Evaluating cumulative effects of small scale hydropower development using GIS modelling and representativeness assessments
Assessing cumulative effects are a vital task for strategic environmental assessments (SEA) but lack of consistent methodology has hampered the development and implementation of useful tools. We present a model for GIS and multivariate analysis to assess the effects on a valued ecosystem type at a regional scale based on the sum of impacts of local projects. We demonstrate application of the model by assessing how hydropower developments would generate cumulative impacts on river gorges for a county in northern Norway. We use principal component analyses (PCA) of spatially-explicit variables from the region to describe the diversity of river gorge ecology with a mathematical low-dimensional bioclimatic space. We then calculate cumulative effects of hydropower development as the proportions of subspaces of the multidimensional bioclimatic PCA that are affected by either existing infrastructure or planned and possible hydropower developments. The results showed that adding development of all potential sites for small-scale hydropower would have substantial impacts on over half of all bioclimatic segments where gorges were registered and more than 70% of all segments with forested river gorges. By demonstrating these possible cumulative effects we can illustrate the need for caution in hydropower planning to avoid reducing river gorge representativeness and diversity. The method can be applied for other types of development projects and other valued ecosystems, provided the assessed ecosystems and development installations can be mapped or modelled over a sufficiently large area.