Removing One Maine Dam 20 Years Ago Changed Everything(therevelator.org)
> The coalition was made up of the nonprofits American Rivers, the Atlantic Salmon Federation, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, and Trout Unlimited and its Kennebec Valley chapter.
BTW... try to remember this when someone criticizes hunting / fishing. A major part of sustainable hunting and fishing is making sure we have an environment that actually produces quality fish and game.
Most people DO NOT give a shit about trout for example
I'm a trout fisherman and think they're an insanely beautiful species. When I flew into Montana my trout stamp was like $150... non-trivial amount but absolutely worth it.
trout is my favorite fish to watch & to eat. i've also thrown back quite a few.
fun fact: in a pinch if all you have is a little bit of pringles shake them up into little crumbs, prepare the fish, sprinkle the pringles crumbles inside the fish, cook wrapped in tin foil near a fire's embers and you have some good eating with a bit of seasoning.
My problem with the catch and throw, is it seriously hurt fishes
agreed. you have to be very careful taking out your hook.
I know an upvote usually suffices but thank you for sharing the tip; it's much appreciated.
This... Is a prison recipe :). Fish, chip coating, cook in the chip bag in microwave.
Not saying it's bad, I've done it. Chips are a great substitute for bread crumbs.
I agree with this idea too, most people I know who are into fishing and hunting are definitely the most keen on preserving natural environments and cleaning up the ocean.
The most avid fisherman I know thinks climate change is a Chinese hoax.
Sure, most people do not give a shit about trout, fisherman and hunters included.
I wouldn't consider myself a hunter or fisherman (but I have fished occasionally and the implication that people like me don't care about the environment is frankly insulting.
Don’t be insulted because I didn’t accuse you of not caring because you don’t hunt or fish.
Insulting? My friend, the planet is dying; who gives a shit about your pride. “Caring” is a cheap term these days.
The planet is fine, people are fucked
The underlying rock is fine, the delicately balanced ecosystems and atmosphere sitting on top - they're fucked.
That's normal for this planet
No it’s not.
Cute. Proves my point--people are so offended at the implication they don't care, and yet caring is cheap, so it's the only thing they offer. I guess, thank god someone else will also remember how nice things were, but excuse me if I won't indulge in this lifestyle politics.
Your ranting is just as cheap as 'caring'.
Seriously, you're kidding right?
-- George Carlin, actually, and yeah, he was known to make a joke or two. Mixed in with some truth.
> When I flew
For somebody who cares about 'sustainable hunting and fishing', you sure do like to pollute the environment just for the pleasure of getting to fish.
Why then, should others make the sacrifice to their lifestyle for the purpose of sustaining the environment when you are not willing to?
Lest anyone is tempted to comment "But clean energy!" here's a relevant paragraph:
"The dam produced only 3.5 megawatts of power, providing less than 0.1 percent of Maine’s electricity. It employed only a few people and was aging and unsafe, having been breached numerous times. It blocked critical upstream fish habitat, including the migration of endangered sturgeon."
Especially in light of how breaching the dam did, in fact, bring the hoped-for environmental benefits and more, getting rid of it was the right thing from a cost/benefit perspective.
Hydro power is not green. It may be clean, by some definitions of clean, but it has a huge ecological footprint.
The impact is harder to quantify than with other forms of power and is ignored due to that.
Now, I'm not advocating against all hydro power, I think it's especially important in a pumped storage/peaking capacity.
The projects definitely need to be analyzed on a cost/benefit analysis and as this points out, 3.5MW of power is just trivial and not worth it.
As an aside, there are a number of dam removal videos on YouTube which are fun to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2yM5m5-1-I0
We've also gotten as species rather better at understanding downstream repercussions in terms of erosion control and hatchery/vegetation safety since early 19th/20th century dams, such as Edwards.
It's not entirely an either/or situation, and there are interesting, growing workarounds such as hatchery creeks and salmon cannons. But yes, building new hydro power should always have a strong ecological assessment done before proceeding, and taking the trade-offs into account.
(Disclaimer: I've been working on stream restoration software, but am not a domain expert, don't speak for my employer, and mostly am only commenting because I find it really interesting stuff because I've been working adjacent to it and hearing cool stories about it. Always fun when it comes up on the HN front page.)
