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Trump Doesn’t Know A Damn Thing About Dams

Donald Trump finally opened his mouth about dams and hydropower last week. The result is as bad as you can imagine.

Daniel Dale, Washington correspondent for the Toronto Star, tweeted what Trump had to say:

"Hydropower is great, great, form of power—we don't even talk about it, because to get the environmental permits are virtually impossible. It's one of the best things you can do—hydro. But we don't talk about it anymore."

But, once again, Trump is dead wrong.

Here are the problems with hydropower worldwide:

Trump's statement that "we don't talk about it anymore" is ridiculous. In fact, there are hundreds of massive hydropower dams under construction across the globe, and thousands being planned.

Clearly, Trump doesn't know a damn thing about dams.

Gary Wockner, PhD, directs river-protection organizations and is the author of River Warrior: Fighting to Protect the World's Rivers. Contact: Gary@Garywockner.com or @GaryWockner

Trump's New Website Promises to Devastate Planet Earth

If anyone has any questions left about what Donald Trump's energy plans will do to the climate, just read his brand new website GreatAgain.gov for clarity.

Click on "Energy Independence," sit back and start reading. It's short, succinct and devastatingly to the point:

"The Trump Administration will make America energy independent. Our energy policies will make full use of our domestic energy sources, including traditional and renewable energy sources. America will unleash an energy revolution that will transform us into a net energy exporter, leading to the creation of millions of new jobs, while protecting the country's most valuable resources—our clean air, clean water, and natural habitats. America is sitting on a treasure trove of untapped energy. In fact, America possesses more combined coal, oil, and natural gas resources than any other nation on Earth. These resources represent trillions of dollars in economic output and countless American jobs, particularly for the poorest Americans.

"Rather than continuing the current path to undermine and block America's fossil fuel producers, the Trump Administration will encourage the production of these resources by opening onshore and offshore leasing on federal lands and waters. We will streamline the permitting process for all energy projects, including the billions of dollars in projects held up by President Obama, and rescind the job-destroying executive actions under his Administration. We will end the war on coal, and rescind the coal mining lease moratorium, the excessive Interior Department stream rule, and conduct a top-down review of all anti-coal regulations issued by the Obama Administration. We will eliminate the highly invasive 'Waters of the US' rule, and scrap the $5 trillion dollar Obama-Clinton Climate Action Plan and the Clean Power Plan and prevent these unilateral plans from increasing monthly electric bills by double-digits without any measurable effect on Earth's climate. Energy is the lifeblood of modern society.

"It is the industry that fuels all other industries. We will lift the restrictions on American energy, and allow this wealth to pour into our communities. It's all upside: more jobs, more revenues, more wealth, higher wages, and lower energy prices.

"The Trump Administration is firmly committed to conserving our wonderful natural resources and beautiful natural habitats. America's environmental agenda will be guided by true specialists in conservation, not those with radical political agendas. We will refocus the EPA on its core mission of ensuring clean air, and clean, safe drinking water for all Americans. It will be a future of conservation, of prosperity, and of great success."

With his climate denying cabinet—including Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, Rick Perry for Secretary of Energy, and Cathy McMorris Rodgers or U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-MT, in the running for Secretary of Interior—and a fossil-fuel friendly U.S. House and Senate, it is no understatement to say the Trump is preparing a fossil fuel takeover of the U.S. economy. But the economy won't be the only thing that's taken over. Our public lands, clean air and clean water will face a withering assault.

This type of "Energy Independence" will be the final nail in the coffin assuming the scientific consensus of 97 percent of the world's leading climate scientists are correct, when they said:

"Observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research demonstrates that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver."

Gary Wockner, PhD, is a Colorado-based environmental activist and the author of the 2016 book, River Warrior: Fighting to Protect the World's Rivers. Contact Gary at Gary@GaryWockner.com.


