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Stepping back from dam power

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By Kirsten Peters

Just over a century ago, when William Howard Taft was president and I was a young woman, an entrepreneur named Thomas Aldwell started building a dam in the Northwest woods of the Olympic peninsula in Washington.
The 108-foot-high Elwha dam became an early hydroelectric powerhouse, helping to fuel population and industrial growth related to activities as varied as forestry and ship-building.  
Over the following decades more hydro-dams in the West were built.
Mega-dams like Grand Coulee and Boulder rose across rivers, and the cost for electricity to users dropped sharply.
After our original investment in construction, many dams have operated at modest cost and generated electricity while also helping to control flooding that used to routinely threaten cities like Portland, Ore.
Some rivers, such as the lower Snake and Columbia, have also been transformed into bodies of slack-water connected by locks that allow ocean-going barges to ship goods far inland from the sea.
We haven’t built a major dam in the U.S. for many a year. While China is going through an orgy of dam construction, but we pretty much filled up our best locations for hydropower a good while back.


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