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is made by moving water. Hydro comes from the Greek word for water.

Hydroelectric energy has been in use for thousands of years. Romans built s, which are wheels turned by flowing water. Roman turbines were not used for , but for grinding s to make and breads.

s provide another source of hydroelectric energy. Water mills, which were common until the , are large wheels usually located on the banks of moderately flowing s. Water mills energy that powers such activities as grinding grain, cutting , or creating hot fires to create .

The first U.S. hydroelectric power plant was built on the Fox River in 1882 in Appleton, Wisconsin. This plant powered two paper mills and one home.

Harnessing Hydroelectricity

To harness energy from flowing water, the water must be controlled. A large reservoir is created, usually by damming a river to create an artificial lake, or . Water is channeled through tunnels in the .

The energy of water flowing through the dam's tunnels causes turbines to turn. The turbines make generators move. s are machines that produce electricity.

s control the amount of water let through the dam. The process used to control this flow of water is called the . When a lot of energy is needed, most of the tunnels to the turbines are open, and millions of gallons of water flow through them. When less energy is needed, engineers slow down the intake system by closing some of the tunnels.

During s, the intake system is helped by a . A spillway is a structure that allows water to flow directly into the river or other body of water below the dam, bypassing all tunnels, turbines, and generators. Spillways prevent the dam and the community from being damaged. Spillways, which look like long ramps, are empty and dry most of the time.

From Water Currents to Electrical Currents

Large, fast-flowing rivers produce the most . The Columbia River, which forms part of the border between the U.S. states of Washington and Oregon, is a big river that produces massive amounts of hydroelectric energy.

The , one of many dams on the Columbia River, has 20 turbines and generates more than a million s of power every year. Thats enough energy to power hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses.

Hydroelectric power plants near s can create huge amounts of energy, too. Water crashing over the fall line is full of energy. A famous example of this is the hydroelectric plant at Niagara Falls, which spans the border between the United States and Canada.

Hydroelectric energy generated by Niagara Falls is split between the U.S. state of New York and the Canadian of Ontario. Engineers at Niagara Falls cannot turn the falls off, but they can ly limit the intake and control the amount of water rushing over the waterfall.

The largest hydroelectric power plant in the world is the enormous , which spans the Yangtze River in China. It is 185 meters (607 feet) tall and 115 meters (377 feet) thick at its base. It has 26 turbines and will be able to generate more than a billion watts of power. The Three Gorges Dam is operating, but engineers are still working on the system. They are adding even more turbines and generators to the project.

Hydroelectric Energy and the Environment

Hydroelectricity relies on water, which is a clean, source. A renewable source of energy is one that will not run out. Renewable energy comes from natural sources, like , , , s, and (the heat produced inside the Earth). sources include , , and .

Water is renewable because the is continually recycling itself. Water s, forms clouds, and then rains down on the Earth, starting the cycle again.


Reservoirs created by dams can provide large, safe space for a community. Boaters and water skiers can enjoy the lake. Many reservoirs are also ed with fish. The area around a reservoir is often a protected natural space, allowing campers and hikers to enjoy the natural environment.

Using water as a source of energy is generally a safe environmental choice. Its not perfect, though. Hydroelectric power plants require a dam and a reservoir. These man-made structures may be s for fish trying to swim . Some dams, including the Bonneville Dam, have installed s to help fish migrate. Fish ladders are a series of wide steps built on the side of the river and dam. The ladder allows fish to slowly swim upstream instead of being totally ed by the dam.

Dams flood river s, destroying for thousands of s. birds such as s and s are often at risk, as well as plants that depend on the y habitat of a river bank. Operating the power plant may also raise the of the water in the reservoir. Plants and animals near the dam have to adjust to this change or elsewhere.

The OShaughnessy Dam on the Tuolumne River in the U.S. state of California was one of the first hydroelectric energy projects to draw widespread criticism for its on the environment. The dam, constructed in 1913, flooded a region called Hetch Hetchy Valley, part of Yosemite National Park. (The lake created by the OShaughnessy Dam is called the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.) Environmental coalitions opposed the dam, citing the destruction of the environment and the habitats it provided. However, the power plant provided hydroelectric energy to the booming around San Francisco.

The Hetch Hetchy Reservoir is still a project. Many people believe the OShaughnessy Dam should be destroyed and the valley returned to its native habitat. Others contend that destroying a source of energy for such a major urban area would reduce the for residents of the Bay Area.

There are limits to the amount of hydroelectric energy a dam can provide. The most limiting factor is that builds up on the reservoirs bed. This silt is carried by the flowing river, but prevented from reaching its normal in a or river by the dam. Hundreds of meters of silt build up on the bottom of the reservoir, reducing the amount of water in the facility. Less water means less powerful energy to flow through the systems turbines. Most dams must spend a considerable amount of money to avoid silt build-up, a process called . Some power plants can only provide electricity for 20 or 30 years because of siltation.

Hydroelectric Energy and People

Billions of people depend on hydroelectricity every day. It powers homes, offices, factories, hospitals, and schools. Hydroelectric energy is usually one of the first methods a developing country uses to bring affordable electricity to s.

Hydroelectricity helps improve the , education, and opportunities available to a community. China and India, for instance, have built s of dams over the past decade, as their development has quickly grown.

The United States depended on hydroelectric energy to bring electricity to many rural or poor areas. Most of this construction took place during the 1930s. Dams were a huge part of the , a series of government programs that put people to work and brought electricity to millions of Americans during the . The Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River, the Shasta Dam on the Sacramento River, and the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River are some dams constructed as part of the New Deal.

The most famous hydroelectric power project of the New Deal is probably the . The TVA constructed a series of dams along the Tennessee River and its tributaries. Today, the TVA is the largest power company in the U.S., providing affordable electricity for residents in the states of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.

However, hydroelectricity often comes at a human cost. The huge dams required for hydroelectric energy projects create reservoirs that flood entire valleys. Homes, communities, and towns may be relocated as dam construction begins.

Egypt began construction of the Aswan Dam complex on the Nile River in 1960. Engineers realized that ancient s of Abu Simbel were going to be flooded by the reservoir, called Lake Nasser. These monuments were built directly into s several stories tall. The Abu Simbel temples are a part of Egypts and a major destination. Rather than have the monuments flooded, the government of Egypt d the entire mountainside to an artificial hill nearby. Today, Abu Simbel sits above the Aswan Dam.

Chinas massive Three Gorges Dam project will bring safe, affordable electricity to millions of people. It will allow hospitals, schools, and factories to work longer, more reliable hours. It will also allow people to maintain healthier lifestyles by providing clean water. Construction of the dam directly benefited workers, too. More than a quarter of a million people have found work with the project.

However, the project has forced more than a million people to relocate. Lifestyles were disrupted. Many families were relocated from rural towns on the banks of the Yangtze River to Chongqing, a major urban area with 31 million residents. Other people were relocated out of the province entirely.

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