Rethinking Dams: Innovative Hydropower Solutions to Achieve Sustainable Food and Energy Production and Sustainable Communities

Typically, dams have been engineered from the top down. This project will focus on “reverse engineering” (i.e. starting with local needs and natural constraints posed by different locations, and working back to designing the right technology for that setting) the design, site selection, and execution of hydropower dams to provide the energy needs of the countries involved without forgetting to offset local costs with local benefits. This will mean developing new benefits from innovative engineering designs that harvest and redistribute sediments as “alluvial fertilizer” to improve food productivity along with energy production. It also may mean smaller hydropower units where sediment can best be diverted to sustain food production and ensuring the productivity of rivers. The reverse engineering aims to avoid population resettlement, and to cause less disruption in the streams thus maintaining fish migrations, biodiversity, and fish productivity for local fishers (Winemiller et al. 2016). The Amazon, is the most biodiverse of the great rivers of the world, with 2,320 known species (1,488 of them endemic) and stands to experience the greatest losses. Solutions that we will explore include in-stream turbines that do not dam up the river or the sediment, small dams, and combinations of these depending on site physical and social characteristics. In other words, we propose to build a knowledge system to design innovative combinations of renewable energy that will have the potential to produce not just energy but enhance food production, rural electrification, fish biodiversity, and sustainable livelihoods.