Giving a Dam: An 'Unprecedented Boom' in Dam Construction on Three of the World's Largest Rivers Could Have Dire Environmental Consequences

Geographical, March 2016 | Go to article overview

Giving a Dam: An 'Unprecedented Boom' in Dam Construction on Three of the World's Largest Rivers Could Have Dire Environmental Consequences


They dominate the hydrological systems of three major continents, and collectively hold one-third of the world's freshwater fish species, many of which are endemic to their respective river basins. Yet, the Amazon, Mekong and Congo rivers have become ever more attractive to developers keen to increase the capacity for relatively low carbon hydropower energy. Until now, dam construction on all three rivers has been relatively small-scale, located only in upland tributaries. However, a new report by 40 international scientists draws attention to nearly 450 new dams proposed for these three major rivers, with many others already being built. The report warns of the negative environmental and economic consequences that could arise without sufficient analysis of the outcomes.

'Major dams are usually built where rapids and waterfalls boost the hydropower potential, the same sites where many unique fish species adapted to life in fast water are found,' explains Dr. Kirk Winemiller from the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences at Texas A&M University. 'We wrote the paper to bring global attention to this problem, partly in hopes of stimulating research on tropical rivers, and partly to stimulate better approaches for hydropower development that balance true costs and benefits in the context of cumulative impacts.'

One key impact is the effect this vast succession of dams will have on fish migrations. There are 2,300 known species of fish in the Amazon, around 1,000 in the Congo and 850 in the Mekong, and the report argues that insufficient attention has been paid towards how their various migrations will be affected, and what impact this will have on the human populations dependent on these stocks for their survival. …

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