A Multi-scale Spatial Approach to Address Environmental Effects of Small Hydropower Development
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- McManamay, R.A., Samu, N., Kao, SC. et al. Environmental Management (2015) 55: 217. doi:10.1007/s00267-014-0371-2
Hydropower development continues to grow worldwide in developed and developing countries. While the ecological and physical responses to dam construction have been well documented, translating this information into planning for hydropower development is extremely difficult. Very few studies have conducted environmental assessments to guide site-specific or widespread hydropower development. Herein, we propose a spatial approach for estimating environmental effects of hydropower development at multiple scales, as opposed to individual site-by-site assessments (e.g., environmental impact assessment). Because the complex, process-driven effects of future hydropower development may be uncertain or, at best, limited by available information, we invested considerable effort in describing novel approaches to represent environmental concerns using spatial data and in developing the spatial footprint of hydropower infrastructure. We then use two case studies in the US, one at the scale of the conterminous US and another within two adjoining rivers basins, to examine how environmental concerns can be identified and related to areas of varying energy capacity. We use combinations of reserve-design planning and multi-metric ranking to visualize tradeoffs among environmental concerns and potential energy capacity. Spatial frameworks, like the one presented, are not meant to replace more in-depth environmental assessments, but to identify information gaps and measure the sustainability of multi-development scenarios as to inform policy decisions at the basin or national level. Most importantly, the approach should foster discussions among environmental scientists and stakeholders regarding solutions to optimize energy development and environmental sustainability.