Archive for the 'dams' Category

Research Confirms Hydroelectric Dams Not Environmentally Friendly After All

Photo retrieved from: www.commondreams.org

“A new study by University of East Anglia researchers confirms what numerous Indigenous communities have long charged: gigantic hydroelectric dam construction projects are not environmentally friendly, as proponents claim, but in fact pose a profound threat to biodiversity and life in the Amazon.

Widespread Forest Vertebrate Extinctions Induced by a Mega Hydroelectric Dam in Lowland Amazonia was published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE. The paper examines the environmental impact of Brazil’s Balbina Dam—which is located near the city of Manaus in the Amazonas state and is one of the largest hydroelectric dams in the world.

The construction of the dam in the 1980s transformed what used to be a lush rainforest forest landscape into an “artificial archipelago of 3,546 islands,” explains a summary of the research.

Not surprisingly, when hundreds of square miles of jungle were flooded with water, the wildlife who called that forest home—including mammals, birds, and tortoises—suffered dramatic population loss, with large vertebrates completely disappearing from almost all of the artificial islands, the report concludes.”

Furthermore, the summary explains, “Of the 3,546 islands created, only 25 are now likely to harbour at least four fifths of all 35 target species surveyed in the study.”

“Hydroelectric dams have been thought to be an environmentally friendly source of renewable power—and in recent years they have been built to supply the burgeoning energy demands of emergent tropical countries,” lead author Dr. Maíra Benchimol said in a press statement. “Our research adds evidence that forest biodiversity also pays a heavy price when large dams are built.”

Read more: Common Dreams

The Most Ambitious Environmental Lawsuit Ever

Photo retrieved from: www.nytimes.com

“In Louisiana, the most common way to visualize the state’s existential crisis is through the metaphor of football fields. The formulation, repeated in nearly every local newspaper article about the subject, goes like this: Each hour, Louisiana loses about a football field’s worth of land. Each day, the state loses nearly the accumulated acreage of every football stadium in the N.F.L. Were this rate of land loss applied to New York, Central Park would disappear in a month. Manhattan would vanish within a year and a half. The last of Brooklyn would dissolve four years later. New Yorkers would notice this kind of land loss. The world would notice this kind of land loss. But the hemorrhaging of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands has gone largely unremarked upon beyond state borders. This is surprising, because the wetlands, apart from their unique ecological significance and astounding beauty, buffer the impact of hurricanes that threaten not just New Orleans but also the port of South Louisiana, the nation’s largest; just under 10 percent of the country’s oil reserves; a quarter of its natural-gas supply; a fifth of its oil-refining capacity; and the gateway to its internal waterway system. The attenuation of Louisiana, like any environmental disaster carried beyond a certain point, is a national-security threat.

Where does it go, this vanishing land? It sinks into the sea. The Gulf of Mexico is encroaching northward, while the marshes are deteriorating from within, starved by a lack of river sediment and poisoned by seawater. Since 2011, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has delisted more than 30 place names from Plaquemines Parish alone. English Bay, Bay Jacquin, Cyprien Bay, Skipjack Bay and Bay Crapaud have merged like soap bubbles into a single amorphous body of water. The lowest section of the Mississippi River Delta looks like a maple leaf that has been devoured down to its veins by insects. The sea is rising along the southeast coast of Louisiana faster than it is anywhere else in the world.

The land loss is swiftly reversing the process by which the state was built. As the Mississippi shifted its course over the millenniums, spraying like a loose garden hose, it deposited sand and silt in a wide arc. This sediment first settled into marsh and later thickened into solid land. But what took 7,000 years to create has been nearly destroyed in the last 85. Dams built on the tributaries of the Mississippi, as far north as Montana, have reduced the sediment load by half. Levees penned the river in place, preventing the floods that are necessary to disperse sediment across the delta. The dredging of two major shipping routes, the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, invited saltwater into the wetlands’ atrophied heart.”

