Hydropower Plant and its Ecological Impact

hydropower-plantWe are indeed blessed with natural resources, and bodies of water like seas, oceans, and rivers have shown us what they are capable of doing. They are great sources of sea foods and they’re great sources of renewable energy, too. Given its huge benefit to our lives, isn’t it wonderful to know that hydropower plants have the capability to produce more electricity and salmon at the same time? Definitely, it’s like hitting two birds with one stone.

What is a Hydropower Plant?

A hydropower plant is a source of electricity that is generated by a flowing water source. It is one of the most useful sources of renewable energy in various countries around the world, covering about 16% of global electricity production. The use of hydropower plant can be traced back to the ancient times, but was later developed in the mid 1700’s by a French engineer. It comes in several types, namely conventional or dams, pumped storage, run of the river, tide, and underground. Currently the Three Gorges Dam in China is the biggest hydroelectric plant in the whole world that’s capable of producing 20300 megawatts of electricity, which is then followed by Itaipu Dam in Brazil and Paraguay, Guri Dam in Venezuela, Tucurui Dam in Brazil, and Grand Coulee Dam in the United States.

Pros and Cons of a Hydropower Plant

Just like all other sources of electricity, hydropower plant has its own pros and cons. Firstly, it is renewable, so it is not used up no matter how many times we use it over and over again. However, it needs enormous space for building, and finding a suitable area may not be very easy. Secondly, water never creates pollution in the environment, but the construction processes used to build dams can create pollution. Thirdly, hydropower plants are very reliable because flowing water is very reliable, too. As long as it does not dry up, electricity can be distributed to the different recipients day by day. Unfortunately, countries with tropical climates tend to dry up bodies of water during dry or summer season, which also bring about erratic power outages in select places. Hydroelectric plants are also easier to adjust compared to other types of power sources. A magazine is used to conserve water when flow is too strong. It is also the tool used to release the conserved water when flow becomes weak, so that supply of electricity is not hampered even during dry times. Energy from water source is dubbed to be the safest of all energy sources since there is no fuel involved.

Unfortunately, creating hydroelectric plants, such as dams, can drastically alter the normal lives of several aquatic organisms, specifically fishes. The massive construction of dams, power lines, and roads can cause danger to their habitats. Draining can also affect their lifecycle and can reduce their presence in rivers and other bodies of water where the power source is obtained. Thankfully, scientists found ways on how to draw salmons in areas with hydropower plants. Read it below. On the one hand, hydropower plants are very expensive to construct, but only needs less manpower and maintenance costs. As mentioned above, drought can practically affect water flow, which also affects flow of electricity in areas where hydropower plant is used to power up.

Hydropower Plant- Energy and Salmon

Recently, Norwegian scientists proved that hydroelectric plants aren’t a bane to fishes’ lives after all when their researches show that it can produce more electricity and even salmon at the same time given the right methodologies. It has been noted that since the very contraception of hydropower plants salmon are the ones that suffer the greatest. Few days ago, scientist Atle Harby, the leader of the CEDREN research centre, released a handbook that helps us understand and learn what we can do to provide the needs of salmons without sacrificing the powers coming of a hydroelectric system. CEDREN research centre aims to improve human lives through environmentally friendly energy. The handbook’s target markets include river managers, power utility businesses, and other environmentalists. It is a product of many years of research and surveys participated by numerous people who share the same view with him that hydropower energy and salmon can very well go together without necessarily putting up large investments for the project to be successful. It contains methods and measures that are tried and tested by several people that share the same interest. Needless to say, there are methods that require little investment while there are also measures that do not require investment at all. The aspects that don’t require investment include flow of water, riverbed structures, temperature of water, and habitat conditions. All of these greatly rely on natural changes of the river annually as well as salmon’s reproductive phase. An example is a method that involves the release and the drainage of water in the river, which should greatly rely on the salmon’s reproductive phase. On the other hand, processes that require investment include human interventions like the shift of water to nearby rivers where it’s enough for both salmon and hydropower plant to share.

One of the many things that make the handbook easy to understand is the well-written samples of results of the methodologies found in the book. Computer simulations were made during the years when trial and error of the process was made. In the simulations, they were able to gather possible changes to salmon stock when eco-friendly developments on regulated rivers are made. Their first sample was the generation of power in Tonstad Power Station in the River Sira. In order to provide ample supply of water in the said river, they transferred water from River Kvina to River Sira. The said process made the power station run and also helped salmon thrive well in River Sira – a positive result that convinced scientists that their methodologies and measures do work.

While the contents of the handbook are undeniably essential in today’s regulated rivers and scarcity of power supply particularly during hot months, Harby could not promise that the project is feasible in all Norwegian regulated rivers. It should first be done in salmon rivers, areas where tons of salmon regularly thrive, and not on rivers where they are quite few. In the case of the latter, choosing hydropower plant over salmon is advisable. Then again, the handbook lets you identify the capability of each individual river. Is it enough for a hydroelectric alone or for salmon production only? Can it hold both, salmon and hydroelectric plant, together at the same time?

Why are these scientists focusing on salmon alone when there are actually tons of aquatic species that live in rivers? Senior scientist Torbjorn Forseth of NINA has a good explanation to that – salmons are indicators of the rivers’ function and state. A river with abundant presence of salmon means it’s functioning well as a habitat of underwater species. Otherwise, it’s not conducive to aquatic resources.

Indeed, both humans and other inhabitants can live on this planet together with ease without necessarily killing the smaller species, which, in this case, are the fishes. As long as we continue to do beneficial things for us in eco-friendly ways, all of us can practically thrive and live well without suffering the negative consequences from Mother Nature.