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Environmental impacts of small hydro projects

Many small hydro-electric development projects are being constructed or proposed across Ontario. They are being promoted by the Ontario government and by developers as supplying ‘green energy’, but hydro power is only ‘green’ if it harnesses rushing waters without impeding the natural flow or altering the immediate environment. This is not the definition of ‘green’ hydro in Ontario. Currently, Ontario’s ‘green’ hydro program is just another ‘greenwashing’ campaign.

Environmental impacts of ‘small’ hydro projects:

  1. Hydro dams block migration of fish and other species. For example, species at risk such Lake Sturgeon and American Eel have all been devastated by dam construction on their migration routes.
  2. Hydro generating station turbines kill and injure fish.
  3. Head ponds result in flooding of fragile shoreline habitat and adjacent wetlands.
  4. Loss of natural fluctuations in water levels result in alterations to vegetation that relies upon periodic and temporary flooding.
  5. Alteration to a river’s natural flow cycle to meet the need of power generation results in alteration to natural sedimentation and scouring of river banks and riverbeds, as well as adversely impacting species that require fast water flow.
  6. Damage to fish spawning beds is caused by construction of hydro projects, altered water levels and altered flow patterns.
  7. Hydro transmission corridors result in fragmentation of the terrestrial ecosystems and wildlife habitat, as well as access for invasive species.
  8. Hydro roads that service the generating stations, dams and transmission corridors result in further habitat fragmentation. They create access for unauthorized motorized vehicles such as ATVs and snowmobiles.

Typically, several small projects are constructed along a single river. The cumulative effects, which are often not properly addressed in Environmental Assessment processes, can be devastating for the overall ecosystem of the river and its surroundings. Each generating station requires an access road and power transmission line resulting in a large human footrpint and a highly fragmented landscape. Each dam represents a further obstacle for fish migration.

In an effort to support hydro development and paint itself ‘green’, the Ontario government has:

  • Begun to provide huge subsidies for small hydro power in order to make them more economical;
  • Removed the requirement that hydro projects be posted on the Environmental Bill of Rights registry, making it difficult for the Ontario public to learn about the existence of such projects, and;
  • Begun to promote hydro as ‘green energy’ despite the lack of public scrutiny;

Read More:
Namakan hydro projects
Shickluna hydro project saved

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