To help hydropower project developers and operators conserve river system biodiversity while generating renewable energy, the International Hydropower Association (IHA) has published a new How-to Guide on Hydropower Biodiversity and Invasive Species.
The publication of the guide coincided with Earth Day 2021, an annual celebration marked by the United Nations to raise public awareness of the well-being of the planet and the life it supports.
“The construction of a hydropower project will inevitably bring change to the local ecosystem in which it is built,” said Alain Kilajian, Senior Sustainability Specialist at IHA. “Those who use this guide will be able to ensure that biodiversity impacts arising from developments are managed responsibly and that there remains healthy, functional and viable aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems in areas affected by development. This will help to ensure that global carbon emissions are reduced while conserving crucial biodiversity.”
The guide details methodologies and technologies that developers and operators can use for basin-level planning, identifying project boundaries and areas of influence, understanding the distribution and value of biodiversity, mitigation and compensation measures, as well as monitoring and reporting, throughout hydropower development and operation.
Jamie Skinner, Principal Researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and co-author of the guide said: “Direct biodiversity impacts from dams and their reservoirs are often hard to mitigate or compensate. Good site selection, avoiding impacts wherever possible, is the best approach to long term sustainability.”
Drawing from internationally accepted definitions of good practice presented in the Hydropower Sustainability Tools, the guide emphasises that early identification of potential biodiversity impacts, including threats from invasive species, can drastically improve their management.
Peter-John Meynell, an independent consultant and co-author of the guide added: “Invasive alien species can cause problems with the operation of hydropower plants and their management can incur significant costs; they are also recognised as one of the main threats to indigenous species. This guide will help the environmental managers of hydropower plants to assess the risks and plan for invasive species management.”
Examples of hydropower projects that have addressed biodiversity concerns and introduced effective management measures include the winner of the IHA Blue Planet Prize, the Reventazón Hydroelectric project in Costa Rica, which implemented an offset programme focused on protecting a free-flowing river.