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3 Steps to Stop Trump and Create a 'Bernie Sanders Revolution' in the Environmental Movement

The devastating defeat of Hillary Clinton and the environmental agenda we hoped she would support has given American environmentalists a key opportunity to remake the movement and create a "Bernie Sanders Revolution" that will help stop Donald Trump in his first 100 days in office and lead us into a greener future.

Here are three key steps we must take right now:

1. Do everything possible to stop Donald Trump.

In terms of administrative action, expect Trump to try to gut the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, push an intense fossil-fuel agenda through the Departments of Energy and Interior, and over-ride federal laws whenever possible.

To fight these actions, environmental organizations will need to take to the streets and the courts—non-violent direct action as well as lawsuits will help slow or undermine Trump's agenda and draw media and public attention to our side.

In terms of congressional action, we should expect the worst from Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress. Remember all of those radical anti-environmental bills that were pushed forward when the Tea Party seized control of the U.S. House in 2010? They will come back to haunt us. So too will all of the bills that a Democratic Senate and Obama vetoed over the last 6 years.

Expect an attempt to radically gut the Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Water Act and other federal laws. We will need a united Democratic Party in the U.S. Senate—including some filibusters—along with a couple key moderate Republicans who don't trust Trump. We must work in Washington, DC to make that happen.

2. Ignite and reform the mainstream environmental movement.

In the same way that the Bernie Sanders Revolution is igniting and reforming the mainstream Democratic Party, so too must we ignite and reform the mainstream environmental movement. We need to sweep out the old tactics and ideas and sweep in a bunch of new aggressive people that have fire in their belly.

Over the last 8 years, we've watched much of mainstream American environmentalism become way too soft as it tried to nudge Obama forward rather than lead with an aggressive agenda. That nudging tactic hardly worked before, and now with Trump in power it must be completely discarded.

The environmental movement needs a new independent voice that is not beholden to a political party, or to major funders and purse strings. We can't speak truth to power if those in power are providing the paycheck. Environmentalists need to be guard dogs, not lap dogs. We need to speak for people and our environment, and not be greenwashed mouthpieces for any institutional or corporate agenda.

3. Engage local people and local politics.

If there's one thing the 2016 election taught us, it's that people matter and populism is alive again in America. Sanders' populism almost unearthed Clinton's political machine. Trump's populism de-throned two huge political powers—Clinton's Democratic Party and Bush's Republican Party.

We need to end the top-down focus of environmental organizations where a handful of mainstream groups and funders define the environmental agenda, and we must re-focus on local people and local communities. The American people want clean air, clean water, and protected landscapes and wildlife, but will only support those issues if they feel deeply connected to them. We need to support thousands of small and grassroots groups protecting local wetlands, parks, wildlife and rivers. We need to de-centralize environmentalism and connect it to where people live, work and play.

The first 100 days of the Trump administration must be the first 100 days of a new agenda for the health of our planet.

Sanders proved that the American public is thirsty for change. Stopping Trump, reforming mainstream environmentalism, and engaging local people and politics must be our agenda to create a "Bernie Sanders Revolution" for the environmental movement.

Gary Wockner, PhD, is a Colorado-based environmental activist and the author of the 2016 book, River Warrior: Fighting to Protect the World's Rivers. Contact: Gary@GaryWockner.com.

7 Wild Rivers Under Attack by Hydropower Dams

By Gary Wockner and Lydia Bleifuss

Hydropower, falsely sold to the public as a source of "green" or "clean" energy, is expanding at an alarming rate in many of South America's beautiful and ecologically pristine rivers.

In line with a global trend, many South American governments—backed by multi-national hydropower corporations, international financiers and profit-motivated corruption—continue to endorse hydropower developments as "renewable" sources of energy despite public opposition and dramatic negative environmental impacts.

Hydropower destroys rivers, often forces the relocation of local communities, increases the spread of vector-borne diseases, and disrupts local cultures and ecologies that have evolved together for thousands of years. Perhaps even worse, methane emissions from hydropower reservoirs are making climate change worse.

