Hydropower is considered an attractive means of producing electricity because it is a renewable and clean energy resource. Like any energy resource, however, there are environmental affects associated with its use.
As described fully in the article How A Hydroelectric Project Can Affect A River, impacts can vary greatly from one hydroelectric facility to the next.
At any given project, government agencies, utilities, non-profit groups or others monitor these variables and resultant environmental affects. In some cases, the environmental affects are considered positive. For instance, reservoirs can provide important resting and feeding areas for birds and quality habitat for bass and other fish species.
On the other hand, habitat conditions for some fish, wildlife and plants can be adversely affected. Determining the best means to avoid, minimize or mitigate such affects can be a difficult task. Not only is more than one approach often possible, but each approach can affect environmental and human interests differently. Implementing measures to help one species of fish, for example, may harm another species of fish and change recreational opportunities.
In addition, there may be more than one reason for declining habitat conditions. For instance, water quality (e.g.– temperature or oxygen and nitrogen levels) in a reservoir can be affected by a hydroelectric project’s operation. Other conditions, however, may also affect the water quality, including runoff from agricultural uses, logging or land development.
To the extent a hydroelectric project does affect habitat conditions, a number of protection, mitigation and enhancement strategies can be employed to minimize these affects. This article reviews the strategies most common to hydroelectric projects in the Northwest.