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Hydropower Will Go Green, Big Dams and Eco Groups Say in Joint Statement

Sustainability News
by Tim Wenger Oct 16, 2020

This is The Climate Win, the most positive sustainability news around the world every week.

Something unexpected happened this week. Hydropower companies and environmental groups reached an agreement to work together on addressing issues important to both sides. Specifically, both sides announced in a joint statement that they would work together to increase dam efficiency and production while reducing the environmental impacts of creating hydroelectric power.

“In sum, the parties agree that maximizing hydropower’s climate and other benefits, while also mitigating the environmental impact of dams and supporting environmental restoration, will be advanced through a collaborative effort focused on the specific actions developed in this dialogue,” reads the statement — which was agreed upon in dialogue convened by the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

While this sounds like an oxymoron, improved technologies might really make it possible for both sides to look back years down the road and claim success. Many of the country’s 90,000 existing river dams, including most of the massive energy-producing dams such as the Hoover Dam, are old enough that great gains in technology and efficiency have been developed and scaled since they were built.

The agreement calls for many of these older dams to be modernized in a way that would reduce their environmental devastation without sacrificing the ability to produce energy. And in some cases, the agreement calls for many of the oldest and most destructive dams — most of which are past their useful life — to be removed.

Also discussed were technologies being developed, including dam turbines that allow fish to pass through and other improvements that could make hydropower an actual source of “green” energy. Signing onto the statement are major conservation groups including the American Rivers, the World Wildlife Fund, and the Union of Concerned Scientists. On the hydropower industry side, the National Hydropower Association and Natel Energy highlight big names coming to the table.

Essentially, dams harm river ecosystems because they block the water’s natural flow and stop fish in their tracks. Many ecological disasters including floods and mass fish casualty events have resulted from wild rivers being dammed, and studies in many river basins have found dramatic decreases in fish populations following the construction of dams. The Matilija Dam on California’s Ventura River, for example, caused the population of southern steelhead trout to decline from 5,000 to 200 over the course of half a century, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The climate win here is that the hydropower industry not only plans to reduce its horrific environmental impact, but many of its big players have acknowledged their footprint and pledged to address it. Given that we need to find sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels, the agreement also shows that two opposing sides can come to the table and find an agreement that is better for all.

More climate wins this week

In what we’re calling a “green toast” to Amazon’s Prime Day, TechCrunch reported that Amazon and Rivian have developed a prototype of an electric delivery van that will soon replace many of the gas-guzzling vans currently delivering Amazon packages. Amazon promises 10,000 of these vans on the road within two years and 100,000 by 2030.

Be sure to pack your to-go container and mug (once borders reopen) because Canada is ditching single-use plastics nationwide. By the end of 2021, Canada pledged to have eliminated now-common items like plastic bags, cutlery, stir sticks, and straws, with the ultimate goal being to achieve zero plastic waste by 2030.

Boston is going green — literally. Smart Cities Dive reported this week that the city is seeking proposals for a 20-year urban forest plan. Plans must address underserved neighborhoods and communities under the biggest threat from climate change and must be prepared to work with minority-owned businesses.

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