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December 2012 Policy Study, Number 12-12


Water, Water Everywhere, but Not a Drop for Power





“Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.”
-- “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)[1]


In “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” the sailor stops a stranger to tell his tale of adventure, woe, sin, and redemption. At a key point in the poem the sailors were unable to benefit from sitting in the middle of a great ocean, because the salt water was undrinkable. In the same way, Iowa sits between the great Mississippi and Missouri rivers but is unable to benefit substantially from the potential energy they offer.


The public policy battles over wind and solar power, coal mining and plants, nuclear fuel, oil, natural gas and fracking, and the Keystone pipeline continue with great visibility and interest. However, hydropower – one of the oldest clean, renewable energy sources – is an energy source not much discussed. According to a recent report by the U.S. Department of Energy, it should be. Especially in Iowa, where we have two major rivers for borders.


The prosperity of Iowans is closely linked to water, especially the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. Water, both too much and too little, has caused significant property and land damage in the last four years. Eastern Iowa is still recovering from the flood of 2008, while western Iowa deals with the flood of 2011. Farmers are still reconciling the crop loses of this past season’s drought. Capturing the energy generation potential of this major natural resource by using the dams already in place for flood and river control can make Iowans more prosperous, as well as be a wise use of a renewable energy source.


By definition, hydroelectric power is the production of power using the gravitational force of falling or flowing water. Hydroelectric power is the most widely used form of renewable energy in the world.[2] In 2010, hydroelectric power provided over 3,400 terawatt-hours of power worldwide, approximately 16 percent of the total electricity generated.[3] In contrast, in the United States only about 7 percent of our electricity is generated by hydropower.[4]




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