As global demand for low carbon sources of electricity rises, there’s been renewed interest in hydropower expansion. In some areas of the world where hydroelectricity has already been implemented, hydropower projects are still being considered. But the potential impact of hydropower damming can be far-reaching, as many such dams will displace vital river habitat. Furthermore, hydropower damming can have a negative impact on natural ecosystems as well as the environment. This article details the environmental impacts of hydropower damming.
The primary environmental costs associated with hydropower dam building and operation relate to direct environmental costs and climate change. Water provided by damming rivers erodes the soil. This eroding and drying can result in reduced habitat for natural wildlife, and in some cases, the flooding of habitats for indigenous peoples could increase over time. In addition, hydropower damming tends to displace people who live in the area. Increased climate change means that increased precipitation will also mean higher environmental costs associated with raising the land to house these people.
There are multiple environmental effects of hydropower damming, but perhaps the most troubling is the impact on the hydrological cycle and climate change. Dams can alter the flow of both rivers and the flow of the ocean. If the dam reaches or crosses an international border, there may be additional legal or practical concerns regarding the altered flow of the water, and this can affect the downstream effects of hydropower to the environment. Furthermore, hydropower alters the flow of the river in order to provide hydroelectric power, and the alteration can have an effect on the climate of the environment as a whole.
One of the key environmental impacts of hydropower damming occurs when the reservoir is used for agricultural purposes. Livestock can cause serious damage to the environment when the river is polluted with livestock wastes. Some farmers use livestock runoff to help fertilize their soils and increase their production. When this happens, the sediment used to fertilize the soil contains nutrients that hydropower will draw from the river. The nutrients that the hydropower uses to generate electricity may not be replenished when the reservoir is closed to hydroelectric power, and this means that the nutrient level will begin to decline in the river. These nutrient levels will impact the ecosystems on the downstream of the dam, and the ecological balance in the area will be disturbed when the hydropower plant begins to produce electricity.
The third major biodiversity impact occurs when hydropower reservoirs are constructed near natural habitats for indigenous peoples. When dams are constructed near or on the territories of indigenous peoples, these individuals’ cultural rights may be infringed. For example, if an endangered species is being taken for scientific purposes, the dam could be built without the knowledge or consent of the local people who live in the vicinity.
Hydropower damming has many negative impacts on the environment and can result in the extinction of some species. When this happens, another environmental impact occurs when the hydropower plant begins to produce electricity. This impact assessment should include a comprehensive review of the potential impacts of hydropower use and a thorough assessment of the benefits and the risks of the project.