecosystem of the river and because of these reasons, the Site C Dam should not be built.
A river is an essential part of our world's ecosystem. Rivers serve many different functions and uses around the world, but their essential function is to flow fresh water from mountains, springs, and snow run-off to the oceans. Sandra Postel, author of Where Have all the Rivers Gone, explains that as the river flows, the fresh water picks up nutrients from various organic and sedimentary sources. This nutrient rich water feeds the land and eventually the sea with this complex food web. This water sustains economically and culturally important fisheries; protects and feeds wetlands with their ability to filter out pollutants; provides habitat for a rich diversity of aquatic life; maintains water quality, including salt and sediment balances and a myriad of other important factors in the ecosystem balance (1995). Malcolm Only and Terry Prowse explain in their paper Multiple-hydrological stressors of a northern delta ecosystem that the river also creates habitat for land dwelling creatures; many amphibians and mammals seek shelter and food in the fertile areas that border the rivers (2000). Another important part in the function of a river is the delivery of seeds from trees and other plants. Michael Burke, Klaus Jorde and John Buffington explain that the seasonal fluctuations in the river's flow is directly related to when trees drop their seeds, the river aids in the distribution of those seeds to areas downstream (2008). Fast flowing rivers are also the best source for fresh drinking water; the constant flushing of the water keeps minerals from depositing too much and keeps the sediments from building up, which helps to maintain healthy, disease-free water (Postel 1995).
As the population of earth has grown and spread out, people have devised ways of manipulating water to serve their changing needs; large scale dams were once considered to be the answer to many problems. The Egyptian's have practiced irrigation and have drawn water from the Nile River for at least 5,000 years. While this once served as a viable practice, Sandra Postel tells us in her article, Where Have All the Rivers Gone, that the population of Egypt grows by approximately 1 million more people every nine months and that demands on the river are extreme. Postel also reports that globally, water demand has more than tripled since the 1950's and the rising demand has been met by building ever more and substantially larger water supply projects (1995). Jacques Leslie, the author of Deepwater: The Epic Struggle over Dams, Displaced People, and the Environment, writes that in 1950, there were 5,700 large dams worldwide; today there are more than 50,000. Leslie further states that large dams fragment 60% of the major river basins of the world and geophysicists believe that the dams have shifted so much weight that they have slightly altered the speed of the earth's rotation, the tilt of its axis, and the shape of its gravitational field (2005). This great diversion of water has served a very useful purpose; Leslie explains that hydro-electric turbines generate one-fifth of the world's electricity supply, and the water they store make possible as much as one-sixth of the earth's food production. People can now live in arid surroundings and not only have fresh water to drink, but also water for their crops and power for their homes and businesses (Leslie 2005).
Developed and developing nations have utilized dams to spur on economies and improve their citizen’s standard of living. Thayer Scudder explains in his book, The Future of Large Dams, that large dam projects were pushed forwards by powerful coalitions of politicians and civil servants on the basis of economic, social and political grounds. Following World War II large dams were seen as a boon to the economy in the creation of jobs during construction (2006). Scudder also adds that the dams then created hydro-power to use and sell, which was also a good for the economy. These dams diverted water to farmers fields and to areas that were normally arid, and they store water for use by urban populations (2006). Joel Osbourne Jr. talks about the many water projects in Southern California, that were designed to keep people coming to that area to keep the economy strong, in his article California's Pipe Dream (2010). Thayer Scudder asserts that developing nations often find that large dams remain a necessary option to deal with the needs of a human population that is expanding beyond the natural capacity of the area. Scudder goes on to explain that late-industrialized countries require these dams to address the poverty and rising expectations of large populations. The dams will be needed to store and transfer water to rapidly expanding urban areas and to provide electricity to those populations and the industries that must employ them if poverty is to be alleviated. Scudder claims that areas like India, where drought and flooding are the norm, need to control their water in order to become more economically viable (2006).