Here are seven incredible rivers flowing through South America that are currently threatened:

1. The Beni River

Beni River, Bolivia.Havelock13 / Deviant Art

The Beni River in Bolivia is a tributary to the Madre de Dios which flows into the Amazon. The Beni is threatened by the proposed Bala Hydropower Plant, which would be constructed in the Bala Gorge. The reservoir would flood up to 2,000 square kilometers, including a great portion of the Madidi National Park, jeopardizing tropical forests and biodiversity. Like many hydro developments in South America, the Bala's electricity production estimations are based off of limited hydrological data and accuracy is unreliable.

2. The Jondachi River

Jondachi River, Ecuador.Abraham Herrera

The Jondachi River in Ecuador is a tributary of the Napo Basin which flows into the Amazon. The "La Merced de Jondachi" hydroelectric project would divert the majority of the river's water, which provides world renowned whitewater paddling. Although Ecuador seeks energy independence, development of the Jondachi has been met with fervent resistance from organizations like Ecuadorian Rivers Institute. The massive hydroelectric dam would cause a dramatic decline in the local eco-tourism industry, in addition to ecological degradation, both of which contradict the developer's "clean" and "sustainable" energy platform.

3. The Maipo River

Maipo River, Chile.Paulo Urrutia

The Maipo River in Chile, a whitewater destination and also Santiago's main source of drinking water, is threatened by an internationally financed hydropower tunneling system that is siphoning away the majority of the water of its tributaries—the Volcán, Yeso and Colorado rivers. The hydropower project has met sustained local opposition because it would cause drastic ecological shifts in the valley and has already caused groundwater contamination due to tunnel construction. The proposed electricity production is compromised by drought in the region and isn't reliable. Further, the electricity would be largely funneled to the private mining industry or exported to Argentina for profit.

4. The Marañón River

Maranon River, Peru.Gary Wockner

The Marañón River in Peru is the Amazon River's largest tributary. On the grounds of "national interest," the construction of approximately twenty internationally financed dams have been proposed. Four projects are currently in the permitting process, although none have begun construction. The projects—which would devastate the river's ecological health, fragment nutrient flow and flood local communities—are meeting increasing local, national and international opposition.

5. The Ñuble River

Ñuble River, Chile.Paulo Urrutia

The Ñuble River of Chile runs through the Bío Bío Region and is currently slated for two hydropower projects. While the Chilean government claims the electricity is needed for public use, private mining corporations appear to be the biggest supporters of the projects. Beyond the The Ñuble's amazing scenery and sections of class III/IV whitewater opportunities are jeopardized, as are local farms that would be drowned. While some nearby agricultural communities once recognized the benefits of increased irrigation access the reservoir would provide, the realities of human relocation and an overwhelming focus upon energy production have generated increasing resistance to the developments.

6. The Quijos River

Quijos River, Ecuador.Abraham Herrera

The Quijos River in Ecuador is a tributary of the larger Napo Basin. While one dam already exists on this river (named "Coca Codo Sinclair HPP"), several others are proposed that would slice this once wild and pristine river into an eviscerated tunnel and reservoir plumbing system. The government of Ecuador is endorsing these nationally and internationally financed projects, claiming they will provide "clean" and "sustainable" hydropower, while disregarding the unavoidable environmental degradation and negative social implications that have already started to take hold.

7. The Rocín River

Rocín River, Chile.

The Rocín River in Chile flows from the Andes in the Valparaiso Region. Northern Chile holds some of the largest copper deposits and thus mines, in South America. The privately funded and legally approved hydropower project planned for this river would provide electricity to those mines, which are also held by private companies. Due to the remoteness of the Rocín, relatively little attention has been focused on the development despite local community concerns regarding water access for agriculture and also contamination of both surface and groundwater from mining activities.

