Are We Ready to Kiss Our Big Dams Goodbye?
In 1941, Woody Guthrie had one of the most unlikely muses. The soon-to-be folk legend wrote 26 songs in just one month espousing the glories of hydroelectric dams. He did pick up a government paycheck for $266.66 for his efforts, though. In "Grand Coulee Dam," Guthrie likened the structure to the "greatest thing yet built by human hands," and sang, "she ripped our boats to splinters but she gave us dreams/dream of the day the Coulee Dam would cross that wild and wasted stream."
Guthrie captured the sentiment of the time perfectly: If you weren't damming a river, then it was being wasted. The 1930s and '40s saw the creation of mammoth projects like Hoover and Bonneville and Coulee. Those weren't the first and surely won't be the last. The US has an estimated 80,000 dams. In the American West, dams turned desert into farmland, and supplied power and drinking water to cities that couldn't have existed without them. The people of Guthrie's time heralded these accomplishments.
Or most of the people, anyway. Guthrie was born in 1912. In that same year, famed naturalist John Muir was fighting a project that would dam the Tuolumne River as it flowed out of the Sierras and flood Hetch Hetchy Valley in California's Yosemite National Park. In a plea to save the valley, Muir eloquently told Congress that Hetch Hetchy was "one of Nature's rarest and most precious mountain temples."
But the O'Shaughnessy Dam was built and the valley was flooded in 1923. San Francisco gained a prized reservoir and hydroelectric capacity. Muir died in 1914 but the fight over Hetch Hetchy -- nearly 100 years later -- is still going. READ MORE AT ALTERNET