Sustainable hydropower: Are small dams really better for the environment?

The Nature Conservancy

When it comes to dams, is small beautiful? Or are these dams tiny but terrible?

Economist E.F. Schumacher popularized the phrase “small is beautiful” to evoke appropriate technology that minimized social and environmental impacts.

When it comes to hydropower, Schumacher’s aphorism is often interpreted literally and taken as an article of faith.

It’s easy to see why: small hydropower generally evokes a quaint New England mill dam, in stark contrast to the behemoths—hydro dams such as Hoover, Kariba and Three Gorges—that change the face of the earth as viewed from space.

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