Reconciling the Interests of Hydropower and Environmental Protection in the Danube River Basin - page 04

The Guiding Principles

The process to-date has reached consensus on a number of key issues and is intended to be adopted by the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River in June 2013. The principles include general statements of the basis under which hydropower can be developed. For example, it has been agreed that, "Hydropower development needs to respect the principles of sustainability, taking into account environmental, social and economic factors in an equally balanced way."

The process has also identified the necessity of a process of planning that ensures that new hydropower production is only undertaken when other energy saving measures have been utilized. In particular, in order to ensure sustainable hydropower development and to weigh the different public interests in a balanced way, national/regional1 hydropower strategies should be elaborated based on these basin-wide Guiding Principles. These strategies should consider the multifunctional use of hydropower infrastructure (e.g. flood control, water supply, etc.) and impacts (including cumulative ones) on the environment.

It is clear that it is of critical importance that development of hydropower has to be done in an open and transparent way with the involvement of multiple stakeholders and ensuring that hydropower development is part of a holistic energy planning process.

It is, however, not only the building of new (power) plants that needs to be considered, but the upgrading of old plants. The combination of technical upgrading with ecological restoration of existing hydropower installations implies a win-win situation. There can be improvements for energy production on the one side as well as for the improvement of the environmental conditions on the other side. The technical improvement of existing facilities is seen as the most effective way to meet energy demands without necessitating additional impacts on water resources and a number of schemes have shown that financial incentives to improve the energy efficiency of facilities combined with improved ecological conditions are possible and cost effective.

The most important agreements made to-date underline the necessity to ensure that a strategic planning approach is applied. A strategic planning approach (linked to the Renewable Energy Action Plan) is recommended for the development of new hydropower-plants; this approach should be based on a two-level assessment (using recommended criteria). This national or regional assessment is then proposed to be followed by a project specific assessment.

As part of the first assessment stage those areas that are already excluded by law from development of hydropower should be identified. Significant debate has taken place whether there are other factors which should constitute further exclusion zones. This debate is continuing but all have agreed that the first step should be to remove those areas from consideration where legal reasons prohibit construction.

The next stages of the assessment are then undertaken to identify those areas that are not favourable and those areas where development is favourable from both an energy and environmental perspective.

A matrix system has been used to evaluate potential areas of development based upon both energy and environmental criteria. This matrix has been modified from a similar matrix developed in connection with hydropower development in the Alpine region.

The national/regional assessment is an instrument for administrations to direct new hydropower stations to those areas where minimum impacts on the environment are expected. This can be achieved by an integration of hydropower production and ecosystem demands as well as by supporting decision making through clear and transparent criteria, including aspects of energy management as well as environment and landscape aspects.

The carrying out of such an assessment should be done strategically but does not replace a more legalistic and necessary environmental impact assessment for a particular facility. While the assessment on national/regional level is of a more general nature, classifying the appropriateness of river stretches for potential hydropower use, the project specific assessment provides a more detailed and in-depth assessment of the benefits and impacts of a concrete project in order to assess whether a project is appropriately tailored to a specific location. The assessment at the project level is carried out in response to an application for issuing the licence for a new hydropower plant and therefore especially depends on the specific project design.

Such a planning approach has benefit for the developers of hydropower in that they know beforehand where appropriate locations are for development and are likely to avoid unnecessary delays and legal hurdles that may arise for more unfavourable locations. The national/regional assessment is beneficial and provides gains for both the environment and water sector but also for the hydropower sector by increasing predictability of the decision making process and making transparent where licences for new projects are likely to be issued.

Finally in connection with development of hydropower the process has focused on identifying those issues which require attention if a hydropower plant is to be constructed. These include: ensuring fish migration and ecological flows, maintaining sediment management, ensuring groundwater quality and quantity, and minimizing the negative effects of fluctuations in flow (hydro-peaking).

Considerable agreement has been achieved among the proponents of hydropower and water managers over the measures needed for mitigation or how best hydropower development can be undertaken. The collection of good examples has been a major part of the efforts today and the documentation of these should help water managers and hydropower developers and planners in the region.


1 The regional level in the context of this document is defined as a level of management below the national level.