No, President Trump. Hydropower Is Not “great”

Three things President Trump needs to know about rivers and hydropower. Number one: hydropower is not “great”.

Skagit River, WA, after it was “dewatered” by poor river flow management at the dam. | Rich Bowers

Last month, President Trump talked about hydropower. He said it was “great.” Actually, he said it was “great, great.” He said “It’s one of the best things you can do – hydro.”

No, it isn’t.

There is a place for hydropower. But weakening safeguards at hydropower dams is a bad idea. And building new hydro dams would come with extremely high costs and would take our country backward, not forward.

Why doesn’t it make sense to build a bunch of new hydropower dams?

  • All the good spots are already taken.
  • Healthy rivers are our natural defense against climate impacts.
  • Hydro dams and their reservoirs can contribute to global warming pollution.
  • Dams damage rivers.

The focus on hydropower in the coming years must not be on building new dams, but instead on maximizing efficiency, responsible operation, and environmental performance.

Here are three things President Trump should know about rivers and hydropower:

1. Rivers are great

Clean, free-flowing rivers are vital to the health and well being of each and every one of us. They provide our drinking water, grow our crops, nourish our communities, and fuel our economy. “America is a great story and there is a river on every page,” wrote the late journalist Charles Kuralt. We need to focus our investments on restoring river health, not on weakening safeguards or building more hydropower dams.

2. Dams hurt rivers

A river is supposed to flow. A dam blocks that flow, with major consequences for water quality, fish and wildlife, recreation, cultural resources, and all of the people who depend on a healthy river. Dams are a big reason so many fish and other freshwater species are endangered. Many communities are choosing to remove outdated dams – just last year, 72 dams were removed across 21 states, restoring 2,100 miles of rivers.

3. Last-century energy = losers

Quite simply, dams are 19th century ideas. We need 21st century energy solutions that safeguard rivers and clean water, our most precious natural resource.

There are efforts in Congress to weaken or eliminate clean water protections and other safeguards at hydropower dams. This is about whether states, tribes and citizens will continue to have a say in how dams are operated. It’s about the future of dammed rivers nationwide.

Throughout our history, American Rivers has defended rivers from harmful dams. We’re not backing down now. Whether it’s fighting new boondoggle dam proposals or upholding key safeguards for rivers and communities, we’re going to keep fighting for the rivers that connect us all.

14 responses to “No, President Trump. Hydropower Is Not “great”

  1. Dams block fish (e.g., salmon) migrations, change up- and downstream habitats and water quality (especially impacting fish-spawning habitat), and often alter flow levels (sometimes rather rapidly) to impact (e.g., strand) fish and wildlife resources (including indirect impacts on fish-eating orcas). Dams really do create greenhouse gases (contra Krancer 2018) both (a) when they are built (given all of the concrete construction) and (b) via their rather-stagnant (gas-producing) reservoirs. Moreover, the impoundments eventually fill in to make the dams obsolete. Hence, sustainability is questionable, which is why many older dams are being breached now. Sure, remodeling existing dams to generate hydropower is an option (Krancer 2018), but there are expected natural-resource impacts that need proper FERC evaluation. Krancer (2018) discusses grand/old Hoover Dam, but several native-fish species have become federally imperiled after the resultant shifts in turbidity (water clarity) and water temperatures in the Colorado River.

    -Dr. Robert L. Vadas, Jr. (Bob)

    Krancer, M. 2018. Trump may make dams great again. Hydro Review 37(1): 28 (

  2. I am a founder of a company called AquaEnergy. We are developing an energy storage technology that uses pressurized water to store energy. We pressurize the water by pumping it into a large geosynthetic membrane covered by soil or sand. The weight of the overburden pressurizes the water and when energy is needed a valve is opened and the water flows through a turbine to produce electricity. It can be installed on a farmer’s field in a flat region like Southern Illinois and the economics are as good as hydroelectric power generation. But best yet there is no need to disturb a stream or lake.

  3. Most all people enjoy electricity. It needs to be generated somehow someway. Hydropower is better than most all alternatives from a clean and sustainable perspective. If you are critizing hydro I hope you are putting as much effort into criticizing other forms of generation.

  4. Interesting article. It was mentioned several times that hydro electric power is an outdated idea. I beg to differ. Some ideas are always good. For instance , the “wheel” oudated? Flying with “wings” oudated? “Shoes” outdated? Most hydro electric divert only a portion for hydro electric while letting the majority flow on through. Also, it was mentioned that hydro electric dams contribute to global warming or is it climate change? Please tell is how. Thanks Ken

  5. I live in the San Juan Islands–what has long been considered salmon country. Only now the salmon are so few that the orcas are malnourished and starving and the eagles have resorted to mostly eating birds. Dams might be sources of cleaner energy, but they are benign. And, no, I don’t think we have to choose human needs over nature’s needs because a) they are not separate things, and b) we have the technology right now to produce clean, sustainable power that does not interfere so dramatically with the life cycles of keystone species or displace whole communities of people, animals and plants.

    Dams are not “great”. Please do not weaken safeguards or the review process for hydro.

  6. Is it a bad idea from your perspective to put a pipe in a river, capturing a relatively low percentage of the water and running it through a generator, then putting the water right back into the river some yards downstream? It would seem a relatively inexpensive and harmless way to generate power and it could be done over and over again downstream.

  7. Please help our planet live healthier by not adding new hydropower dams. President Trump might be in his later years but it’s time he cared for his grandchildrens health and welfare along with all of his U.S. Citizens.

  8. There is a place for #HydroPower. But #WeakeningSafeguards at #HydropowerDams is a Bad Idea!

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