Adaptive Management in Hydropower Regulation

Environmental Law Institute

Hydropower dams play a critical role in the health of river ecosystems throughout the United States, and hundreds of these dams will be relicensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in the coming years. Such licenses lock in the operating and environmental protection requirements of such dams for periods of up to 50 years. Given the complex, dynamic nature of river ecosystems, as well as the impacts of climate change, there is pervasive scientific uncertainty about how to best manage dams for power production while protecting and enhancing environmental values such as water quality and fisheries. Unless dams are managed adaptively, with licenses that provide pathways for gathering and applying new knowledge and responding to changing conditions, we run the risk of locking in mistaken approaches and stymieing environmental improvements on our rivers for the next half century. 


Daniel Pollak