Tag Archives: impacts

Hydro Impacts 101: The Trade-offs

We’ve been sold the idea that hydropower is a clean, green, and non-emitting energy source.
But this is far from the truth!💔🌱

Check out this eye-opening infographic and the full report below to learn more about the hidden environmental and socio-economic costs of these projects! 🌊💰

  • Hydro impacts 101: the trade-offs

Hydro Impacts 101 – The Trade-offs





Ontario Rivers are Under Assault

Ontario Rivers Alliance (ORA) is a Not-for-Profit grassroots organization with a focus on healthy river ecosystems all across Ontario. ORA members represent numerous organizations such as the Vermilion River Stewardship, French River Delta Association, CPAWS-Ottawa Valley, Whitewater Ontario, Mississippi Riverwatchers, along with many other stewardships, associations, and private and First Nations citizens, who have come together to ensure the rash of waterpower proposals currently going through the approvals process are environmentally, economically and socially sustainable.

We all want Green Energy, but let’s ensure it is truly Green, and not the “Green-washed” version that is being proposed for many Ontario rivers.  Let’s ensure that efficiencies and upgrades are made to existing hydroelectric dams before new ones are built. Let’s ensure fish passage and fish friendly turbines are installed.

Climate change is upon us, and WATER is quickly becoming our gravest concern.  Let’s ensure river developments take into account the best advice of climate scientists, and are sustainable for many years to come.

So What’s the Dam Problem?

Ontario rivers are being placed at risk by a rash of over 45 hydroelectric proposals that have been awarded FIT Contracts, and are moving through the permitting and approvals process. The Green Energy Act with its accompanying FIT Program is the only thing that has made many of these rivers feasible for waterpower development. The proponent can’t be told to stand down, and gets paid a 50% bonus for whatever power they can generate – with a 50% bonus to produce power during peak demand. This encourages developers to maximize power at the expense of the environment and public health and safety.

Ontario Rivers are in trouble because our government has put the developer in charge of the Environmental Assessment process, instead of the MOE and MNR, and there is no possibility of a “no outcome” – effectively placing the FOX in charge of the chicken coop!

Hydroelectric is not “Green” when river flow is held back in head ponds – it is in fact “Dirty Energy”.

1.    Bad for the River Ecosystem:

Dams that hold water back in headponds result in:

  • Degraded water quality
  • Lower downstream water levels and flows
  • Lower oxygen levels
  • Increased mercury in fish tissue – studies show a 10 to 20 times increase
  • Increased nitrate and phosphorus levels
  • Warming of water – sound like a recipe for more algae?
2.   Bad for Fishermen & Snowmobilers:
  • Turbines chop up and kill Fish and Eels
  • Fish migration for spawning is blocked
  • Prime Spawning areas are destroyed
  • Entire species of fish are threatened
  • Rapid rise and fall of river water levels on daily basis makes ice unsafe for ice fishermen & snowmobilers
3.   Bad for Our Health & Safety:
  • Increased mercury in fish tissue resulting in fish consumption restrictions
  • Conditions created by dams & their headponds can result in increased incidences of toxic blue-green algae
  • Many people rely on river water for their drinking water and daily household needs
  • Dams can fail from extreme weather events and flooding
  • Rapidly changing water levels and flow velocity can put fishermen, swimmers and boaters at risk
4.   Bad for the Community & Local Economy:

Ontario Rivers offer  a thriving eco-tourism opportunity for small businesses:

  • Prime fishing and tourist viewing areas are destroyed
  • Decline in fish populations, especially cold-water species
  • Habitat destroyed
  • Pristine and unique features are replaced with a concrete dam, chain link fence and warning sirens
  • Rivers with cycling or peaking hydroelectric dams make boating, swimming, fishing, and ice recreation unsafe within zone of influence
  • Tourists will not travel hundreds of miles to see where rapids, waterfalls and fish used to be

We invite you to join us in our mission.

“Our future generations are depending on us.”


So What’s the Dam Problem

Well there are several problems, but we may as well start with the root of the problem, and that is a provincial government bent on building its reputation as a Green Energy leader, and attracting big business into this Province to exploit  its resources and sell off Crown land to private companies. Democracy for the people and protecting our environment and natural resources isn’t high on their list of priorities.  “Ontario is open for business.”

Currently there are 86 hydroelectric dam proposals going through the approvals process in the Province of Ontario, and the 2005 Hatch Acres Report lists about 600 potential sites.  Many of these dams are slated for “modified peaking”, a method of holding water back for up to 48 hours in head ponds, for release during peak demand hours.  So that leads us to the next on our list of problems…. Continue reading



Dam Types

Run-of-River

True Run-of-River

Waterpower Structures – Definitions

A major challenge is that many of the new proposed dams in Ontario are being sold to the public as Run-of-River, when in fact they are “modified run-of-river”, or using a “cycling” strategy where head ponds are necessary.  Definitions and terminology continue to evolve and change as negative impacts are attached to them, and this has become a real problem.  This government has not created a standard of reference, so in our search to find an authoritative definition for run-of-river, we have settled on a national standard.

