Bonneville Dam Nation

Selene Prof
This post written by Selene Spatz

Authored by: Selene Spatz.

Lamprey Selene's post
A lamprey suctioned onto a glass wall in the dam’s viewing window.

Last week, the DukeEngage group went to the Bonneville Dam, located about 40 miles outside of Portland.  Earlier that week, we had all watched the documentary Dam Nation (which is on Netflix if you want to check it out).  The documentary tells the story of America’s frenzy to create dams and hydropower starting with The New Deal, and the effects that it had on salmon populations as well as the turmoil it brought to the local Native Americans.  Thus, we were all a little skeptical and wary visiting Bonneville.

However, we were all surprised that the Bonneville Dam wasn’t as evil as we suspected. In fact, it wasn’t evil at all – it was downright cool.  The Bonneville Dam is extremely eco-conscious.  Its first consideration is the salmon. The infrastructure is amazing, with a bypass system and spillway used for juvenile salmon, and ladders for adult salmon returning upstream to spawn.  During the biggest migration times, the hydropower plant is even turned off for the salmon.  Overall, there is upwards of a 95% survival rate.  The dam is also closely examining lamprey, a fish that somewhat resembles eels.  These fish are potentially even more important to our ecosystem, but haven’t been studied until recent years.  Lamprey at first sight are kinda creepy – Devin was especially freaked out by them! But I think they’re also super cool.

The Bonneville Dam also provides clean energy for the local communities.  When running at max capacity, the dam produces enough energy to support the entirety of Portland.  This is all green energy (there aren’t even batteries at the dam because batteries have some negative consequences).  The dam is also used for navigation and transportation, allowing barges, which transport 12% of products but use only 2% of total transportation energy, to travel along the Columbia River.

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4 thoughts on “Bonneville Dam Nation

  1. Sounds like such a fun trip! Thanks for sharing all of this information (and thanks especially for the Netflix recommendation!).
    I remember when I went a few years ago we learned a lot about the salmon, but I don’t think we learned about lamprey. What role do lampreys play in the ecosystem?
    Hope all is going well with your job placements!
    -Alix (B.S. 2012)

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    1. Hi again, Alix.
      Lampreys are great organisms because they’re filter feeders while they stay in the sheltered river systems for the first four to six years of their lives. Then, they make the trip to saltwater in the oceans, where they are parasitic (not the best job in the world, but someone does it). After their life in the oceans, they return to the rivers to spawn, and when they die, all the nutrients that they collected during their lives in the oceans are released to enrich the rivers. So they are really a very important part of the health of the rivers.
      -Jordan

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  2. Appreciate the deeper look into the (overall positive) impact of these big dams. As a society we have serious choices to make about how we get our electricity. We’ll make better decisions the more we know about the relative pros and cons of different technologies.

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