Hydroelectric power may feel like a far-off lesson you studied for a day or two in class but never got a chance to really grasp before moving on to chemical bonds or astronomy.
One major takeaway from science class was definitely how we’ve only got one Earth and how everyone should do their best to keep the planet’s future green and bright.
Thanks to Northwest RiverPartners, here's an easy refresh on the importance of hydroelectric power and how we can all work toward a carbon-free future.
Let’s flow right into it…
First things first, hydropower wasn’t always big dams and harnessing electricity like we know it now.
Back in the day, people used wheels placed in flowing water to power basic machinery. Later on, scientific minds sought to use the same concept with spinning copper-lined turbines inside large, stationary magnets to generate electricity.
AKA the birth of the hydroelectric dam.
Hydroelectric dams utilize the kinetic energy of moving water to spin the turbines and create mass amounts of clean, renewable power with the convenience of being able to store and release water to generate electricity as needed.
An additional bonus is that hydropower can step in and balance the power grid if there are gaps in weather conditions that halt solar and wind plants from producing electricity.
Name a better carbon-free energy combo. We’ll wait…
(Not really, moving on!)
There are plenty of myths revolving around the use of hydroelectric power, especially when it comes to the ecosystems they’re a part of.
While dams present the unavoidable issue of disrupting the natural flow of rivers, they can be modified and altered to reduce major environmental impacts.
By regulating these water sources, there are boundless benefits to the communities in the dam’s immediate region:
- Local towns and farms are protected against dangerous flooding.
- Ships and barges can transport goods along the river rather than on the road. (Let it be known: Barges are cooler than trucks.)
- Reservoirs are able to provide drinking water for local communities and opportunities, such as boating and swimming for all ages and physical abilities.
Despite the human advantages that hydroelectric dams provide, others are quick to question their potential negative impact on an ecosystem. In recent years, concerns over declining salmon populations have cast doubts on hydroelectricity as an eco-friendly resource.
However, the decline of salmon populations dates back well before hydroelectric dams were introduced into the equation. The 1800s saw massive overharvesting of salmon by non-native peoples in the Columbia River Basin. Poor salmon returns continued into the 20th century both in rivers with and without dams, with notable ocean warming events leading to smaller fish and shrinking populations. Climate change is now warming the rivers salmon call home.
With abundant carbon-free energy that hydropower dams provide, along with funding support for salmon hatcheries and fish passage improvements, the environmental impacts of dams have been lessened to enable humans and wildlife to live side by side.
Even though hydroelectric power can thrive alongside the environment, some may still wonder how it compares to fossil-fueled resources when it comes to providing reliable energy.
Fun fact: Hydropower provides roughly half of the Northwest’s electricity and powers approximately 14 million households. Working with local utility services helps to ensure the region's clean energy goals are met. Hydroelectric power allows for a few added benefits for those who live there:
- Hydropower provides affordable ways for low-income families and individuals to have access to clean energy.
- Major companies tend to settle in the Northwest due to the low energy costs, bringing jobs and billions of dollars of economic opportunity with them.
- Low carbon-emission transportation methods on the water enable barging and riverboat tourism.
Seems like a win, win, win.
Today, the Northwest is working hard to commit to bold energy moves and craft climate-friendly policies. And with its carbon-free methods and energy storage capabilities, the key to achieving these green dreams is the hydroelectric dams sprinkled throughout the Columbia River Basin and Snake River regions.
Basically, hydropower is the new black...well actually, green...but you get the gist of it.
If you’re itching to bump up the timeline of these goals, with a few tips, you might be able to help the process along:
- Choose household products that reduce toxic water runoff, limit single usage of plastics, and opt for plants in your yard that improve the natural habitat.
- Find local environment or watershed conservation groups to volunteer with and get involved with projects that restore the health of wildlife habitats.
- Make your voice as a constituent heard and raise concerns to your representatives in order to push better policies like carbon-free and hydropower energy sources.
The natural environment of the Northwest has provided carbon-free energy, beautiful scenery, and rich history to anyone lucky enough to live there, and now it’s time to give back.
So what are you waiting for?