Read more: The New York Times

 

Preventing crises over shared water resources requires stronger foreign policy engagement

Photo retrieved from: www.trust.org

“Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, Gaza. With such crises in the headlines, it is easy to forget about the structural challenges that threaten to become the foreign policy crises of the future. Among these, access to fresh water stands out. It is already contributing to many conflicts around the world, and demand is growing fast while supplies are limited (and, in the case of groundwater, being exhausted at unsustainable rates). Simultaneously, about 60 percent of the volume of global river flow is shared by two or more states.

Many shared basins – among them the Nile, the Indus, the Ganges, the Euphrates-Tigris, the Orontes, the Jordan, the Amu Darya and Syr Darya, and the Mekong – overlap with regions characterised by substantial interstate and intrastate tensions. Population and economic growth increase demand for water. Climate change is concurrently leading to changes in regional and seasonal water variability. The resulting scarcity and extreme weather events, both floods and droughts, threaten long-term regional stability.

Yet shared waters do not have to be flashpoints of conflict, and can even build bridges in the midst of conflicts. For example, the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty has survived three wars between India and Pakistan. Water has also served as a crucial means for strengthening cooperation in Southern Africa. And the negotiations over shared waters between Israel and its neighbours have not only come much further than negotiations over other issues, but have also helped to establish informal means of cooperation in an otherwise highly conflictive region.”

Read more: Reuters

 

‘State of the World’s Rivers’ Project Documents Decline in Rivers From Dams

Photo retrieved from: www.internationalrivers.org

“Many of the world’s great river basins have been dammed to the point of serious decline, including the Mississippi, Yangtze, Paraná and Danube.

“The evidence we’ve compiled of planetary-scale impacts from river change is strong enough to warrant a major international focus on understanding the thresholds for ‘river change’ in the world’s major basins, and for the planet as a whole system,” said Jason Rainey, Executive Director of International Rivers.

For example, in the Middle East, decades of dam building in the Tigris-Euphrates basin have made it one of the most fragmented basins in the world. As a result, the basin’s flooded grassland marshes have significantly decreased, leading to the disappearance of salt-tolerant vegetation that helped protect coastal areas, and a reduction in the plankton-rich waters that fertilize surrounding soils. Habitat has decreased for 52 native fish species, migratory bird species, and mammals such as the water buffalo, antelopes and gazelles, and the jerboa.

Meanwhile, some of the lesser-dammed basins, which are still relatively healthy at this point, are being targeted for major damming. For example, the most biodiverse basin in the world, the Amazon, still provides habitat for roughly 14,000 species of mammals, 2,200 fish species, 1,500 bird species, and more than 1,000 amphibian species, like the Amazon River Dolphin, the Amazonian Manatee, and the Giant Otter.

When all dam sizes are counted, an astonishing 412 dams are planned or under construction in the Paraná basin, and 254 in the Amazon basin. In Asia, China plans to continue to dam the Yangtze basin with at least another 94 planned large dams, while an additional 73 are under construction. At least 153 more dams are planned or already being built in the Mekong basin.”

Read more: International Rivers

 

13 Things You Probably Don’t Know About the U.S. Water System (But Should)

Photo retrieved from: www.nationalgeographic.com

“Two U.S. cities (Charleston, West Virginia, and Toledo, Ohio) have gone for days with no safe water service. The nation’s largest reservoir is lower than it’s ever been. The nation’s largest state is in the worst drought ever recorded.

Here are some statistics that sum up the condition of the U.S. water system, which in a word are not good.

• The U.S. has 1.2 million miles of water supply mains — 26 miles of water mains for every mile of interstate highway.

• The U.S. water system has become so old that, on average, every mile of water pipe suffers a break every six years.

• U.S. water pipes leak one full day’s water for every seven days. That is, U.S. water utilities lose one out of seven gallons of drinking water they supply before it arrives at a customer.

