My Paper presented in India Water Week


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My paper titled "Environmental Flow – A key issue in Sustainable Hydroelectric Projects"presented on 11.04.2013 in India Water Week 2013 held at Vigyan Bhavan, New Delhi


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Environmental Flow – A key issue in Sustainable Hydroelectric Projects PK Saxena SKG Pandit Director Chief Engineer Central Water Commission Session S16- Hydropower Generation – Impact on Environment


THE PARADOX India is fifth largest power producer in the world Per capita consumption is only one third of world average and about one fourth of China About half of the population do not have access to electricity or any form of commercial energy The total demand for electricity in India is expected to cross 950 GW by 2030. Growing dependence on fossil fuels A 500 megawatt coal plant puts out, each year 10,000 tons of sulfur dioxide which is the main cause of acid rain, 10,200 tons of nitrogen oxide, 720 tons of carbon monoxide and 3.7 million tons of carbon dioxide, 500 tons of SPM apart from many other toxic heavy metals like lead, arsenic and cadmium. The 8 billion litre of water it uses for cooling raises the lake temperature


HYDROPOWER FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT F inding sustainable alternate energy sources has become a priority India is endowed with hydropower potential of about 149 GW of which only 40 GW has been developed Hydropower remains the richest renewable and environment friendly source of energy During last two plans the actual capacity addition could only be 53-54% of targets The consistent below par performance need a thorough relook on the issues that hamper the development. Apart from usual concerns like involuntary resettlement, local culture and religious beliefs associated with every hydropower project, the most challenging aspect of hydropower development is the environment concern


HYDROPOWER AND ENVIRONMENTAL FLOW Till nineties, the environment and social concerns related to water resources projects were mostly focused on upstream of dam SC judgment in 1999 on minimum flow in the Yamuna River through New Delhi shifted focus to downstream reach as well It was then believed that the environment flow in absolute terms is enough to conserve the river ecosystem Consequently the RoR projects where water is returned to the river after generation were not perceived to have any appreciable effect on environment This has resulted in preference given to RoR projects over the storage ones, particularly by the new entrants in the field The lack of awareness has led to a negative perception about hydropower projects


ENVIRONMENTAL FLOW The environmental flow is now considered as the flow that is necessary to ensure the existence of habitats in a river in different flow regimes While the domestic and agriculture requirements are easily quantified, it is difficult to decide as to what comprises the legitimate ecological needs The methods to calculate the environment flow are broadly classified into four distinct categories, namely hydrological index methods, hydraulic rating methods, habitat simulation methods, and holistic methodologies None can be singled as a panacea for determining environmental flow The working group of WQAA advocated simple hydrological methods Hydrological methods, however, have an element of subjectivity and often termed as biased Opposition to hydropower projects is also not backed with any systematic studies and as a result, this conflict continues to be a major stumbling block


METHODOLOGIES Ensuring a fair and equitable allocation to ensure sustainability of both project and the environment requires a thorough analysis and studies Extensive work has been carried out in this area in many countries viz ; South Africa, Australia, United States and United Kingdom and more than 200 methodologies have been developed. In an exercise, EFR was calculated based on practices in various countries The arrived flow requirement varied from 5 cumec to 80 cumec . This variation underlines the need of evolving a mechanism to arrive as acceptable figures for environment flow. In India, no accepted guidelines as yet. Bottlenecks to this endeavor, include high variability of the flows, interstate aspects , non-availability of enough data and socio-political compulsions


STRATEGIES FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT Acceptance of Environment Flow as Optimal Flow Need for consensus to accept that no development can leave a river in pristine condition. EF need to keep a balance between the ecology and development Such optimal flow can be assessed during the planning of the projects and used as an input in the decision-making process Formation of Multi-disciplinary Team of Experts Due to lack of sufficient data to undertake the desktop studies, the decisions are taken based on expert opinion in a particular field and may be subjective A better approach is to fix an optimal flow based on desktop methods and then constitute a multi-disciplinary team of experts from different domains like hydrology, ecology, water quality, sociology and morphology, who can form a consensus to arrive at an optimal flow to balance development and ecology However, the process needs to be transparent and the team of experts should be aware that the trade-offs will be inevitable


STRATEGIES FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT Basin-wide Assessment The focus on individual projects rather than the holistic development has serious limitations particularly in the cascade development. Study the optimized basin wide cumulative impacts and benefits, various alternatives and identify mitigation and compensatory activities Building a Public Opinion Adequate preparedness to deal with the issues and controversies. A transparent and open process to ensure a balanced and reasonable perspective on all interests Good media information about the project, its benefits and socio-economic impacts as well as ecological impacts needs to be spelt out This may require a well-oiled media campaign. Sharing of information with media can built a public opinion for the project


STRATEGIES FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT People’s Participation All stakeholders, particularly local populace and religious groups need to be involved to imbibe a sense of ownership in them The people should be encouraged to voice their opinion and raise queries and we must be prepared to address them The measures beneficial to public should precede the work on development of the project Benefits of the upcoming project should be made visible This will provide greater acceptance amongst to the affected people The focus should be more on trust and understanding rather than legislation and an opaque process The involvement of stakeholders can be looked into post construction activities like implementation of mitigation measures, compensatory afforestation and monitoring the implementation of environmental management plan


CONCLUSIONS The hydropower presents a reliable source of power while enhancing economic activity by creating employment opportunities, promoting the latent demand and reducing pressure on conventional sources of energy. It needs to be ensured that the positive impacts substantially overshadow the negative consequences . A sustainable development plan to maximize the benefits can be prepared while sharing benefits with stakeholders The environment flow must be assessed in holistic manner with multidimensional approach and ensuring people’s participation. Issues of resettlement, sustainable livelihoods, cultural impacts and flood control must be addressed for the project to have greater acceptability.

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Using any source of energy has some environmental cost. It is the degree of impact on the environment that is crucial. As we learn to live in harmony as part of the environment, we must seek the best alternatives among all ecologic, economic, technological, and social perspectives. The longer we delay the balanced development of our potential for hydropower, the more we unnecessarily use up other vital resources

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