Anderson E.P.

Transforming tropical rivers: an environmental perspective on hydropower development in Costa Rica

Anderson E, Pringle C, Rojas M (2006) Transforming tropical rivers: an environmental perspective on hydropower development in Costa Rica. Aquatic Conservation-Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 16: 679–693

1. Tropical rivers are increasingly being altered by hydropower dams. In Costa Rica, more than 30 hydropower plants were built during the 1990s and more dams are being proposed. Hydropower dams currently provide more than 80% of electricity consumed by the country’s 4 million residents, yet most of Costa Rica’s hydropower potential remains untapped. 2. Ecological consequences of dams in Costa Rica stem primarily from river fragmentation, stream de-watering, and downstream hydrological alterations. Dams affect distribution and abundance of aquatic biota, especially migratory species. Cumulative effects of multiple dams on individual river basins, especially in the northern part of the country, are also of concern but have not been adequately documented. 3. In light of recent hydropower development, we recommend conservation strategies that protect remaining free-flowing rivers, call for assessment of ecological impacts of dams on a broader scale, encourage research on aquatic systems and sustainable hydropower technologies, and promote the development of methods for estimating environmental flows for Costa Rican rivers. Copyright # 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.


Anderson EP, Freeman MC, Pringle CM. 2006a. Ecological consequences of hydropower development in Central America: impacts of small
dams and water diversion on neotropical stream fish assemblages. River Research and Applications 22: 397–411.

Small dams for hydropower have caused widespread alteration of Central American rivers, yet much of recent development has gone undocumented by scientists and conservationists. We examined the ecological effects of a small hydropower plant (Don˜a Julia Hydroelectric Center) on two low-order streams (the Puerto Viejo River and Quebradon stream) draining a mountainous area of Costa Rica. Operation of the Don˜a Julia plant has dewatered these streams, reducing discharge to 10% of average annual flow. This study compared fish assemblage composition and aquatic habitat upstream and downstream of diversion dams on two streams and along a 4 km dewatered reach of the Puerto Viejo River in an attempt to evaluate current instream flow recommendations for regulated Costa Rican streams. Our results indicated that fish assemblages directly upstream and downstream of the dam on the third order Puerto Viejo River were dissimilar, suggesting that the small dam (<15m high) hindered movement of fishes. Along the 4 km dewatered reach of the Puerto Viejo River, species count increased with downstream distance from the dam. However, estimated species richness and overall fish abundance were not significantly correlated with downstream distance from the dam. Our results suggested that effects of stream dewatering may be most pronounced for a subset of species with more complex reproductive requirements, classified as equilibrium-type species based on their life-history. In the absence of changes to current operations, we expect that fish assemblages in the Puerto Viejo River will be increasingly dominated by opportunistic-type, colonizing fish species. Operations of many other small hydropower plants in Costa Rica and other parts of Central America mirror those of Don˜a Julia; the methods and results of this study may be applicable to some of those projects. Copyright # 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
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