Hydropower: Great for Humans, Not So Great for Fish…Yet

Written by on April 17, 2014 in Fish, Technology
Magat Power Plant in The Philippines

Magat Power Plant in The Philippines. Photo credit: Statkraft via photopin cc.

Aside from the fact that dams alter the natural flow of the water, they can also be very difficult for fish to travel through — the turbulent water can hurt and disorient the fish and the blades of the turbine can strike them. One of the biggest problems, though, is a phenomenon known as barotrauma. This is when the change in pressure is too extreme and too fast, leading to serious injury or even death and it happens to many fish when they travel through the turbulent waters near a dam.

A new article published in the journal Fisheries explores some of the ways to protect fish from barotrauma. The findings will help improve turbine designs in dams around the world, reducing the number of fish injuries.

Hydropower — using the power of water flowing downhill to power turbines — is a convenient, clean and renewable source of energy that is “often available in areas far from other sources of power, and critical to the future of many people around the globe,” Richard Brown, a senior research scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and lead author of the paper, explained in a news release. “We want to help minimize the risk to fish while making it possible to bring power to schools, hospitals, and areas that desperately need it.”

Researcher John Stephenson observes young salmon in a chamber used to simulate the conditions that fish sometimes experience as they travel through a dam.

Researcher John Stephenson observes young salmon in a chamber used to simulate the conditions that fish sometimes experience as they travel through a dam. Photo credit: PNNL.

PNNL researchers are working with officials and scientists from Laos, Brazil and Australia (where hydropower is on the rise) to help lessen the impact of hydropower on the environment.

To improve fish safety, researchers must include several factors, including the species of fish, the path of the fish takes, the amount of water going through the turbine, and more. PNNL researchers suggest that the turbines should be modified to “minimize dramatic shifts in pressure.”

To learn more, read the full news release: Making dams safer for fish around the world.

Copyright © 2014 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of MarineScienceToday.com. She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .

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