World Water Week Session Explores Water Storage and Hydropower as Drivers of Sustainable Development

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  • 2015•09•10     Stockholm

    According to the World Water Development Report 2014 – Water and Energy, by 2030 we will need 35% more food, 40% more water and 50% more energy to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Meeting water demands sustainably will require integrated water management strategies that can address the numerous users and uses of water across sectors.

    To explore targeted opportunities of integrated water management the UNU Institute for Integrated Management of Material Fluxes and of Resources (UNU-FLORES), the International Hydropower Association (IHA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) convened the session Water Storage and Hydropower as Drivers for Sustainable Development during this year’s World Water Week in Stockholm. Presenters and panellists discussed the possibilities and limitations of using multipurpose reservoirs for integrated water management for sustainable development.

    Tracy Lane, Director of Hydropower Development at IHA, outlined growth of the hydropower industry, particularly in emerging markets “where it offers not only clean energy, but also water services, energy security and facilitates regional cooperation and economic development”. She further highlighted that hydropower technology offers a considerable degree of flexibility by storing potential energy for later use, allowing hydropower to compensate for variable renewable energy output and other technologies such as solar and wind.

    Identifying development and management strategies that consider other water uses and users as well as environmental, social and economic implications is essential to maximize the benefits of water storage infrastructure and hydropower. Dr Reza Ardakanian, Director of UNU-FLORES, pointed out that, “There are hundreds of mathematical models available to calculate how to best operate reservoirs, but most of those models focus on one user/use as the main variable and treat other users/uses as constraints. Successfully managing hydropower reservoirs to drive sustainable development will require new or linked models, able to consider water uses in an equitable way across sectors, promoting synergies and minimizing trade-offs — in short, a Nexus Approach”.

    The session continued with a panel exploring how multipurpose reservoirs can be an effective tool for achieving many of the targets outlined in the SDGs. Lin Chuxue from the China Three Gorges Corporation presented the multipurpose intentions of Three Gorges Dam: flood and drought control, electricity generation and improved river navigability.  Li Lifeng, Freshwater Director for the World Wide Fund for Nature pointed out that environmental considerations should happen at the beginning of the hydropower planning processes. The location of a project should not be chosen based on the electricity generating potential alone, but also on the potential impact on the ecosystem and conservation efforts.

    William Rex, Global Lead for Hydropower and Dams at the World Bank stressed the need for a “science of the economics of trade-offs” and the need to “pull together” research on ecosystems services, social benefits and challenges, financial returns, flood protection and navigation, so societies and governments can “work out what the real trade-offs are”.

    Joakim Harlin, Senior Water Adviser for UNDP and moderator of the panel summarized by emphasizing that multipurpose reservoirs pose considerable opportunities for achieving the SDGs. However, this will require that the development and maintenance of reservoirs takes possibilities for benefit sharing into consideration. Applying a Nexus Approach to the development and management of hydropower reservoirs will be crucial in addressing these key challenges.

    For an expanded summary of the session with photos, visit the UNU-FLORES website.