• Many cities have centuries-long replacement cycles for their water pipes. Los Angeles and Philadelphia both have a 300-year replacement cycle. Washington, D.C. has a 200-year water pipe replacement cycle.

• The water system is often out-of-date in surprising ways. In Sacramento, California’s capital, half the water customers have no water meters, so in the midst of the state’s worst drought in history, they pay a flat fee no matter how much water they use. In New York, the city’s largest apartment complex, Peter Cooper Village/Stuyvesant Town, has 11,232 units — and no water meters.”

Read more: National Geographic

 

Jihadists Rout Kurds in North and Seize Strategic Iraqi Dam

 

Photo retrieved from: www.nytimes.com

“The crisis gripping Iraq escalated rapidly on Thursday with a re-energized Islamic State in Iraq and Syria storming new towns in the north and seizing a strategic dam as Iraq’s most formidable military force, the Kurdish pesh merga, was routed in the face of the onslaught.

The loss of the Mosul Dam, the largest in Iraq, to the insurgents was the most dramatic consequence of a militant offensive in the north, which has sent tens of thousands of refugees, many from the Yazidi minority, fleeing into a vast mountainous landscape.

In one captured town, Sinjar, ISIS executed dozens of Yazidi men, and kept the dead men’s wives for unmarried jihadi fighters. Panic on Thursday spread even to the Kurdish capital of Erbil, long considered a safe haven, with civilians flooding the airport in a futile attempt to buy tickets to Baghdad.”

Read more: NY Times

 

How Do We Avert A Thirsty Future?

Photo retrieved from: www.energydigital.com

“Adequate availability of water, food and energy is critical to global security. Water – the sustainer of life and livelihoods – is already the world’s most exploited natural resource. With nature’s capacity for providing renewable freshwater lagging behind humanity’s current rate of utilization, tomorrow’s water is being used to meet today’s need.

Consequently, the resources of shared rivers, aquifers and lakes have become the target of rival appropriation plans. Canada, which is the Saudi Arabia of the freshwater world, is fortunate to be blessed with exceptional water wealth. But more than half of the global population lives in conditions of water distress.

The struggle for water is exacerbating effects on the earth’s ecosystems. Groundwater depletion, for its part, is affecting natural stream flows, groundwater-fed wetlands and lakes, and related ecosystems.

If resources like water are degraded and depleted, environmental refugees will follow. Sanaa in Yemen risks becoming the first capital city to run out of water. If Bangladesh bears the main impact of China’s damming of River Brahmaputra, the resulting exodus of thirsty refugees will compound India’s security challenges.

Silent water wars between states, meanwhile, are already being waged in several regions, including by building dams on international rivers and by resorting to coercive diplomacy to prevent such construction. Examples include China’s frenetic upstream dam building in its borderlands and downriver Egypt’s threats of military reprisals against the ongoing Ethiopian construction of a large dam on the Blue Nile.”

Read more: The Globe and Mail

 

Water supply key to outcome of conflicts in Iraq and Syria

Photo retrieved from: www.grist.org

“Rivers, canals, dams, sewage, and desalination plants are now all military targets in the semi-arid region that regularly experiences extreme water shortages, says Michael Stephen, deputy director of the Royal United Services Institute think tank in Qatar, speaking from Baghdad.

“Control of water supplies gives strategic control over both cities and countryside. We are seeing a battle for control of water. Water is now the major strategic objective of all groups in Iraq. It’s life or death. If you control water in Iraq, you have a grip on Baghdad, and you can cause major problems. Water is essential in this conflict,” he said.

ISIS Islamic rebels now control most of the key upper reaches of the Tigris and Euphrates, the two great rivers that flow from Turkey in the north to the Gulf in the south and on which all Iraq and much of Syria depends for food, water, and industry.

“Rebel forces are targeting water installations to cut off supplies to the largely Shia south of Iraq,” says Matthew Machowski, a Middle East security researcher at the U.K. houses of parliament and Queen Mary University of London.

