For years, Conservancy scientists and policy specialists have been developing tools and methods to improve how dams are operated throughout the world, and we've collaborated with water managers in the United States, Asia and Latin America to minimize impacts and maintain more natural river flows below hydropower dams.

Although Hydropower by Design emphasizes basin-scale approaches to dam planning and management, strategies to improve the environmental performance of individual dams remain important. Many rivers already are affected by large dams, and restoration of their ecosystems and services hinge upon improved dam operations. Further, although Hydropower by Design emphasizes avoidance of the most environmentally valuable areas, new dams will continue to be built in locations that affect important rivers and resources. Thus, advancing innovation in dam operations remains critical.   

A focus on improving the operations of a dam does not mean that this analysis, or the search for solutions, is focused only at the dam site or river immediately downstream. First, the objectives for reoperating a dam and restoring a river should be set within a broader framework of conservation planning prioritization. Second, a broader spatial framework may open up a larger set of possible solutions. For example, the Yangtze case study illustrates that changes in floodplain management may be key for facilitating improved operations for a set of proposed dams.

Resources for information about improving dam operations:

  1. The Sustainable Rivers Project
  2. Environmental flows
  3. Indicators of Hydrologic Alteration
  4. The Patuca River: a case study
  5. The Yangtze River: a case study