Improving Hydropower for Biodiversity

What’s Hydropower?

Hydropower has supplied Australians with electricity since the 1900s. Hydropower schemes use water from a storage unit, such as a dam, which operate by dropping water from these dams down a pipe. The water then passes through a turbine, generating electricity, eventually flowing back into a river. Hydropower is a renewable energy source as it reduces our use of fossil fuels. Although reducing emissions is good for the environment, Hydropower is not all positive!

Why is it bad for the environment?

Hydro schemes can be bad for the environment, especially if a dam is being built to store water. In this case, land has to be cleared and natural habitats are destroyed by flooding the area.

Lake Peddler before it was floodedLake Peddler before it was flooded

Lake Peddler after it was floodedLake Peddler after it was flooded

Hydropower schemes can also change the way a river flows, which can have negative effects on underwater ecosystems and riverside vegetation. So what can be done to reduce these effects?

Where did I work?

In 2014, I spent time at the West Kiewa Hydropower scheme in Victoria. Power stations in this scheme were altered to enable the Pretty Valley Creek to return to its original environmental condition. By connecting the McKay Creek power station to the new Bogong power station, water was no longer directed to the creek, which has helped to preserve its natural ecosystem.

Natural water flow in the creekNatural water flow in the creek

Unnatural water flow after the release of water from the McKay Creek power station

Unnatural water flow after the release of water from the McKay Creek power station

What were the improvements to Biodiversity?

By reducing the water flow in the Pretty Valley Creek, both plant and animal species benefited.

The creek has plant species that are rare or vulnerable under the Victorian Threatened Species Advisory List, such as Catkin Wattle and Spinning Gum. Found on the creek bank, these threatened plants and their habitat had been flooded by the water from the McKay Creek power station. Changing the environmental flows has allowed these plants to re-establish themselves.

Catkin WattleCatkin Wattle

Spinning GumSpinning Gum

Reflection on my work experience

Increased water flow in the creek led to invertebrate, fish and organic matter being washed away. These animals and matter are necessary for the health of the river and its biodiversity.  By periodically releasing water, plant and animal species were being subjected to undue stress.  Redirecting the water away from the creek has allowed the river to re-establish to its natural environmental condition.

I thoroughly enjoyed my work experience at the West Kiewa Hydropower scheme, as I learnt a great deal about the impacts Hydropower can have on our environment.

Me at the McKay Creek power station turbineMe at the McKay Creek power station turbine The connection between McKay Creek and Bogong power stationsThe connection between McKay Creek and Bogong power stations

By altering the flow of water in this scheme the impacts on our environment were minimised. I believe this is something that could be investigated at Hydropower schemes throughout Australia to increase the benefits of this renewable technology.

By Joanna Robinson (u4673277)



About Biodiversity Conservation Blog

I am an Associate Professor at The Australian National University and convene a (very awesome) course called Biodiversity Conservation. Myself and students in the course contribute to this blog.
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1 Response to Improving Hydropower for Biodiversity

  1. Excellent and fascinating blog Joanna. Professionals with biodiversity training that work among others such as engineers can have a great impact on environmental outcomes. The work you describe fits nicely with the lecture and reading in Week 7. Phil

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