The environmental problems that have resulted from these large, singular dams have been numerous. Poor water quality is a serious result of these dams; when water stops flowing, as it does in the reservoirs behind the dams, the water temperature increases and there is an increased likeliness of disease and toxins (Harada & Yasuda 2004; Jud 2006; Scudder 2006). The nutrient rich silt that normally flows with the water in the river is also held back behind the dams. Since the nutrient rich flows aren't travelling down-stream, the wetlands and deltas are not receiving the nutrients to feed the aquatic and plant life which are, therefore, not thriving (Postel 1995). Joji Harada and Nario Yasuda advise in their article, Conservation and Improvement of the Environment in Dam Reservoirs, that the transformation of a river into a reservoir causes the habitat and breeding environment of plants and animals to shrink and disappear as the reservoir submerges rare plants and the nesting areas of birds and animals. There are many other environmental problems associated with large dams, but the main casualty of these dams have been the fresh-water fish.
Fresh-water fish have been the most obviously, adversely affected by these dams. Sandra Postel reports that aquatic organisms can not live long without water; large reductions in stream-flow, even for a short period of time, can be damaging or deadly to them. Postel states that the total diversity of animal life per unit area of a river is 65 times greater than that of oceans. Postel continues to say that the American Fisheries Society lists 364 species and sub-species of fish in North America as threatened, endangered or of concern and the vast majority of those are at risk due to habitat destruction (1995). Alexanra Ravinet expands on those numbers in her article Rivers Get Over the Dam, by saying that dams have contributed to the extinction of 106 native salmon and trout stock in four Western states, despite hatching programs and fish passages (1999). Charles Boggs et al, explain the obstacles that fish face in the article Iteoparity in Columbia River summer-run steelhead: implications for conservation. The physical aspect of the dam has direct mortality hazards in the form of the turbine blades, the rapid changes in pressure as well as trauma from passage over the spill-way; but then there are also the indirect effects including “energetically costly migration delays, accumulated physiological stress and possible adverse timing between migration and readiness for ocean entry” (2008). Then, as Shem Baker Jud illustrates in his paper Salmon as Lazarus in the Oregon Desert, there is also the issue of the non-migrating fish that are trapped behind the dam and the small genetic pool they remain in; or the other fish who attempt to migrate but get stuck in the disorienting currents of the reservoir which wind up trapping the fish deep in the lake. Jud advises that our reliance on fish-farms to re-stock fish is not enough because the fish-farms tend to breed fish with commercial viability; however, there are many other species of endangered fish, which have no commercial value, that are of vital importance to the bio-diversity of the river (2006).
With each additional dam that is added to a river, the environmental problems associated with the first dam re-occur, and are often compounded. In looking specifically at the Kootenai River in western North America; a study by Michael Burke, Klause Jorde and John Buffington was done to analyze the relative effects of multiple dams by studying the hydrology, channel hydraulics, bed flow mobility and the consequences for recruitment of riparian trees. On this particular stretch of river that they studied there were two dams; the Corra Linn Dam built in 1938, and further downstream was the Libby Dam built in 1974. Burke, Jorde and Buffington's study found that the Libby dam was responsible for the majority of the environmental impacts: namely broad changes in hydrology, water quality and sediment supply, changes in channel hydraulics and bed mobility. Whereas they found that the older dam, the Corra Linn, was more responsible for adversely affecting the recruitment of riparian trees, which rely on seasonal fluctuations in flow patterns for seedlings to establish themselves down-stream. Overall in their study, Burke, Jorde and Buffington found that the Corra Linn was responsible for some of the impact but that the impact from the Libby Dam dominates, accounting for 91% of the total changes, within their parameters (2008).
