While improving the operations of individual dams can provide important environmental protections, strategies that address larger systems of dams offer the greatest potential for improving the sustainability of hydropower. For existing water-management systems, this means finding solutions across multiple dams, as demonstrated by the Penobscot River case study.

For new dams, Hydropower by Design focuses on improving the processes for planning and locating new dams. The single most important decision affecting the sustainability of a dam is its location. Influencing the location of new dams requires the integration of information on both conservation and infrastructure objectives at the earliest possible stages of planning and review.

Within basins poised to undergo hydropower development, this integrated planning approach seeks to identify an optimal spatial arrangement of dams that achieves power generation targets while maintaining important environmental and social resources. Through this process, conservation is accomplished primarily through the protection of the most valuable sub-basins and reaches. Additionally, by linking infrastructure planning with conservation planning, new projects’ mitigation funds can contribute toward fulfillment of a coherent conservation strategy, rather than invested in piecemeal, and often ineffective, mitigation projects.

Integrated, system-scale planning for hydropower has several potential benefits: greater probability of avoiding the most damaging projects, improved ability to address cumulative effects and a framework for linking project development to the implementation of a comprehensive regional conservation plan. These benefits can go a long way toward fulfilling the promise of sustainable hydropower.

The following offer much more detail on these concepts: