Hydroelectric Power Impacts on Birds

Gold Ray Dam, Oregon by Hydroreform Coalition

Gold Ray Dam by Oregon Hydroreform Coalition




Hydropower is the capture of the energy of moving water to turn an electricity-producing turbine. The first hydroelectric power plant was built in 1882 in Appleton, Wisconsin to provide 12.5 kilowatts to light two paper mills and a home. Today's hydropower plants generally range in size from several hundred kilowatts to several hundred megawatts, but a few mammoth plants have capacities up to 10,000 megawatts and supply electricity to millions of people.

The chief advantages of hydropower are the elimination of the cost of fuel and the lack of production of any greenhouse gasses. Hydroelectric plants also tend to have longer lives than fuel-fired generation. Hydroelectric power facilities in the United States generate enough power to supply 28 million households with electricity, the equivalent of nearly 500 million barrels of oil.


Impacts on birds

Originally thought of as a clean, non-polluting, environmentally friendly source of energy, experience is proving otherwise. Valuable lowlands (which are usually the best farmland) are flooded, destroying bird and other wildlife habitat, and displacing bird populations. Where anadromous fish runs are involved as in the Columbia River system with its 30 dams, the effect on fish has been disastrous. In many cases, fish-eating birds such as Caspian Terns have been scape-goated for these fish declines, and populations have been reduced or physically relocated as a result.


If reservoirs are involved in the production of hydropower, as is frequently the case, hydropower is not a renewable energy source. All reservoirs eventually fill with sediment, limiting the generating life of the plant. Some reservoirs have already filled, and many others are filling faster than expected. In a few hundred years Glen Canyon Dam and Hoover Dam will become concrete waterfalls.