Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Voluntary agreement enables rating of hydroelectric impacts

Jeff Tollefson in Nature News: Hydropower is booming in the developing world, but one megaproject faltered last week. On 13 June, after years of community protests, Peru announced that it was revoking an agreement with a Brazilian consortium to build the 2,000-megawatt Inambari Dam, which would have flooded 400 square kilometres of Amazonian forest.

Now, to foster a less confrontational way of advancing projects, the hydropower industry, environmental and human-rights organizations, and representatives from banks and governments have negotiated a mechanism for evaluating, and perhaps mitigating, the impact of dams before they are built.

Released on 16 June in Iguaçu Falls, Brazil, the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol provides a method for assessing dams in all phases, from development to operation. Projects would be ranked on a scale of one to five according to their likely effects on biodiversity, ecology, hydrology and erosion as well as on broader issues regarding regional planning, cultural heritage and effect on local inhabitants.

The protocol is voluntary, and a poor rating may not prevent a project from going ahead. Yet quantifying anticipated effects could generate pressure for managers to rethink plans to improve the outcome. "If we have some good results in a few test cases around the world, I think it will take off," says Pedro Bara, who works for WWF, one of the environmental groups that helped to develop the protocol. "It's very useful to have an international standard, especially for countries that don't have much experience in hydropower development."…

Devil's Throat at the Iguazu Falls, the gateway, the Brazilian side. Shot by Romain CHANTEREAU, according to terms of the Free Art License

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