What’s the software?
The problem with this line of reasoning is that no energy is green by these standards. The solar panel supply chain is not green, solar and wind farms kill birds, dams destroy habitat, nuclear produces waste... if you think any of those things are trivial, just google them and you’ll find plenty of people lobbying against them.
If you accept that human are a part of the environment, and that we are going to have some level of impact on it, then as you said, you can look at the RoI/impact of decisions and their alternatives, and come a conclusion that reduces impact. But if your standard is green/not green, then you’re never going to be able to solve any problems.
They are doing exactly what you are saying though. The point is that the ratio of damage to power for a dam that produces so little power is too high.
Absolutely, I think this instance is perfectly reasonable. But then you also have people demanding that something be done about birds dying over solar farms (the only thing that could be done about that is to shut down the plant).
That’s why I think the “it’s not green” assessment is never productive. “It’s more green than other things” is reasonable and productive, but “it’s not green enough” is an endless rabbit hole.
I mean isn't the logical route to evaluate everything in terms of measurable ecological and climate damage to power produced and try to minimize?
It would be. But the issue is so emotive and political, that in my opinion, I don’t think that actually happens very much.
Modern wind has basically no impact on birds. It is several orders of magnitude less bird-hungry than are American domesticated cats.
> no energy is green
This is precisely my point of view.
You must consider the full lifecycle ROI.
I'm a particularly big fan of nuclear for that reason.
How does the nuclear waste being dangerous for between 200 and 15.7 million years factor into the ROI? Not snark, I just can't fathom how to reliably keep something sealed for 15.7 million years, much less the knowledge of what it is or how to handle it if it becomes unsealed. Otherwise, sign me up for atom smashing/fusing.
Does that factor in to your thinking?
You’re referencing an undergraduate memo. I’m sure you could find something more authoritative if you want to try and convince people nuclear waste is an insoluble problem.
Nuclear waste is a political problem not a technical one. It’s either still hot and could be used for fuel or not and relatively safe. The hot stuff can be burned in reactors; we don’t because that requires plutonium cycle with the obvious weapons uses. Cold waste can be allowed to decay for a few decades, vitrified by mixing with molten glass so it’s chemically inert and stored in a geologically inactive area, anywhere far from continental plate boundaries deep in the ground. It could also be dumped in deep marine trenches at subduction boundaries where it would eventually be returned to the earth’s core. If you want to get it off Earth altogether I’m sure we could get it to the moon if we really wanted.
Handling nuclear waste should factor into the ROI however the costs are relatively minimal. Nuclear waste does not remain dangerous for that long. The numbers you're misquoting (its 220k years not 200m years) from that bad source are for the half life of particular elements. It does not address the safety of these particular elements, nor does it discuss what particular fuel cycles produce those or at what concentrations.
Nuclear waste only remains seriously dangerous for "a few" decades after which it can be inertly stored indefinitely at minimal expense.
This is also assuming that we're not talking about any new/exotic fuel cycles, but, only with fuel cycles that were proven working 30+ years ago. If you want to discuss exotic fuel cycles things can be even better, though the science is less firm with less data on them (for now).
We’re in complete agreement on this then. I wish energy policy was subjected to a reasonable RoI analysis more often.
Yep, I think so.
My point is more that supposably "green" solutions are not, and that you have to consider the total lifecycle of things.
Personally, I favor things where the spoilage is contained. Say, nuclear over coal/nat gas because its far far easier to contain the waste byproducts of nuclear than a coal/nat gas plant.
Want to flood an effectively dead desert in the rockies to make gigawatts of power? sounds worth it.
Want to flood a vibrant ecosystem in the PNW or Northeast to make a few megawatts? please don't
There are plenty of dams, such as run-of-river dams and specific locations with no fauna, where they do not have a significant negative environmental impact, and may create new habitat where previously there was none.
My community is currently trying to remove its run of river dam. It has mostly come down to removal is cheaper than maintenance. There is added benefits of one less portage and I am not convinced of the upstream habitat argument. It is mostly a stagnant dead zone for most of the summer.
