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10 Things I Learned From Cracked: The Future of Dams in a Hot, Chaotic World by Steven Hawley

Before reading this book, I knew very little about dams. I've always thought that they were good and could produce electricity. The book was eye-opening.


    1. Water is damned so it can flow uphill towards the money.

    Dam construction is like a pyramid scheme where massive contracts are given to a few companies that make lots of money. Areas that are supported by dams, such as Southern California and Nevada are receiving large government subsidies for water.

    2. The book argues that most dams cause harm.

    3. Desert farmland created by dams receive a government subsidy by having the water provided.

    4. Electricity-Generating Dams frequently lose money

    Despite the perception, dams generating electricity often lose money, leading to arrangements with tech companies like Apple and Google, which benefit from low-cost electricity and tax advantages for building data centers that use power from the dam but contribute to the dams' debt.

    5. Dams have drastically reduced salmon populations in certain rivers, with numbers falling from millions to as low as 8,700.

    Hatcheries that are supposed to introduce fish back into the environment are incredibly expensive. Hundreds of dollars per adult fish and they don’t even really work.The EPA's $17 billion salmon recovery efforts have failed, with crossbreeding resulting in weaker offspring that don't survive. Washington state has a large number of hatcheries that generate hundreds of millions of young fish. The salmon are still endangered in that area.

    6. Increased Evaporation and Pollution

    Because dams create a large surface area of still water, frequently in hot regions, it causes more evaporation than in a freely flowing river. They are net emitters of methane gas due to the concentration of decaying plant material, contributing to pollution.

    The water from the Colorado river behind a dam evaporates more water than the city of Denver uses.

    7. Sea walls, intended to prevent erosion, actually exacerbate the problem by intensifying wave effects.

    Dams also cause floods by collecting water that can be released by force.

    8. In countries like Chile, environmental activists face extreme dangers, including murder.

    Access to water is a big deal.

    9. There are millions of small dams in the United States.

    I guess it depends on the definition of a dam but there are certainly many artificial controls on water.

    10. Dams are very expensive to remove. However, the risk and damage from dams frequently outweigh the economic benefits, and it becomes cheaper to remove them than continue to operate them.

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