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Sustainable Hydropower in Alpine Rivers Ecosystems

Sustainable Hydropower in Alpine Rivers Ecosystems

Alps are the most important freshwater supply of continental Europe: Rhin, Po, Rhone and several tributaries of the Danube originate here. Various ecosystems and millions of European citizens depend on alpine rivers for their drinkable water and food supply, as well as economic activities (industries, tourism, forestry, navigation, etc.).

Alps are one of the richest biodiversity areas in continental Europe, thanks to its variety of habitats. They shelter more than 30,000 animal and 13,000 vegetal species, including several endemic fish species. Due to a long story of anthropogenic modifications and exploitation, considerable impacts on biodiversity in river and riparian ecosystems have been observed.

It is estimated that about 90% of alpine rivers aren’t in their natural state anymore. Climate change stresses these ecosystems, threatening human communities relying on them. The forecast increase of water temperature in the Alps will probably have detrimental effects on biodiversity. For example, a decrease in populations of fish species depending on the coldest rivers and lakes for their living and/or breeding, as these areas will shrink considerably.

Moreover, hydropower (or HP) is the most important renewable energy source: this traditional form of energy generates more than 90% of the renewable electricity production. Search for low carbon power generation, in combination with fluctuating prices and supply of fossil fuels, are strong incentives for the development and maintain of hydropower. HP is a future-proof energy supply, significantly improving energy resilience. Furthermore, where hydropower is a hundreds of years old technology, the already existing power plants have considerable potential to increase efficiency. With suitable work, their ecological performance can be improved as well.

Alpine territories have a highly strategic interest in developing and maintaining an important hydropower generation capacity. SHARE develops a decision support system which includes economic and environmental standards, so as to trigger a new generation of eco investments to mitigate hydropower’s impacts and restore water bodies’ quality. The SHARE approach is based on merging scientific tools, local specificities and operational requirements. This approach will be led using existing scientific tools adjustable to transnational, national and local normative. It will be carried on by permanent panels of administrators and stakeholders.



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