Fun trivia fact: Ranulph Fiennes was thrown out of the SAS for blowing up a dam that offended him using "spare" explosives from training exercises.
People need to keep this kind of thing in mind when major energy policy proposals like the Green New Deal rely on studies by the likes of M. Jacobsen (the guy who sued his scientific critics), whose 100% renewable scenarios all rely on at least 10x expansion of hydro power in the USA.
I served on an endorsement committee. We made recommendations (or note) to the membership to support candidates, initiatives, referendum, etc.
The last big internal food fight was over a levy to renew K-12 school funding. These are usually narrowly won ballot measures. Because some people think taxes is theft, government is evil, yadda yadda. This time something like $100m / year was at stake.
Three board members strenuously argued against endorsement. They are local leaders in education policy. Our usual "go to" experts. Committed, knowledgeable, experienced, in the fight. The biggest education boosters you can imagine.
The sticking point was ~$55k / year that could potentially be used by charter schools. For something like vans to transport kids to after school care. I don't remember the exact details, but you get the gist.
I had no idea who Mark Jacobsen is. Okay, he's an influential expert. Being called to task for a report first written in 2009. His cohort is in a pissing match with another led by Ken Caldeira. Some fun.
Going out on a limb here: There will be no new dam construction in North America in my life time. Like our current nuclear tech, the (financial) costs are too high, and the timelines are too long. (Wikipedia says we could maybe add power generation to existing unpowered dams, which could be cool.)
New Green Deal, or something like it, has to happen. Spoiler alert: You're not going to like most of it.
Focus on the positive. Please.
If you have to trade support for building some dams (that will never happen) in order to get the programs you support, please just do it.
I'm a pragmatist. I like plans that make sense. Wishful thinking based on impossible plans is not a useful path forward. Understanding trade-offs and making them is productive and useful. Discussing facts is an important step in this process. To decarbonize at scale we need large scale new installations of dams, nukes, wind, solar, and geothermal. Spoiler alert: many will protest against all of these for a wide variety of reasons. Still, we must find a way to proceed with low carbon energy.
We don't have the luxury of choosing which low carbon energy we like best. We need it all. For greens, start liking nukes more. For conservatives, start liking wind and solar more.
Liking nukes falls into the same category as liking dams: I want to believe they aren’t going to happen because they are economically infeasible. The same money would buy significantly more capacity in wind/solar/storage.
The sticking point with dams and nukes is the same thing: the sheer cost of finding a suitable location, preparing the site, then pouring thousands of tons of concrete (and that has to be exactly the right concrete with no shortcuts).
So yeah, I will happily support policy which includes considering nukes when it also includes considerations that I am interested in, but I am not supporting any subsidies for nukes and dams when that money is far better spent elsewhere.
The catch there is that the folks that want the nukes and dams will get my support in principle, then trade someone else’s support for subsidising nukes and dams for support of legislation around guns for teachers or “religious freedom” (aka the right to discriminate based on race or religion) or something else I loathe.
So the nukes and dams people get their nukes and dams by spending all the money that could have gone to cheaper power, and we get extremely regressive social policy to boot.
So given the horse trading that goes on, I can not support dams and nukes for any reason, because even though I believe they are economically infeasible the people that want to build them will trade away things that I consider more valuable than money.
For the nukes and dams people, it is far more important to funnel government funds into their (friends’) companies. Nothing else matters: climate change, social well-being, healthy economy … they just don’t care.
Check out the Trump administration in the USA with their continual whittling of environmental protection in favour of fossil fuels, or the Morrison government in Australia with water rights rorting.
There is simply no room for negotiating with these people because they are not rational actors.
Those are some pretty massive generalizations that fall apart immediately compared with my experiences.
Tell us about your experiences with conservative politics participating in the emancipation of women and minorities, and protecting the environment from industrial plunder.
In my country we have health minister claiming abortion is “the easy way out” for example, and conservative politics telling us that homosexuality is one step removed from bestiality, and allowing same sex marriage will result in people marrying their pets.
At least we aren’t yet at the stage of charging a woman with murder because she failed to avoid being shot in the stomach thus losing her baby.
