The rise of wind and solar power, coupled with the increasing social, environmental and financial costs of hydropower projects, could spell the end of an era of big dams. But even anti-dam activists say it’s too early to declare the demise of large-scale hydro.
By Jacques Leslie • November 27, 2018
The last few years have been turbulent for the global dam industry.
In July, flooding caused a dam under construction in Laos to collapse, releasing an inland tsunami that drowned hundreds of people — estimates of the number killed start at 200 and go up by multiples of that. The torrent devastated the homes and farmland of about 6,600 people, most of who now live in tents.
In April, landslides at the Ituango Dam, near completion in Colombia, clogged a tunnel used to divert river water from the project. The resulting flooding forced the evacuation of at least 25,000 people and placed the entire $5 billion project in jeopardy.
Two years ago, the United States’ tallest dam, Oroville Dam in northern California, nearly collapsed, prompting the evacuation of 190,000 people. Repairs cost $1.1 billion.
In 2016, unprecedented drought in southern Africa reduced the water level of the world’s biggest reservoir, Lake Kariba, to 12 percent of its capacity, inducing food shortages and extensive power blackouts that hamstrung the economies of Zambia and Zimbabwe. Similarly, reservoir levels at the Hoover Dam — the Colorado River dam that ushered in the modern hydropower era — have been steadily dropping as a result of a prolonged regional drought. Both predicaments have laid bare dams’ vulnerability to climate change.