Breath of Clarity

Comment #1 on Integrating the Social, Cultural and Political Dimensions of Freshwater Resource Use and Impact into Management Strategies

Original Post by Genevieve Brune:

This week’s resources, including the readings and the Watershed film, provide a good background of the multi-dimensional and far-reaching aspect of freshwater resource use and impacts. For one, hydropower is one of the largest energy resources, making up 16% of global electricity, and being used in 48 U.S. states (Nunez 2019). Hydropower is a clean energy and a renewable one, powered through snow and rainfall (Nunez 2019). Though, it takes quite a bit of room and resources to create this power, requiring a power plant, a dam, and a reservoir (Nunez 2019). It should also be noted that because of climate change, droughts have been reducing energy coming from hydropower plants, requiring coal and gas to be used instead (Nunez 2019). This draws into question how useful these energy sources actually are.

Dams can have a number of negative impacts on the local river ecosystem. For example, dams prevent essential nutrients from flowing downstream (Robbins 2019). Additionally, the dams can halt other aspects of river ecosystems and impact local wildlife and residents (Nunez 2019). Along the U.S.-Mexico border, the impacts of the Morelos Dam on the Colorado River are quite evident. Before the dam was installed, there was a strong river flow, lush riverbeds, and a diverse landscape of mammals and fish (Robbins 2019). While this area has fallen down, other sections of the Columbia River are the focus of restoration and conservation efforts. Local organizations and community members are engaging in restoration projects, removing invasive species, improving surrounding agricultural practices.

Dams also impact people living nearby. Residents can be displaced due to flooding, and others cannot participate in as many recreational activities in a dammed river (Nunez 2019). Rivers provide a multitude of activities for recreationalists, like fishing and boating. (Decena and Redford 2012). They are also culturally important to the Native American tribes who have ties to the rivers and can be spiritual visits for other visitors (Decena and Redford 2012).

After reading the various perspectives about water sources, it is even clearer how important it is to have collaboration and stakeholder outreach in freshwater resource conservation. There are many different uses for water and a multitude of groups that can be impacted. Just some of the stakeholders can be: environmental groups, wildlife conservation groups, recreationalists, hydropower companies, federal agencies, state and local agencies, tribal groups, and more. Even amongst the recreation group, it can be broken down into fishermen, kayakers, and more. Damming a river can have cascading effects on many of these groups, but renewable energies, like hydropower, are incredibly important right now. The Biden Administration is curbing fossil fuel development and taking great efforts to increase the amount of renewable energy available in the U.S. (Worland 2021). Finding a balance between water uses is complicated, and requires extensive stakeholder outreach and coordination.

As we discussed in the other topic post, river water funds are a useful tool for water conservation. However, it does come with limitations, similarly to most other conservation tools. Some other efforts could include more education and outreach to the public, cross-agency and multi-state management plans, urban water recycling projects, local water restrictions and limitations, and more. In California, the governor signed legislation to create permanent water restrictions and goals to help address the water shortages in the state (Luna and Koseff, 2018). A multi-tool approach is likely the best way to move forward on water conservation, as each has positives and negatives. The benefits of some can make up for the deficiencies in the other tools.


Decena, Mark and Robert Redford (Directors). 2012. “Watershed: Exploring a New Water Ethic for the New West.” Kanopy. Retrieved Mar 3, 2021. Video, 57 min. (Links to an external site.) (Links to an external site.) (Links to an external site.).

Luna, Taryn & Alexei Koseff. 2018. “Get Ready To Save Water: Permanent California Restrictions Approved by Gov. Jerry Brown.” The Sacramento Bee. (Links to an external site.)

Nunez, Christina. 2019. Hydropower, Explained. (Links to an external site.) (Links to an external site.) (Links to an external site.) National Geographic, May 13, 2019.

Robbins, Jim. 2019. “Restoring the Colorado: Bringing New Life to a Stressed River.” Yale 360, February 14. Accessed Mar 3, 2021. (Links to an external site.) (Links to an external site.) (Links to an external site.).

Worland, Justin. 2021. “Biden’s Biggest Climate Move: Signaling that Fossil Fuels Are Not the Future.” Time.

My Comment:

Hi Genevieve,

Excellent overview of the readings and film.

I find it intriguing to evaluate dams. Aging infrastructure and growing interests in river restoration have led to a substantial rise in dam removals in the United States (Roy et al. 2018). However, the decision to remove a dam involves many complex trade-offs (Roy et al. 2018). The benefits of dam removal for hazard reduction and ecological restoration are potentially offset by the loss of hydroelectricity production, water supply, and other important services (Roy et al. 2018). I found a study in which researchers used a multi-objective approach to examine a wide array of trade-offs and synergies involved with strategic dam removal at three spatial scales in New England (Roy et al. 2018). They found that increasing the scale of decision-making improves the efficiency of trade-offs among ecosystem services, river safety, and economic costs resulting from dam removal, but this may lead to less equitable local-scale outcomes (Roy et al. 2018). The model would be useful in facilitating multilateral funding, policy, and stakeholder agreements by analyzing the trade-offs of coordinated dam decisions, including net benefit alternatives to dam removal, at scales that satisfy these agreements (Roy et al. 2018).


Roy, Samuel, Emi Uchida, Simone P. de Souza, Ben Blachly, Emma Fox, Kevin Gardner, Arthur J. Gold, Jessica Jansujwicz, Sharon Klein, Bridie McGreavy, Weiwei Mo, Sean M. C. Smith, Emily Vogler, Karen Wilson, Joseph Zydlewski and David Hart. 2018. “A multiscale approach to balance trade-offs among dam infrastructure, river restoration, and cost.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 115(47): 12069-12074.