Projects of new hydro power plants: better safe than sorry…
7th International conference “Rivers of Siberia and Far East” was held on 30-31 May in Khabarovsk. More than 70 participants from scientific and non-governmental organizations, governmental agencies and business companies from the Russian Far East and Siberia, China and Mongolia attended the conference.
Wide range of issues was discussed at the conference: from rules and regulations concerning water resources use and protection, up to the quality of natural waters and prospects to its improvement, and conservation of river biodiversity as well. It should be noted that the conference though initiated by NGOs, attracted other sectors as well.
The participants expressed a great interest in the issues concerning development plans of hydro potential of Far Eastern and Siberian rivers and the impact of existing hydro power plants on the environment and socio-economic development of the regions.
The attendance of developers of hydro power plants on Siberian and Far Eastern rivers became the most important aspect of the conference. The main result of the dialogue was their recognition of the relevance of environmentalists’ claims concerning HPP construction, as well as the fact that negative impact of HPP construction could be the reason to stop the implementation of one project or another. The example of such a dialogue is the recently received decision of En+ Group to suspend the construction of Trans-Siberian hydro power plant on the Shilka River until the complex ecological assessment of the whole Amur River basin is completed.
“Energy division of En+ indeed demonstrated advanced and responsible approach in decision making on new projects of hydro power plant construction. Namely, the company agreed to use the best international standards and mechanisms of strategic ecological assessment, - says Alexei Knizhnikov, head of environmental policy projects of WWF Russia. – However, “Rusal” company, which is another division of En+, is implementing a joint project of Boguchan HPP construction with “RusHydro” company on the Angara River, which does not comply with key international standards, and, moreover, violates the Russian legislation. The developers refused to discuss issues concerning Boguchan HPP. It means that environmentalists have to discuss these issues in courts”.
Other interesting discussions involved gold mining projects within the Amur River basin. Joint report prepared by the coalition “Rivers without borders”, WWF and the Pacific Institute of Geography of Russian Academy of Science demonstrated that gold mining impact on river ecosystems is no less negative than one from the large hydro power plants. Tones of gold extracted in the Amur River basin cost dozen thousands hectares of totally destroyed riverbeds, loss of fish capacity and decrease of biodiversity. And, obviously, the impact of gold mining on nature is still not evaluated in full scale.
«According to the assessment of the international coalition “Rivers without borders”, in the Amur basin the area of ecosystems totally transformed by gold mining exceeds 4 thousand square kilometers, which could be compared to the areas flooded by water reservoirs, - comments Evgeny Simonov, coordinator of the coalition. – One of the conference recommendations is to catch up with advanced experience of neighboring countries of the basin, where stream gold mining in riverbeds is totally prohibited”.