Hydro's long history, and bright future, bode well for American energy independence

Nate Sandvig is an Iraqi War veteran and the deputy campaign manager for water infrastructure company MWH Global Inc.

Nate Sandvig is an Iraqi War veteran and the deputy campaign manager for water infrastructure company MWH Global Inc.

From Canada to California and across the county, hydropower is an economical and reliable renewable resource that provides low-cost power and facilitates local economic development.

More than 50 years ago, our dams were built with the best engineering and construction standards in the world. Today, our nation’s dams — and their potential contribution to creating a clean energy economy — are largely forgotten and in disrepair. Yet, dams have the opportunity to provide more renewable energy to tens of millions of Americans.

According to the recently published American Society of Civil Engineers Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, the grade for dams is close to a failing mark, averaging “D’s” thanks to delayed maintenance and underinvestment. In less than a decade, three-quarters of the total dams in the United States will be more than a half-century old. With some smart investments in their improvement, they could be a significant source of power for decades to come.

Many forget that hydropower (not solar or wind) is the country’s top renewable energy source, accounting for nearly 70 percent of the nation’s renewable electricity generation and 7 percent of the total generation. But major rehabilitation and refurbishment of existing hydro infrastructure is needed, so that hydropower can continue to contribute to the clean energy economy as the most reliable renewable resource.

Of course, there are many ideological environmental and activist groups that oppose hydropower, but they are misguided. Dam designers and operators engage stakeholders early in the planning process and their input is incorporated in the project from the beginning.

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