In April, ISIS fighters in Fallujah captured the smaller Nuaimiyah Dam on the Euphrates and deliberately diverted its water to “drown” government forces in the surrounding area. Millions of people in the cities of Karbala, Najaf, Babylon, and Nasiriyah had their water cut off but the town of Abu Ghraib was catastrophically flooded along with farms and villages over 200 square miles. According to the U.N., around 12,000 families lost their homes.

Earlier this year, Kurdish forces reportedly diverted water supplies from the Mosul Dam. Equally, Turkey has been accused of reducing flows to the giant Lake Assad, Syria’s largest body of fresh water, to cut off supplies to Aleppo, and ISIS forces have reportedly targeted water supplies in the refugee camps set up for internally displaced people.”

Read more: Grist

 

 

As Violence Grips Iraq, Fears of Pre-Emptive Flooding Arise

Photo retrieved from: www.commondreams.org

“Regardless of which side might open the floodgates, it is the civilian population who would suffer in such an event, Peter Bosshard, Policy Director of International Rivers, an organization that works to protect rivers and the rights of communities that depend on them,explained to Common Dreams.

“Dams have been used as weapons of mass destruction through the ages,” Bosshard continued. “In the first recorded water war, the army of Umma, a Sumerian city state, drained irrigation canals against their enemies of Lagash in present-day Iraq, not far from Haditha Dam, 4,500 years ago. In the most infamous case, the nationalist army of Chian Kai Shek destroyed the dikes of the Yellow River in 1937 to slow the advancing Japanese army, thereby flooding hundreds of thousands of square kilometers of land and killing at least 800,000 of its own people,” he added.

Khalid Salman, head of the Haditha local council, told the Washington Post that ISIS would want take over the dam not to unleash flooding but to control the power plant powered by it, thus being able to provide a service to the local population.

“Of course they want to control the dam, which is very important, not only for Anbar, but for all of Iraq,” the Post quotes Salman as saying.

Meanwhile, violence continues to erupt in the country. Reuters reports that on Thursday battles were “raging” in the city of Tikrit, where Iraqi forces are launching a counter-attack on Sunni militant forces.”

Read more: Common Dreams

 

A Push to Save Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake

Photo retrieved from: www.nytimes.com

“Every year, the lake yields about 300,000 tons of fish, making it one of the world’s most productive freshwater ecosystems. That and the floods that pulse through it in monsoon season, swelling it to as much as five times its dry-season size, have earned the lake the nickname “Cambodia’s beating heart.”

But the Tonle Sap is in trouble — from overfishing to feed a fast-growing population, from the cutting of mangrove forests that shelter young fish, from hydroelectric dams upstream, and from the dry seasons that are expected to grow hotter and longer with climate change.

Keo Mao, a 42-year-old fisherman from Akol, says he hopes his five children can find a way out of the life that has sustained his family for generations. “The lake now is not really so good,” he said. “There are too many people.”

Now an international team of researchers has joined local fishermen in an ambitious project to save the Tonle Sap. The scientists are building an intricate computer model that aims to track the vast array of connections between human activity and natural systems as they change over time. Begun in 2012, the model will take several years to complete, while threats to the Tonle Sap continue to mount.

But the hope is to peer into the lake’s future to predict how different developmental, economic and regulatory choices may ripple through this interconnected and fast-changing ecosystem, and to plan a sustainable way forward.

Charting a Changing Cambodia

Henri Mouhot, the 19th-century French explorer who crossed the Tonle Sap on his way to Angkor Wat, said the lake resembled a violin lying diagonally across Cambodia. At its neck, a tributary flows southeast to the Mekong River. On the laptop of Roel Boumans, an ecologist who helped develop the modeling project, the lake and its flood plain are divided into 16 watersheds that he fills with shades of green, yellow and brown, based on vegetation and land-use data from satellite images.”

Read more: The New York Times