But we are in the process of building an irrigation pipeline so that cotton and rice farmers in the desert can take all the water from less arid farmlands, and kill a thousand kilometres of river.
Now I can't tell if you're pro or con hydro. Or if you're game for quid pro quo in the name of expediency, or will insist on everything making sense (to you).
I'm pro hydro to a point that is less than a 10x expansion. To reach the rest of the low carbon needs I expect a combo of 24/7 low-footprint nukes plus massive electrification plus massive increases of wind and solar to the point that all of the above are pressured by NIMBY hard.
It's hard to argue that we shouldn't have done any of the big dams out west. But there's at least a good argument against the Glen Canyon. And, especially with the benefit of hindsight, the seriously proposed dam sites in the Grand Canyon would have been very not good.
In the east the proposed Tocks Island Dam was pursued for a long time. Again, especially with the benefit of hindsight, this was also pretty clearly not good.
No dam at Boulder City in Nevada and the Los Angeles basin becomes a very different story in terms of habitability. The town of St. Thomas would rise again and we’d find that missing B-29 that ditched into what is currently the very artificial Lake Mead. The Colorado River would regain its natural flow.
Silicon Valley would die, though. Where on earth does its water come from? Yes, 85% of the water from Lake Mead. The Los Angeles basin is built up far beyond its natural sustainable water capacity. Unless there is a great leap forward in desalination technology some dams remain a rather necessary evil.
Are you confusing Silicon Valley with Los Angeles? Silicon Valley is near San Francisco, not LA, so it gets its water from Hetch Hetchy and the delta like other bay area cities. 
Leaving aside your geographic confusion, you're wrong about how water is used. Silicon Valley has a tiny water demand per dollar of output; they could even afford desalinization if needed. The industry that would die would be farming.
If farming died, so would we. I'm not sure how the dollar value of software would hold any relevance at that point.
This is, of course, snark - but a lot of people fail to realize that agriculture is incredibly undervalue, for how important it is to society.
The farming that would die is the very heavily subsidized business of essentially exporting California water. It's not like Californians will starve if we lose our cotton industry or if we don't have alfalfa to export to foreign dairies.
Not at all. We’d just grow vegetables in the Northeast where’s there’s water. We would be screwed with unaffordable nuts and citrus though.
Unfortunately it’s too late for New Jersey and most of the mid-Atlantic.
Only those crops that use a ridiculous amount of subsidized water, like cotton and almonds. Read "Cadillac Desert".
The LA basin supports over 10 million people. Cut its water supply and the missing water has to be made up somewhere. I know full well it LA is 6 hours away from Silicon Valley but make LA run dry on water and CA-wide water restrictions would only get harsher. Remember that Silicon Valley still has a human population to support, too.
Desalination has been the technological breakthrough of next Tuesday for most of my life. I’ll be happy to see an actual deployment. Until then we wait.
City-scale desalination is something you can currently cut a cheque and build, if you want. Both the capital and operating costs are high, though.
Not sure where you're getting your misinformation, but LA uses less water than the farms of the Central Valley or Southern California.
Cut the water supply and LA will do fine, but the farms will die. (Millions of voters vs. a handful of relatively minor donors. It's an easy decision.)
Isn't desalination widely used in the Middle East?
Yes; it's very cheap.
It produces some pretty nasty byproducts, so a tough sell in California, but affordability is a total non-issue.
Silicon Valley gets no water from the Colorado River?
No it does not
Confirming that chrisdhoover is correct, and none of the Bay Area uses water from the Colorado River: https://www.kqed.org/science/14623/bay-area-do-you-know-wher...
An opinionated, yet very educational documentary on the subject being Damnation: http://damnationfilm.com/
A good, fictional account of blowing up a dam (that's not The Monkey Wrench Gang) is Night Moves. One of the eco-warriors was critiqued by his boss at an organic farm (before he put 2 and 2 together...) that taking down one damn isn't enough - there were 10 more dams on that same river.
I guess it's also sobering to think that most all major rivers in the USA are damned up. I think, without looking, save the Yellowstone River.
Interesting, thank you!
By your definition simply existing is not green. It's not a matter of absolutes, but degrees. Between green and fossil fuels, even account for construction, the damn is "greener" in all scenarios I can think of off the top of my head.