Almost all of these seven proposed hydropower projects in South America are being pushed forward to create electricity to be sent to private mining corporations or exported to nearby countries for profit. In most cases, the negative human and environmental consequences are being glossed over, and the "Environmental Impact Assessments" required by governments lack scientific rigor and integrity. Government corruption may also be playing a role as hydroelectric companies are rarely held accountable in permitting processes nor are they required to strictly follow national environmental laws.

Most projects are marketed to the public as "green" energy. In South America's tropical Amazon Basin, for example, methane emitting hydropower reservoirs have been measured to be bigger greenhouse gas polluters than coal-fired power plants of equivalent electricity production. International financial institutions and hydroelectric corporations that fund these projects are distanced from the problems they create, while they continue to push hydro development forward under the guise of "clean" energy mandates that resulted from COP21, the 2016 Paris climate agreement.

Layers of different preservation strategies are needed to guarantee any river's safety in South America, and fortunately there are groups who are working on creating and maintaining them. However, these river-protection movements are often isolated from each other and lack funding to help connect and promote their effectiveness. The seven cases above are but a sliver of the threats to South America's—as well as the world's—magnificent rivers. These threats are constantly expanding and shifting, and demand an urgent global response.

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It's Official: Hydropower Is Dirty Energy

Over the last two years, I've written four articles about the massive problem with methane emissions from hydropower dams and reservoirs. Finally, the mainstream media covered this story Thursday after an international team of scientists released a new study that synthesizes more than 100 scholarly articles on the topic.

The Seattle Times headline read, "Hydropower Isn't Carbon Neutral After All" and the Washington Post headline read, "Oh Great—Scientists Have Confirmed A Key New Source Of Greenhouse Gases"

The scientific study featured in these news articles will appear next week in the journal Bioscience and is co-authored by 10 international researchers including scientists at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. As reported in the Seattle Times and Washington Post, key findings in the scientific study include:

  • Methane emissions from dams and reservoirs across the planet, including hydropower, are estimated to be significantly larger than previously thought, approximately equal to 1 gigaton per year.
  • The international boom in the construction of hydropower projects is rapidly accelerating this increase in methane emissions.
  • Reservoirs in mid-latitude areas of the planet, including in the U.S., can have as high of methane emissions as those in tropical countries which have been measured to emit as much greenhouse gases as coal-fired power plants.
  • The United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) should now better account for these massive methane emissions and include them in climate change scenarios.

In the four articles I wrote:

  1. Why Hydropower Is Not Clean Or Cheap
  2. Hydropower Will Undermine COP21 As False Solution To Climate Change
  3. The Hydropower Methane Bomb No One Wants To Talk About
  4. Dams Cause Climate Change, They Are Not Clean Energy

I laid out the science behind why dams and reservoirs cause methane emissions. I explained how there are hundreds of dams under construction right now and thousands in the planning process, and I described how the U.S. government and the IPCC need to address this issue because countries around the world are sweeping it under the rug.

Now I'm taking it a step farther. I'm calling for a global moratorium on the construction and permitting of all hydropower projects.

Hydropower is being pushed forward as "clean" and "carbon free" by an industry that is making hundreds of billions of dollars per year building dams. Countries, including the U.S., are in denial about how hydropower is contributing to climate change. Corruption in developing countries is undermining democracy and endangering the lives of local people who are fighting these projects. The murder of dam-fighter Berta Cáceres in Honduras got widespread international attention, but it is only the tip of the iceberg for the human rights abuses faced by local people fighting hydropower across the planet.

A moratorium on hydropower is the only just path forward.

Free the Snake River, Remove the Dams

Buck Ryan, the Snake River Waterkeeper, put it this way, "Removing hydroelectric dams is progress—we no longer have to destroy rivers and kill endangered fish to keep the lights on."

As I paddled my kayak amidst the hundreds of people in the Free The Snake flotilla last weekend, I believe Ryan is on the right track. Dams are a 50 to 100 year old technology—it's time to remove even more dams along America's diminished waterways and replace that aged technology with flourishing solar and wind energy systems.

