Policy ForumDevelopment and Environment

Balancing hydropower and biodiversity in the Amazon, Congo, and Mekong

Science  08 Jan 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6269, pp. 128-129
DOI: 10.1126/science.aac7082

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Summary

The world's most biodiverse river basins—the Amazon, Congo, and Mekong—are experiencing an unprecedented boom in construction of hydropower dams. These projects address important energy needs, but advocates often overestimate economic benefits and underestimate far-reaching effects on biodiversity and critically important fisheries. Powerful new analytical tools and high-resolution environmental data can clarify trade-offs between engineering and environmental goals and can enable governments and funding institutions to compare alternative sites for dam building. Current site-specific assessment protocols largely ignore cumulative impacts on hydrology and ecosystem services as ever more dams are constructed within a watershed (1). To achieve true sustainability, assessments of new projects must go beyond local impacts by accounting for synergies with existing dams, as well as land cover changes and likely climatic shifts (2, 3). We call for more sophisticated and holistic hydropower planning, including validation of technologies intended to mitigate environmental impacts. Should anything less be required when tampering with the world's great river ecosystems?