The first-ever scientific study in India of small hydro-power projects (SHPs) has revealed that despite their being promoted as generating clean energy, facilities have a significant ecological impact and there is a correlation between the rise in SHPs and the increase in human-elephant conflict. (The Hindu)
According to a release issued by the Wildlife Conservation Society–India Program, SHPs also cause alterations in stream geometry and affect the water quality and freshwater fish communities in the Western Ghats.
SHPs are often promoted as a cleaner alternative to large hydro-power projects as they are assumed to have little or no environmental impact. In India, they are defined as plants generating up to 25 MW of power.
But the study also found that SHPs affect the river flow by reducing it immediately below the dam and causing fluctuation when the water is released back into the river after power generation — both of which have consequences on fish assemblages. The dammed streams studied had altered fish composition and reduced the number of species, the release said.
The study has also revealed a correlation between the proliferation of SHPs and the corresponding increase in human-elephant conflicts in those areas.
This is an issue of significance for India, which has seen a spurt in human-elephant conflict in recent years. The research showed that such conflicts increased in the regions where new SHPs were being constructed.
“In 2005, the number of claims filed for elephant conflict compensation increased by 173% from the previous year. That was the same year the first SHP was commissioned in this area. Thereafter, the number of claims rose every time a new SHP was commissioned. This is a concern as the reserve forests of Sakleshpur are a critical elephant corridor connecting Pushpagiri wildlife sanctuary in the south and Kudremukh national park in the north,” according to the rport's authors.