2016 was the second year for the Free The Snake flotilla. Co-sponsored by more than a dozen non-profit groups and organized by Save Our Wild Salmon and Patagonia, the flotilla took place on the Idaho border on the Snake River. Four huge dams on the lower Snake River have contributed to several species of salmon being placed on the endangered species list. Removing the dams would help restore the salmon and a way of life in the Snake and Columbia River basins.

The flotilla included participation from river conservation and fishing groups, native American tribes and local businesses, all who have a stake in seeing the lower Snake River dams removed. Since the dams were built more than 30 years ago, only about 1 percent of salmon return from the sea to their native spawning grounds along the river. Historically, around 8 million salmon would return from the sea, swim up the Columbia River and then up into the Snake. That number is now down to around 80,000. Further, the vast majority of those fish are bred and stocked every year, with few or none being original wild salmon.

"Bigger and better, this year's flotilla underscores the public support for restoring this river and bringing these critical salmon species back to our environment," Joseph Boggard, director of Save Our Salmon, said.

The 300-person flotilla had the wind at its back, literally and figuratively, as it floated down the river towards the Clarkston-Lewiston bridge. In May of 2016, a federal district court judge ruled that the Endangered Species Recovery Program for the salmon was "illegal" and needed to "consider all recovery options" including "dam removal." Save Our Salmon has been litigating on the behalf of the endangered salmon for nearly two decades and is thrilled at the court's decision.

A new recovery plan must be developed by the federal agencies. Conservation groups have vowed to crank up the "dam removal" campaign. Further, the Snake River Waterkeeper recently filed another notice of intent to sue to address the pollution and temperature problems in the river.

"We've opened up another legal front in our fight to protect the salmon and take down these dams," said Ryan.

The crowd chanted and drummed as it floated down the river. Leading the flotilla was a giant inflatable killer whale to symbolize the threat to ocean species from the massive decrease in salmon populations. In fact, the Southern Resident Killer Whales—which live part-time in Puget Sound—are endangered because their food supply has been depleted. This species of killer whale lives entirely by eating fish and migrating along the coast down to northern California and back up to Puget Sound. Historically, this population of killer whales almost exclusively ate salmon, but as the salmon numbers dwindled, killer whale numbers have dramatically decreased as well, down to 82 animals, which has put them on the endangered species list.

"With all the negativity that surrounds trying to save an endangered species, everyone that took part in the Snake River flotilla sent a strong message today that is proof positive that we can right this ship," said Shari Tarantino, director of the Orca Conservancy, which is trying to restore the Southern Resident Killer Whales.

Some of the tribal members at the Free The Snake Flotilla had just returned from the Dakota Access Pipeline flotilla and were excited to keep their boats in the water supporting the cause of justice and environmental restoration. The rainy day deterred no one's enthusiasm, including the five different tribes that participated in the event.

In addition to sending a message to the Army Corps of Engineers and Bonneville Power Administration which now must write a new recovery plan for the salmon, the flotilla also sent a strong message to the local communities that removing the dams would be good for the river and the economy.

"It's great to have hundreds of boaters on the water showing Clarkston and Lewiston that the public supports dam removal," said Samantha Mace of Save Our Salmon.

As the 3-hour even wound down, the chanting and drumming increased and I came to believe that it's not if, but a matter of when, the Snake River dams come down.

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Could the 'Most Powerful Geothermal Reservoirs in the World' Save the Colorado River?

President Obama made a historic announcement Wednesday, saying that the federal government is considering investing in the geothermal power in the rock formations under the Salton Sea in Southern California. Considered to be "the most powerful geothermal reservoirs in the world," the Salton Sea announcement could play a critical role in the future management of the Colorado River.

Mud flies as carbon dioxide gas from deep underground fissures escapes through geothermal mudpots or mud volcanoes, over the southern San Andreas earthquake fault near the Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge near Calipatria, California. David McNew

Fifty years ago, Glen Canyon Dam was built above the Grand Canyon, and the Colorado River was enslaved to generate electricity to feed the hunger of the booming southwestern cities and suburbs. The Colorado's pulsing flows had carved and nourished the Grand Canyon for millennium, but that came to a crashing halt when the gates were closed and the water was ponded in Lake Powell. The environmental damage and steady decline of one of our nation's crown jewels has led to many calls for restoration of the natural system through the removal of Glen Canyon Dam.

The dam's ability to provide power has shielded it from any serious attempt to bring it down. Times change though and, over the last 16 years, the historic drought in the Southwest U.S. has drained Lake Powell to historic lows, severely diminishing the potential to generate hydroelectricity from the massive turbines encased in Glen Canyon Dam. Water and electricity managers are scrambling to come up with a plan to prop up the lake above what's called "power pool" so they can continue to generate and sell power. Any such solution is, however, clearly a stop-gap measure to keep the dam operational and is doomed to fail when confronted by the realities of climate change.

Fortunately, Obama's announcement offers a true path to the future.

The Salton Sea announcement could create an opportunity to replace the hydroelectric power generated at Glen Canyon Dam and a path forward to restoring the Grand Canyon. The geothermal reservoirs under the Salton Sea are an untapped resource that could add power to the grid as Lake Powell is slowly drained and Glen Canyon Dam is removed. Lake Powell's water could be put into Lake Mead, its downstream sister, thus keeping one fully functioning hydroelectric facility on the grid. Further, this "geo-hydro power trade" could keep the federal government solvent in its current financial contracts to provide electricity to the Southwest U.S.

The idea has already generated a bit of a buzz when Geothermal Resources retweeted this tweet:

Climate change scientists have painted a bullseye on the Southwest U.S. and the Colorado River, indicating the area will become warmer and dryer with even less flow in the Colorado River. Hydroelectricity is threatened at both Lakes Powell and Mead, as well as reservoirs in California. Salton Sea geothermal power could be a breakthrough in building a climate change-resistant Southwest while also preserving and restoring the lifeblood of the region—the Colorado River.

Lake Powell: Going, Going, Gone?

The 16-year drought on the Colorado River has drained Lake Mead and Lake Powell to their combined lowest level in history. But that's nothing compared to what could happen, according to a new study from the State of Colorado.

The study indicates that a drought like the one that happened in 2000 – 2006 "would empty Lake Powell," according to the Aspen Daily News. "Another potential conclusion from the risk study is that any new trans-mountain diversion would only make it more likely that Powell would go below target levels," the publication noted.

And, whether you want to believe it or not, water agencies in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah are proposing to do just that. In fact, Denver Water, Northern Water (in Colorado), and the states of Wyoming and Utah are all proposing even more dams and diversions of water out of the river and its tributaries that would accelerate the draining of Lake Powell and cause serious legal consequences for the entire Southwest U.S.

Further, climate change scientists have painted a bullseye on the Southwest U.S., indicating that it will get hotter and drier, with even less flow into the Colorado River. The lead investigator in the in-progress Colorado report has even said, "I haven't shown the climate change hydrology because it just scares everybody."

Save the Colorado has formally opposed all new proposed dams and diversions out of the river or its tributaries. We believe climate change is real and will have a serious impact on the Colorado River. The solution proposed by the State of Colorado is to buy massive amounts of water from farmers in Colorado, and then let that water run downstream to Lake Powell to keep the water level high enough to produce electricity at Glen Canyon Dam.

This plan is very unlikely to be successful. There's just not enough farmers who would want to sell massive amounts of water in order to keep the hydroelectric turbines spinning. Further, it could cost hundreds of millions of dollars every year to buy out those farmers even if they would sell.

What makes more sense is a responsible, planned effort by the government to drain Lake Powell, rather than letting drought and climate change do it in a haphazard way.

Lake Powell's days are numbered. The lake was a mistake, it's time to forsake.

Gary Wockner, PhD, is the executive director of the Save the Colorado river campaign. Contact Wockner at Gary@SaveTheColorado.org.

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