Wednesday, March 5, 2014

To dam or not to dam?

We've spent the week discussing dams, which, as it turns out, are pretty controversial structures. 

We began with the reading of a hypothetical scenario in a hypothetical town: The tiny town of Rocksburg (population: 900) sits on the (also fictional) Jones River. The citizens are considering approving the construction of a dam on the river two miles upstream from the town. We spent a lot of time mulling over the ramifications of such a structure. 

There are many pros to this idea. For example, it would provide the area with a clean power supply. It would generate a number of jobs in the area, while stimulating the local economy by increasing tax revenues and increasing tourism. The lake created by the dam would help control flooding, provide inexpensive irrigation for farmers, and it would provide needed nesting areas for Bald Eagle populations. 

On the other hand, the local infrastructure would be stressed: Where will the construction crew live? What about their families? How would the roads handle 2000 workers in a town currently populated by 900 people? What about the sewage system? The school system? Looking at the longer term, the dam would create a large lake, where once there was a river. Land that supports a wide variety of species would be lost beneath the newly-formed lake, and the transition from the cool, fast-flowing water of the river to the slower, warmer water of the lake would have a profound effect on the species of fish living there. 

Those are only a few of the pros and cons. There are many others. Read the full scenario here for more details. 

After a group discussion, each student was assigned a role to play. For example, one student might be portraying a land developer who is interested in the building and selling lakeside homes, while another might be acting as a Native American concerned about heritage sites being submerged beneath the new lake. Each student is using the situation to write a short persuasive essay about why the town should or should not vote to construct the dam, based on their character's interests. 

These issues aren't black and white, and today, we ventured out to see how they've played out in our own community. There are a number of dams along the Huron River, and we visited one of them today: 

Barton Dam, frozen solid
Some brave souls ventured the cold and the wind to take a look from the walkway above the floodgates. 
The view from the walkway on the floodgates. Sam and some of our class are visible waving to us on the right. 
Looking straight down from the walkway. There were some amazing ice structures to check out. 
Not everyone was complaining about the cold. 

Heading back to the warmth of the buses. 

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