Additional environmental problems arise when even more dams are added to a river. It is the decline of the worlds largest rivers that most graphically convey the magnitude of the problem. Where Have all the Rivers Gone, by Sandra Postel, tells us that the Colorado River ranks among the most heavily plumbed water course in the world. Controlled by more than 20 dams it now irrigates approximately 800,000 hectares of farmland, serves the household needs of more that 21 million people and generates 12 billion kilowatt hours of energy annually. Postel goes on to explain that in 1922 seven U.S. States signed the Colorado River Compact which divided up the water between them. Unfortunately when doing so, they over-estimated the river's annual flow of water, they didn't include Mexico's portion of the water, nor did they designate any water for the river environment itself (1995). Now, except in years of unusually high floods, the entire flow of water is captured and used – and has been for some time. Postel points out that flow readings at El Meritimo, the southern-most measuring station on the Colorado, were discontinued in 1968 because there was nothing to measure. The Colorado used to carry tons of salt to the Gulf of California, now this salt is being spread across the irrigated landscape, poisoning the soil. The nutrient-full silt that normally flows down the river and feeds the wetlands, estuaries, deltas and eventually the sea; is all trapped behind the numerous dams (1995). Postel further reveals that the delta and upper Gulf of California comprise the largest and most critical desert wetland in the American Southwest, as well as one of the world's most diverse and productive sea ecosystems. Besides drying up wetlands and causing a severe deterioration in water quality, the reduction in freshwater flow has also cut the flow of nutrients to the sea and reduced critical habitat for the Gulf's nursery grounds. Postel reveals that the catches from the upper Gulf of California shrimp and other fisheries have dropped off steeply as the river lessened and more than one third of the species of fish that rely on this river are now extremely endangered (1995).
The historian Donald Worster was quoted as saying the Columbia River in Western North America, is “a river that died and was reborn as money”. According to Kai Lee's article The Columbia River Basin; Experimenting with Sustainability, the Columbia river basin's 19 major dams, together with more than five dozen smaller hydro projects, constitute the world's largest hydro-electric power system. Lee goes on to explain that the river basin has also become a plantation of more than 3 million acres watered by some of the world's largest irrigation works, including the Columbia Basin Project anchored at Grand Coulee, which is the largest dam in the United States (1989). Ellie Willinghoff reveals in her article Columbia River Power Play, that the Pacific Northwest salmon stocks were some of the world's richest, but after these dams were built the supply of Royal Chinooks and other native salmon on the Columbia river is down to about 1.5% of where it had been 100 years ago (1994).
Another example of a river that is in serious trouble is the famous Nile. Like the Colorado, the Nile is a lifeline for a desert area that gets virtually no rain. According to Sandra Postel's Where Have All the River's Gone, it sustains 60 million people and irrigates 3 million hectares of cropland. Postel explains that Egypt has practice irrigation for at least 5,000 years using a basic pattern of water use called “basin irrigation” in which a series of canals formed large basins that stair-stepped downstream. Postel further illustrates that the Nile water was diverted into the higher basins, flooding them and depositing nutrient rich silt. The water then drained successively into each lower basin, until at the end of the sequence it re-entered the Nile to flow into the Mediterranean (1995). According to Postel, this was considered by experts to be an ecologically sustainable adaptation to the natural environment; however, this system also limited crop production to just a third of the year. During the 19th century, Postel notes, Egypt converted to perennial irrigation with an extensive system of small dams and canals. This persisted until the 1960's when the High Dam at Aswan was built and provided complete control over the Nile's water. Postel writes that before the Aswan dam was built, approximately 32 billion cubic meters of water flowed down the Nile to the sea each year. In 1995 the amount of freshwater reaching the Mediterranean was only 1.8 billion cubic meters; all of which was released during the winter, when crops need less irrigation (1995). Postel continues to explain that a substantial amount of the water that does reach the sea has first irrigated the delta's rice, cotton and other crops, so what reaches the Mediterranean is salty, polluted, farm drainage. Postel claims that of the 47 commercial fish species that were thriving in the Nile before the dams, only 17 were still being harvested a decade after the dams completion. However, Postel speculates that perhaps the most threatening long term consequence of the Nile's diminished flow is that of the delta: a vital part of the country's economy, which is slowly falling into the sea. Most river deltas naturally subside from the weight of their own sediment, but under natural conditions the deposits of silt from the river usually counter this subsidence. Postel points out that the Nile delta stopped growing 100 years ago when the first small dams were built, but since the completion of the High Dam, which traps virtually all of the silt in Lake Nassar, the delta has been in retreat. Borg-el-Borellos, a former delta village, is now two kilometers out to sea (1995).
