Large-scale impacts of hydroelectric development

Vol. 5( ) 27-54

The substantial size of some hydroelectric projects and the extensive total surface area convered by reservoirs globally require that research determining the impacts of these developments be done at ever-increasing spatial and temporal scales. As a consequence of this research, new views are emerging about the spatial extent and longevity of the environmental and social impacts of such developments. New findings challenge the notion of hydroelectric development as a benign alternative to other forms of power generation. This review examines the intertwined environmental and social effects of methylmercury bioaccumulation I th efood web, emission of greenhouse gases from reservoirs, downstream effects of altered flows, and impacts on biodiversity, each of which operates at its own unique spatial and temporal scales. Methylmercury bioaccumulation occurs at the smallest spatial and temporal scales of the four impacts reviewed, whereas downstream effects usally occur at the largest scales. Greenhouse gas emissions, the newest surprise connected with large-scale hydroelectric development, are relatively short term but eventually may have important global-scale consequences. Limitation of biodiversity by hudroelectric development usually occurs at intermediate spatial and temporal scales. Knowledge developed from working at expanded spatial and temporal scales should be an important part of furure decision making for large-scale hydroelectric development.


Rosenberg , D.M. , Berkes , F., Bodaly , R.A.