Hydroelectric projects affect recreation resources in several ways. They may alter the type of biophysical environment available in a watershed (e.g., changing a river reach into a reservoir or altering the volume of water in a bypass reach), which can enhance or diminish recreation resources such as sport fisheries or beaches. Projects may also affect access (e.g., providing new roads or boat navigation options) and change the amount and type of recreation facilities, further affecting the type, quality, and quantity of recreation use. Changes in recreation use, in turn, can affect social conditions (e.g., densities and crowding, user conflicts, or safety), biophysical conditions (e.g., site impacts such as litter, human waste, or erosion), and the management actions needed to address those impacts (e.g., education, regulation, use limits, or facility development).
FERC regulations require licensees to assess project effects on recreation and develop protection, mitigation, and enhancement (PM&E) measures that address identified impacts (18 CFR § 2.7 2004). Accomplishing this requires a recreation planning framework to collect, organize, and analyze recreation information.
Assessing recreation effects from hydroelectric projects requires a definition of “recreation” and criteria to determine when high quality recreation is being provided. There is considerable agreement in the field about defining resource-based recreation (Manning 2000). Recreation “outputs” are often characterized by descriptions of facilities or numbers of users. However, a more comprehensive definition recognizes that the outputs are recreation experiences—psychological outcomes that people obtain by participating in certain activities in certain settings (Driver et al. 1987). The goal of recreation management is to provide opportunities for people to have these experiences. Research is often needed to understand how resource decisions affect those opportunities (Manning 2000).
Understanding how hydropower projects affect recreation quality requires distinction between descriptive and evaluative information (Shelby and Heberlein 1986, Shelby et al. 1996). Descriptive information shows how the system works; when flows, access, or facilities change, and how the recreation opportunity changes. For example, changes in flows may affect river boatability—lower flows may cause boats to hit rocks or become grounded more often. Other attributes commonly explored in flow-recreation studies include whitewater challenge, rate of travel, aesthetics, availability of certain channel features such as beaches, and wadeability or fishability of the stream. Other attributes commonly explored in “general recreation studies” include site impacts (e.g., bare ground, litter, human waste), encounters between users and crowding, conflicts between types of use, and levels of facilities.
Evaluative information, in contrast, defines quality conditions related to opportunities. In the example above, the descriptive component may show how different flows result in different numbers of groundings by a boat, while the evaluative component examines how many groundings is too many for a quality experience. Clear evaluative information has a critical role in informed resource management decisions (Shelby et al. 1996).
Recreation studies in relicensing address a full range of issues and potential effects. In general, studies can be divided into two categories:
- inventory studies, and
- impact/evaluation studies.
Within those categories, there are several distinct types, as discussed below. Upon completion of specific studies, there may need to be additional analyses to integrate and link information in order to develop alternative management actions that will serve multiple recreation management needs. The following briefly describes objectives and general approaches for each type.