River HMV Challenges
Plagued by river modifications of the past, and facing a future of increased demand for water and energy, our rivers need restoration, protection, and innovations.
Water and Energy
Certainly, hydropower is an attractive renewable energy to help satisfy both water and energy needs of the future (currently generating approximately 17% of the world’s energy). While the some countries are removing dams for river restoration projects, the rest of the world is building more dams for hydropower – a lot more. It is estimated that an additional 7,000+ dams could be built between 2013 and 2050, which could cause altered flow to an estimated 300,000 km of river (note: these are for hydropower producing dams only) (Power of Rivers). This would alter an additional 15% of the world’s remaining unaffected rivers, which are rich ecosystems. For a sustainable river, these newly constructed dams and future dams need to address the physical processes that they impede.
Currently, there are vasts amount of land and old infrastructure that no longer have use or value, but still impede the natural connection with valuable floodplains and habitats. There are several examples in river restoration projects where public and private parties have acquired adjacent land for the betterment of the river system; however, there remains a huge opportunity to (relatively) cheaply fix past mistakes through land acquisition. The term relatively is used because there are economic benefits that come with removing floodplain developments as well as ecological benefits. When developments and floodplain restrictions are removed, it allows the river more room to inundate, which can lower water surface elevations during flood events and reduce velocities, both of which drastically can reduce the hazards of flood events; and thereby reducing costs associated with flood damages.
Future challenges exist with continued urbanization, agriculture, and industries seeking to build near and within floodplains. While this will never be abolished, new measures should be set to ensure that river systems have adequate space to encourage and preserve floodplain connectivity and maximum valuable habitat area. Certainly, prevention is often cheaper and easier the remediation. Therefore, plans should be in place that limit, or strictly impose alterations made to the river and floodplains, where both urbanization and environmental preservation can occur.