You can't compare apples to apples but dams that have big negative ecological effects and don't actually produce much power would seem to be net negatives from an overall "green" perspective. There are also other effects including flood control, recreation, effect on local communities, water supply, etc. that can go in plus and minus columns but dams are absolutely not always net positives.
Sure, I'm not saying damns have no consequences. I'm saying that it's silly to declare them "not green" because of the existence of environmental consequences because there are consequences to everything we do.
Damns are not a perfect solution, but compared to the ecological costs of coal mining, gas extraction, and burning of Fossil fuels, I feel it's disingenuous to just dismiss them out of hand for not being "green".
The comment wasn’t declaring them to be “not-green” because of the mere existence of environmental consequences. It was doing so because of the large magnitude of those consequences.
There’s probably a good argument to be made that they’re worth it, but the original statement was fine too.
"Not green by default" might have been a better phrasing? They can still be much more green compared to alternatives. "Green" isn't a binary, and that seems to be the crux of both arguments above.
> large magnitude
Large magnitude in proportion to small return.
It seems like there's not a lot of resistance from the left to removing hydropower anymore, as the impacts to wildlife and need for regular significant maintenance became clear over the last few decades. There's no rush to tear down young modern damns but the old ones are steadily being retired. Snake River is just a matter of time.
> The Kennebec hadn’t run free here since 1837.
Interestingly enough, it was Thoreau's inventory of species in these very streams and tributaries as documented in _The Maine Woods_, which can tell us how we're doing with the restoration of the waterways today. Thoreau's book was comprised of notes from three visits in 1846, 1853, and 1857, and he had a pretty early and close insight as to how bad the damage was from the get-go.
At the end of the book, in the appendix, he noted several introduced species. Since he often used "Indian" guides to help him navigate upstream, he also had the opportunity to learn a bit about what species were native and what were brought in by the newcomers. (Disclaimer: my mother was one-quarter indigenous to one of the tribes Thoreau mentions, so I've studied these texts pretty thoroughly).
Several interesting musings on the encroachment of the white man into these lands; this one especially:
> Tahmunt said that he traded at Quebec, my companion inquired the meaning of the word Quebec, about which there has been so much question. He did not know, but began to conjecture. He asked what those great ships were called . that carried soldiers. " Men-of-war," we answered. " Well," he said, " when the English ships came up the river, they could not go any farther, it was so narrow there ; they must go back, go-back, that 's Que-bec." I mention this to show the value of his authority in the other cases.
[146 THE MAINE WOODS: https://archive.org/stream/mainewoods00thorrich/mainewoods00...]
I can personally attest to the dramatic change in the environment since the removal of the Edwards dam. Of course this year there are so many pogies (Alewife) that you can just about walk across the water. Warming waters down south are causing them to shift northward in search of cooler temperatures. Offering welcoming habitats to shifting populations seems the very least we can do for these species.
Water dams are not good for the eco system down stream. My country has close to 99% green electricity but a lot is from water power. Water power is not that green because the dams prevents the eco system down stream to function normally. Also fish can not reproduce because they need to be able to climb up and down the river which has dams which blocks movement.
Further the 99% green electricity is causing a lot of big clouds data centers to be located here. But the clouds run on water power.
I wonder if rehabilitation is always possible. The Italian region of Südtirol, in the alps, is completely hydro powered with large exports. And there are basically no fish. What happens if they undam it all today? What if they undam it in 500 years? Does it just take a decade or two for a pretty complete rehab?
Stocking fish is common in much of the US. Presumably, the same basic strategy would work on any non polluted river.
Also note the dams removed from the Elwha River in Washington: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elwha_Ecosystem_Restoration
If removing dams is so beneficial, would elimination of natural waterfalls (e.g. Niagara) be beneficial as well? If not why?
Dams represent man-made changes to the environment that often had unforeseen negative impacts.
In the case of Niagra Falls, its presence isolates the Great Lakes ecosystem from the Atlantic Ocean. During many millennia a unique ecosystem developed. When the canal was built to allow ship traffic from the ocean into the Great Lakes, it caused a sequence of ecological disasters due to invasive species.
The lesson: Don't screw around with mother nature (adding or subtracting)
Serious question, what is unique about the Great Lakes ecosystem, that is not found in, for example the PNW or inland Maine?
It's a massive interconnected freshwater lakes system. Much different from even the relatively small lakes in Maine much less the generally very small lakes in the PNW. And it's in a very different area of the country so different ecosystem in any case.
I know where they are located and the size of the lakes. Anything specific and unique you can offer about the biological ecosystem, e.g. flora, fauna?
Waterfalls don't change the rate of flow of water. When 1,000 cfs is flowing into the waterfall, 1,000 cfs is flowing out. Rain events result in rises in flow and droughts result in low flows, these are important in a fish's life cycle. Many dams fill up their reservoirs during a rainy season and then slowly release during the dry season. Waterfalls don't do that.
The point isn't the benefit, it's the reduction of impact. There was a pre-existing ecosystem that the dam disrupted, and we find value there (and did, even in the 1830's, though clearly we didn't recognize the science). It turns out, you can bulldoze the dam and get back (at the cost of one ancient and tiny hydro generator) a bunch of the ecosystem. That's good, by pretty much everyone's measure.
So you propose blowing a big hole around the niagra rock shelf. What effect will that have? It's not going to restore any ecosystems that we value, obviously, as those never existed. It would also flood a bunch of exurban/suburban Buffalo and Toronto, which (Bills fans notwithstanding) we do value.
I vote no, obviously. I genuinely don't understand why you think this is an interesting question.
> It's not going to restore any ecosystems that we value, obviously, as those never existed
But wouldn't new ones be created? I think that's what the parent poster is getting at - teasing out if this isn't just a common case of reactionary environmentalism and anti-human bias, where the criteria for finding that a certain construction is harmful is not applied to natural features, revealing the whole reasoning to be hypocritical, and not the real reason why it's the argument is being made.
> But wouldn't new ones be created?
Of course. Do anything and you create new ecosystems. Building the Maine dam in the first place created new ecosystems. They just aren't (1) beneficial to us in any meaningful way and (2) represent notable loss of a pre-existing ecosystem we value and want to preserve.
I don't see the hypocrisy there. You're trying to treat this as an absolutist thing (e.g. "riparian environments must be maximized at all costs") and color it as "reactionary environmentalism", when the truth is that it's a value judgement with specific evidence (e.g. "we fucked up the Kennebec river and we should fix that shit").
 More properly, given the article that no one here seems actually interested in reading: "We fixed that shit 20 years ago and, wow! It's fixed even better than we hoped!"
I'm saying the people who made an evidence-based value judgement in this case would never consider doing the same for a natural dam. But maybe I'm wrong.
Isn't the more obvious hypothesis that those people DID make an evidence-based value judgement and decided differently?
Your argument only seems to work if you start by assuming bad faith on the part of environmentalists. How about you trust us instead?
Not bad faith, just bias! I do trust environmentalists, more than I trust basically everyone else in the public sphere.
But there's a reason the article keeps using the word conservationist instead :)
From the perspective of providing more habitat to salmon, yes elimination of waterfalls would boost salmon habitat. But that might also come with unintended consequences, such as attracting eagles and bears upstream. "The ecosystem" is something that evolves and builds over long time periods. So when we do major short term damage we're not going to see all of the consequences. That's why something like damming a river may be viewed the same way as blasting out waterfalls; there are long term consequences and many variables at play, and you won't get to find out how the environment responds to it until well after the damage is done.
John McPhee describes the demolition in The Founding Fish.
Nothing against the dam removal -
but I wish someone would think of something to "Change Everything" so that one day we'll see fewer clickbaity article titles.
I'd like to see the figures.
3.5 MW would be work $350ish/h? So around 3 million a year.
Increased land value alone could make that work. Assuming we haven't created a flood zone.
Still when they argue people drowned on a dam, I assume because they were using it, I think they are making stuff up here. An asset so well used 9 people have lost their life in it must be very valuable to the community.
We need to shape the world for 10 billion people. That means we need a lot of infrastructure. Tearing stuff down is nothing to be proud of. But sometimes might make sense.