The tributaries draining into Lake Champlain have stream flow rates that vary over a wide spectrum from less than 10 cubic feet per second (cfs) to over 4,000 cfs (Map, 2010). This leaves many streams that are far too small to be tapped for hydropower, but others that could make significant contributions to the amount of hydro energy in the region. There are an estimated 70 sites on streams and rivers in the Lake Champlain Basin in Vermont that are suitable for hydropower dams. (Conner, 1996). These dams could have a total energy potential of 40-50 Megawatts (Conner, 1996). On the New York Side, there are 27 dams with another 50 Megawatts of available undeveloped hydropower (Conner, 1998).
There are many benefits surrounding hydropower. The largest benefit is clearly that hydropower is a clean energy source and does not pollute (U.S., 2010). Hydropower is a renewable energy source because it is based on the water cycle, which is driven by the sun (U.S., 2010). The reservoirs created by hydro dams offer benefits to recreation such as fishing, swimming, and boating (U.S., 2010). The installation of Hydro Plants is less than fossil fuel plants, and five times less than nuclear steam (Hydropower, 2005). Hydropower plants are also much cheaper to operate because they do not require and fuel (Hydropower, 2005).
Along with the positive side of hydropower comes unfortunate but serious side effects, and while the U.S. Department of Energy views the reservoirs as benefits, many others disagree. Hydro dams can have significant impacts on fish and wildlife. Installation of hydro dams can result in the loss, flooding, and modification of fish and wildlife habitat (Hydroelectric, 2010). Unless appropriate measures are put into place, they can significantly impede fish migration (Hydroelectric, 2010). Hydropower operation can lead to changes in water temperature, which can have severe impacts on native plants and animals (Hydroelectric, 2010). The number of dams being constructed is starting to decline because many of the best available spots have been taken (Hydroelectric, 2010).
While there are many places in the world where the benefits of hydropower outweigh the costs, and hydropower is suitable, there are many instances in the Lake Champlain Basin where it is not. The Swanton Dam on the Missisquoi River has not been producing power in over 50 years (Case, 2009). This dam lead to the collapse of the fisheries on the Missisquoi River including Lake Sturgeon (Case, 2009). When the Peterson Dam was built on the Lamoille River, it destroyed most of the spawning habitat of many fish including salmon, walleye, and sturgeon (Wentworth, 2004). There are opportunities new dam construction on Lake Champlain tributaries, but the costs and benefits must be weighed appropriately as there are already existing dams causing problems.
The Case for removing the swanton dam and restoring fish passage. (2009, July 10). Retrieved from http://www.mychamplain.net/blog/case-removing-swanton-dam-and-restoring-fish-passage
Conner, A, and J Francfort. “U.S. Hydropower Resource Assessment for New York .” Idaho National Laboratory. http://hydropower.inel.gov/resourceassessment/pdfs/states/ny.pdf, Aug, 1998. Web. 2 May 2010. <http://waterwatch.usgs.gov/?m=real&r=vt&w=map>.
Conner, A, & Francfort, J. (1996). U.S. Hydropower Resource Assessment for Vermont. Idaho National Laboratory. Feb, 1996. Web. 1 May 2010 Retrieved from http://hydropower.inel.gov/resourceassessment/pdfs/states/vt.pdf
Hydroelectric power water use. (2010, March 30). Retrieved from http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/wuhy.html
Hydropower plant costs and production expenses. (2005, July 18). Retrieved from http://hydropower.id.doe.gov/hydrofacts/plant_costs.shtml
“Map of real-time streamflow compared to historical streamflow for the day of the year (Vermont).” USGS. USGS, 02, May, 2010. Web. 2 May 2010. <http://waterwatch.usgs.gov/?m=real&r=vt&w=map>.
U.S. Department of Energy, Wind & Water Power Program. (2010). Benefits of hydropower Retrieved from http://www1.eere.energy.gov/windandhydro/hydro_ad.html
Wentworth, R. (2004). Why Remove peterson dam from the lamoille river?. Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, Retrieved from http://www.vtfishandwildlife.com/library/Reports_and_Documents/Fish_and_Wildlife/Peterson_dam-Why_Remove_Peterson_Dam_from_the_Lamoille_River.pdf