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The great thing about hydropower is that it’s a renewable nonpolluting source of power. Once it’s up and running, operation costs are relatively low, and the energy supply is very reliable.

In the United States, most of the best locations for hydropower have already been taken (such as Hoover Dam near Las Vegas and the Glen Canyon Dam). Other countries are starting large hydro projects to further development and provide reliable power for more communities. In Ethiopia, for example, a series of large dams on the Omo River provide electricity for the country and enough to export to neighboring countries. They also provide irrigation water for large-scale agriculture.

Hydropower projects of this scale often come with downsides as well.

Large hydropower projects can have a massive effect on the landscape. Reservoirs can change local ecosystems and fish habitat, and sometimes displace large populations of people. In the case of the Gibe III dam, the rapid changes could have substantial effects on the people living downstream who depend on the river’s regular pulse floods for farming and fishing.

Gibe III is the third hydropower plant on the Omo River, what they’re calling a hydroelectric cascade.

The Omo River has a unique geo-political dynamic. The river is entirely contained within Ethiopia’s borders. However, the river empties into Lake Turkana, which lies almost entirely within neighboring Kenya to the south.

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Jan. 25, 2014, Landsat 8 (path/row 169/55) — Gibe III dam, Ethiopia
Jan. 28, 2015, Landsat 8 (path/row 169/55) — Gibe III dam, Ethiopia
Jan. 1, 2017, Landsat 8 (path/row 169/55) — Gibe III dam, Ethiopia
Dec. 3, 2017, Landsat 8 (path/row 169/55) — Gibe III dam, Ethiopia
Jan. 23, 2019, Landsat 8 (path/row 169/55) — Gibe III dam, Ethiopia
Jan. 28, 2021, Landsat 8 (path/row 169/55) — Gibe III dam, Ethiopia
Jan. 18, 2023, Landsat 8 (path/row 169/55) — Gibe III dam, Ethiopia

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References

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Environmental Justice Atlas, 2017, Gilgel Gibe III Dam, Ethiopia: EJ Atlas, accessed May 24, 2019, at https://ejatlas.org/conflict/gibe-iii-dam-ethiopia.

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Parker, L., 2017, See a Massive Dam’s Big Impacts on Tribal Communities: National Geographic, accessed May 24, 2019, at https://www.nationalgeographic.com/photography/proof/2017/08/omo-dam-ethiopia-kenya-photographs/.

Poindexter, G.B., 2015, Power generation begins at 1,870-MW Gibe III hydroelectric project in Ethiopia: Hydro Review, accessed May 24, 2019, at https://www.hydroworld.com/articles/2015/10/power-generation-begins-at-1-870-mw-gibe-iii-hydroelectric-project-in-ethiopia.html.

Power Technology, 2019, Gilgel Gibe III Hydroelectric Power Project: Power Technology, accessed May 24, 2019, at https://www.power-technology.com/projects/gilgel-gibe-iii-hydroelectric-power-project/.

Stevenson, E.G.J., 2018, Plantation Development in the Turkana Basin: The Making of a New Desert? Land, v. 7, no. 1, p. , https://doi.org/10.3390/land7010016.

USGS, [n.d.], Hydroelectric Power Water Use: USGS Water Science School, accessed May 24, 2019, at https://water.usgs.gov/edu/wuhy.html.

Velpuri, N.M., and Senay, G.B., 2012, Assessing the potential hydrological impact of the Gibe III Dam on Lake Turkana water level using multi-source satellite data: Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, v. 16, p. 3561–3578, https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-16-3561-2012.

World Bank Group, 2019, Access to electricity, rural (% of rural population): The World Bank, accessed June 6, 2019, at https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EG.ELC.ACCS.RU.ZS?view=map.

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