The Peace river is an important natural ecosystem; it is part of the Peace-Athabasca delta which is one of the world's largest freshwater deltas. Terry Prowse and Malcolm Conly's study of Multiple-hydrologic stressors of a northern delta ecosystem, outlines the important factors of this river and its basin: this river has a large wetland habitat; the basin has one of the largest undisturbed grasslands in North America, with a large variety of animal life including bison; the river and its basin are of national and international significance for waterfowl and other migratory bird species; the river is a major spawning site for a variety of fish populations (2000). The Peace river has already been altered from it's natural state by the two large dams that are already upon it; the W.A.C. Bennet dam and the Peace Canyon dam. Prowse and Conly make note of the fact that during the time when the reservoir behind the W.A.C. Bennet dam was being filled (1968-1971), the water levels in the river were reduced by approximately 36%, exposing 500 square kilometres of mudflats, which had dramatic consequences including a serious reduction in the muskrat population (2000). Michael Church writes, in his paper titled Change and Adaptability, that another outcome has been a proliferation of beavers; due to the relative stabilization of water levels, which in turn is a result of a change in flow pattern from the dams. The seasonal flow pattern in the first 100 kilometres has been inverted from a traditional late spring freshet (high flow levels due to snow melt) and a low winter flow to a winter high and a summer low pattern (2009). Church declares that even below the first major tributary at the Pine River, the flow regime has been altered and that this effect is measurable all the way to the Peace-Athabasca delta, 1200 km downstream. Church also reports that the winter ice occurrence has been changed: in most years there is no ice at all in the first 100 km after the dam. He states that the former flood plain of the river is now a dry terrace, and that as far downstream as the town of Peace River, Alberta, the gravel bed is not moving as it formerly did (2009). This change in the flow of the river will have undoubtedly affected fish populations; and as we learned from Charles Boggs et al, in the article Iteoparity in Columbia River summer-run steelhead: implications for conservation, fish don't cope well with changes in the temperature of the water, nor with altered flow patterns, and that the changes in the gravel bed have a negative effect on spawning (2008). Michael Church carries on to say that the trees which grow along the river have been changing as well; with an influx of poplar, alder and willow as well as a reduction in spruce, jackpine, and white birch (2009).
B.C. Hydro's proposal for a third dam on the Peace River is for another large scale dam, the Site C dam. According to B.C. Hydro's website, the Site C dam is going to be approximately 1,100 meters in length and rise 60 meters above the river bed. The reservoir will be 83 km long and they estimate that when it is flooded, the river will be two to three times its current width and it will flood 5,340 hectares (2010). With this additional dam we can expect more environmental damage. Conly and Prowse suggest that as the reservoir is being filled, the flow of the river will decrease; to the detriment of plant and animal life bordering the river (2000). Church advises us that the gravel beds will be even further altered, affecting even more spawning grounds of fish and thereby declining their populations. Church also declares that the riparian forests will continue to change as the river is blocked and the lake behind the dam grows (2009). Postel's article Where Have all the Rivers Gone, warns us that the Peace-Athabasca delta and estuary may be in jeopardy as less sediment and silt will travel down the river to deliver nutrients (1995). There are likely to be a lot more environmental outcomes that we won't know about until after the dam is built.
