Although large dams are generally considered more harmful than their smaller counterparts, the research team’s surveys of habitat loss and damage at several dam sites on the Nu River and its tributaries in Yunnan Province revealed that, watt-for-watt, the environmental harm from small dams was often greater—sometimes by several orders of magnitude—than from large dams.
One particularly detrimental impact of the small dams observed in this study is that they often divert the flow of the river to hydropower stations, leaving several kilometers of river bed dewatered, Kibler explained.
Policies supporting growth in the small hydropower sector are often crafted at the national or international level, Kibler noted. For example, many of the small dams investigated in the new study were supported by the Kyoto Protocol, a 1997 agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“The lack of comprehensive analysis regarding cumulative impact of small hydropower,” Kibler said, “is a significant research gap with important policy implications.”
The National Science Foundation funded this work.Notes for Journalists
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Cumulative biophysical impact of small and large hydropower development, Nu River, ChinaAuthors:
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