Renewed Hydroelectric Development Licenses Threaten America's Rivers, Moose Dung Gifts, and More

The American Rivers organization helps the public voice views on the damage of hydroelectric plants to waterways, moose dung gifts are hot sellers in Alaska, and wheelbarrow covers and luxury pet houses are now on the market.

| April/May 1992

Public Voice Against Relicensing of Hydroelectric Dams

This year alone over 160 hydropower development licenses are about to expire. And if we don't act now, they will be relicensed for another 30 to 50 years. That means that 230 hydroelectric dams will continue to damage 105 of our country's rivers.

The worst damage results from dam operators who hold water back behind the dam. The water is allowed to gush forth during "peak hours," when energy is in highest demand, and for the rest of the day it trickles. These unnatural conditions destroy river habitat. There is no way for fish to survive migration when water is trickling. Altered water temperature disrupts spawning cycles and destroys breeding grounds. Fish are getting caught in engine turbines; in some parts of the country, we are losing entire species of fish.

The public is also being deprived of recreational white-water rapids, the type of water needed to operate hydropower dams. Since only 1% of the river miles in this country provide quality white-water rapids, the dams drastically reduce our accessibility.

According to American Rivers, a leading organization on river conservation, the problem is mixed-up priorities. Too much concern is given to hydropower's economic value and the electricity being generated, and not enough on keeping our rivers healthy. However, ecology versus energy should not even be an issue. The dams only generate about .002% of the nation's total electricity supply.

So how to go about restoring our rivers? Incorporating fish ladders and screens may help fish pass upstream and downstream and protect them from the churning turbines. American Rivers is also pushing for greater water flow, more recreational accessibility, and the removal of some dam sites.

But the public's help is essential. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which regulates nonfederal dams, has the final say in which projects get relicensed. The public is allowed to comment on a project's relicensing. If enough people step in, thousands of damaged river miles could be restored.

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