Run-of-River

Most people when they hear the term “run-of-river”  for hydroelectric generation, have a picture in their mind of a hydro plant that uses only the water that is available in the natural flow of the river, with no water storage, or manipulation of flow, so that power generation fluctuates with the stream flow.   This is in fact how Natural Resources Canada defines run-of-river in their textbook, CLEAN ENERGY PROJECT ANALYSIS: RETSCREEN® ENGINEERING & CASES TEXTBOOK, SMALL HYDRO PROJECT ANALYSIS CHAPTER:

“Run-of-river developments:  “Run-of-river” refers to a mode of operation in which the hydro plant uses only the water that is available in the natural flow of the river, as depicted in Figure 6. “Run-of-river” implies that there is no water storage and that power fluctuates with the stream flow.” Continue reading



Hydroelectric Generation in Ontario – OPA Definitions

Serpent River – Run-of-River

A major challenge with hydroelectric in Ontario is that there are no consistent definitions.  Many hydroelectric facilities are referred to as Run-of-River when they are in fact cycling or peaking facilities.  Below are some good definitions which should be incorporated by government in their policy and legislation.   Just keep in mind that because they call it run-of-river it doesn’t mean it is – it is most likely a Peaking plant described under “Storage” here.  Peaking facilities using headponds (pondage) allow for power generation and profits to be maximized; however, the environmental and health and safety impacts can be severe:

3.6 Hydroelectric Generation in Ontario

3.6.3.2 Classes of Hydroelectric Generating Stations

Hydroelectric installations can be classified into three basic types.  These are:

  • Storage or Pondage plants (sometimes known as “peaking” plants)
  • Run-of-the-River plants
  • Pumped Storage plants

Some of the characteristics of these types are discussed below.

Storage or Pondage (Peaking) Plants:  At many hydroelectric plants, production economics can be enhanced by storing water in the head pond (forebay) for a limited number of hours.  This is normally done by partially or completely shutting the plant down (i.e., stopping the water flow) overnight or on weekends, when the demand for electricity is light.  The stored water is used during the peak load period of the following day.  This type of operation is called peaking and is carried out routinely on most large power systems.

Peaking power installations are characterized by proportionally large units (in terms of discharge capability) and relatively small forebays (storage capability).  They an only sustain continuous generation for a few hours a day before they start running out of water and need additional inflow from upstream reservoirs.  Forebays of peaking installations must have large operating ranges, which has impacts on the use and environment of the shoreline of the reservoir.  As well, the environment downstream of the plant must be protected against wide fluctuations in discharge flow.

Run-of-the-River Plants:  Some plants are not suited to peaking operations because they do not have adequate forebay storage capacity and/or their discharge capacity must match the streamflow of the river they are on.  Some examples are plants located on a waterway where shipping interests and other considerations impose restrictions on such peaking operation and where the river flow must be passed on downstream in a more uniform manner.

Run-of-the-river installations are usually low-head and their operation, which is often classified as base load, does not follow the economics of supplying the load, but rather the variations of the river flow over time.  Water management at this type of installation is often based on established “rule curves”.

Pumped Storage Plants:  A Pumped storage generating station (PGS) represents a logical complement to load-following operations that are carried out elsewhere on a power system.  A PGS time-shifts energy production by storing energy in the form of water.  At night when demand and the cost for power are low, water is diverted from a lower river or lake and is pumped up into a storage reservoir with electric motors.  The water is let back down from that reservoir through a set of turbo-generators when the energy is ready to be sold (and used) during periods of high value or need.

Electricity used for the pumping operation is obtained from the system during periods of low demand.  This carries an economic penalty in that it takes about 30% more energy to pump the water uphill to the reservoir than can be generated when the time comes to let it back down through the turbines.  In addition, there is uncontrolled consumption of that water while it is in the reservoir, through evaporation.

PGS plants are not new.  These generating stations are used extensively to time-shift energy production on a daily or weekly basis – away from weekends and into high demand weekday peak hours.  One example is the PGS at OPG’s Sir Adam Beck complex at Niagara Falls.  Another is at the Robert Moses installation across the river in Lewiston, NY.  One of the world’s largest PGS installations is located at Ludington, Michigan, relatively close to the Ontario-Michigan border.[1]



[1] Hydroelectric Generation in Ontario, OPA, Supply Mix Advice, P82-83, Sec. 3.6.3.2 Classes of Hydroelectric Generating Stations, OPA