Jacques Leslie explains, in his book Deepwater; The Epic Struggle over Dams, Displaced People, and the Environment, that the World Bank; the world's largest dam financier, was under pressure from critics to establish policies to protect indigenous people and tighten regulations to limit environmental harm, in terms of the dams that they were funding. In the mid-1990's the World Bank agreed to create an independent commission that could arrive at an honest assessment of all large dams. Leslie tells us the result was the formation of the World Commission on Dams; an independent body of twelve commissioners, charged with assessing dams impacts, positive and negative, and providing guidelines for future construction (2005). Leslie informs us that in pursuit of fair representation, the commissioners were drawn equally from three categories; pro-dam, mixed, and anti-dam and two and a half years after its formation the commission revealed a final report. Leslie writes that the report titled Dams and Development: A New Framework for Decision-Making, was a huge report based on the findings from the most thorough study of dams impacts ever conducted; and it seems to confirm many dam opponents claims (2005). Leslie reveals that the report said that large dams construction typically ran behind schedule and over-ran budgets; that irrigation dams typically did not recover their costs, did not produce the volume of water expected and were less profitable than forecast; that the environmental impacts were more negative than positive and that they have led to irreversible loss of species and ecosystems. Leslie then continues to explain that the document went on to provide a framework for building dams in the future and most controversially it lists 26 guidelines meant to replace the existing arbitrary and politically weighted process of dam decision making. The World Bank, says Leslie, which was gambling on a more favourable report, rejected the Commission's report saying it was too cumbersome (2005).
It is not a question of whether or not large dams adversely affect the environment; it is a fact and all the people involved in the building and creation of large dams know this. At the very minimum the fish and water quality are affected: at the extreme, the entire river dries up and dies. This in turn creates a cascade of problems from the salt deposits left on the land, poisoning the soil; the drying up of the delta and estuaries leading to loss of habitat for aquatic and land based creatures; the loss of nutrients to the estuary to feed the sea life; the subsidence of the delta into the sea; overall a complete deterioration of an ecosystem. However, on the other hand, we need water to water our crops, to drink, and to wash. We need electricity and hydro-power does not release fossil fuel pollution into our environment; is there a solution to this problem? There isn't a solution as yet, but perhaps some steps in the right direction. The initial step forward involves better water management of the dams that are already in place: to recognize that there are limits to the amount of water that can be diverted from a river and also to release flows that mimic natural highs and lows. Both of these should be mandatory requirements that would immediately benefit the river environment. As for future dams, including the Site C Dam, they should have to meet all the criteria of the World Commission on Dams and if they do not, then the dam should not be built. In the process of trying to meet the criteria of the World Commission on Dams; all planning of should be flexible and transparent in order to minimize public conflict. Only if all parties involved are informed and in agreement, and all the criteria of the World Commission on Dams are met, should a large dam be built. Once that dam is built there should be a governing body that ensures that the operation of that dam stays within the boundaries of the river management protocols that the World Commission on Dams has devised. Knowing that the proposed Site C Dam has been rejected in the past as unfeasible, I do not believe that it will meet the criteria set out by the World Commission on Dams, and they certainly don't have agreement with all the parties involved; and thus for these reasons, the Site C Dam should not be built.
Cited ReferencesB.C. Hydro. 2010 Jun. Fact sheets; Site C backgrounder. (Internet). B.C. Hydro Website. (cited 2010 Nov 12); Available from http://www.bchydro.com/planning_regulatory/site_c/Information_Centre/fact_sheets.html PDF file.
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Scudder Thayer. 2006. The future of large dams; dealing with social, environmental, institutional and political costs. Sterling (VA): Earthscan. 338p.
Winninghoff Ellie. 1994 Nov 21. Where have all the salmon gone? Forbes. (Internet). (cited 2010 Oct 7); 154(12): 104-116. Academic Search Premier. http://nlc-reglib.nlc.bc.ca:2053/ehost/detail?vid=30&hid=107&sid=1757727e-965a-4e29-a56a-c73456958302%40sessionmgr112&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=aph&AN=9411107637. EBSCO registration required for access.