The Power of Flows: Negotiating Sustainable Hydropower through Environmental Flows

Global Environmental Flows Network; ITAIPU Binacional; Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management; Universidad Estadual do Oeste do Parana; University of Karlstad; University of Umeå;

This event was webcasted live - please visit SIWI Media Hub to watch live as well as on demand.


The promise of sustainable hydropower has proven elusive and controversial. How can we ground sustainability in resilient ecosystems and the natural flow regime while providing sufficient energy for dynamic, growing economies? Is it possible to include ecosystems as performance markers, or should we use "protective" regulatory approaches? Do we need different methodologies in developed relative to developing economies? What does sustainability mean in regions with limited eco-hydrological records? Emerging trends in environmental flows enable a broader view of nexus issues and long-term sustainability.


New tools for infrastructure design and management and scientific assessment suggest that effective decision-making frameworks can achieve poverty alleviation and energy security with ecological integrity in both developing and developed eocnomies.


In this seminar, we will actively define sustainability for hydropower by engaging speakers and attendees, confronting tools, cases, policy, and science to energize the practice of managing flows for power and ecosystems.

14:00  Welcome - James Dalton, IUCN
14:05  Introduction: Defining Sustainability across Scales
          John Matthews, Alliance for Global Water Adaptation (AGWA)

Local Scales: Populations, Infrastructure, Water Managers


14:15  Fishing for the Environment in Brazil: Hydropower and Fish Migration
           Mr. Domingo Fernandez, ITAIPU
           Prof. Sergio Makrakis, Paraná University, Brazil
           Ms. Maristela Makrakis, West Paraná University, Brazil
14:30  Experiences from Swedish Ecoflows
           Dr. Birgitta Malm-Renöfält, UMU, Sweden
           Prof. Larry Greenberg, KAU, Sweden
           Dr. Olle Calles, KAU, Sweden

Basin Scales: Networks and Communities

15:00  Untangling Upstream-Downstream Impacts at High Definition
           Mr. Robert Dykes, RTI
15:15  Allocation, Connectivity, and Electricity
           Dr. Bart Wickel, SEI


15:30  Cofee Break and roundtable discussion on flows and hydropower
           Mr. Domingo Fernandez, ITAIPU
           Dr. Olle Calles, KAU, Sweden

16:00  Introduction to Theme

National Scales: Managing Across Sectors, Policies, and Ministries

16:15  Moving from Basin to National Water Environmental Allocation:
the Mexico National Water Reserves Programs
           Dr. Eugenio Barrios, WWF
           Mr. Mario Lopez, CONAGUA, Mexico
16:30  Bold Action to Conserve Rivers of the Caucusus: Georgia’s Environmental Flows Strategy:
           Prof. Michael McClain
16:45  Panel Discussion
           Moderator: Dr. Jamie Pittock, Australian National University

  • Dr. Chris Dickens (South African Institute of Natural Resources)
  • Dr. LeRoy Poff (Colorado State University)
  • Ms. Susanne Schmeier (GiZ)
  • Dr. Rebecca Tharme (TNC)
  • Dr. Michael van der Valk (Infovision), 

17:25    Conclusions and Next Steps

17:30    End of Seminar

The seminar brought together a broad range of stakeholders to explore an unresolved and problematic aspect of sustainable hydropower - the management of environmental flow releases from dams to enable maximal electricity generation with minimal degradation of downstream ecosystems. Environmental scientists and hydropower operators remain at odds over what regime of flow release meets a definition of sustainability that both sides can accept.

Speakers explored the current frontiers of this debate, first by presenting some recent advances in science and technology, particularly around the implementation and infrastructure design aspects of eflows and ecosystem integration, and then by considering national case studies for Sweden, Mexico, and the Republic of Georgia where efforts are underway to find acceptable approaches to setting environmental flow requirements.

New science and technologies focused on advances in fish passage design by presenting the Canal da Piracema, which is the largest artificial fish passage in the world and has successfully reconnected river reaches above and below the Itaipu hydropower project in Brazil. Modeling tools were presented that enabled new high-definition simulation of cause and effect relationships related to flow modifications and explicit consideration of environmental flows in the widely used Water Evaluation And Planning System (WEAP). These new tools were discussed for their value in providing an objective, consistent and scientifically defensible basis for negotiating sustainable hydropower  operations.

Case studies presented contrasting examples of how countries are approaching the approaching this topic. Of the three countries considered, Mexico demonstrated an ambitious and advanced program effort with its National Water Reserves Program to establish environmental flow requirements in 42 river basins across the country. Situated in the Caucasus Mountain with enormous untapped hydropower potential, Georgia is trying to develop acceptable environmental flow methodologies and regulations in the early stages developing their rivers, while in Sweden a large portion of the country’s hydropower potential has been developed with little consideration for environmental flows.  Discussions highlighted the value of building environmental flow considerations into the development process as early as possible.

The session ended with an expert panel that reflected on the topics presented, summarized the state of the issue, and laid out some key points for the future. Much discussion centered on the role of climate change as an emerging challenge for both hydropower development and environmental flows, an issue that will potentially create new divisions without careful consideration. The scope of information presented was highlighted, including span of examples in different stages of hydropower engineering cycle. Panelists noted the wealth of information that has come to light in recent years and proposed that a consolidation of this information is needed to draw out new lessons.

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