Freshwater Fisheries in Canada: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on the Resources and Their Management

Chapter 15: Interactions between Hydropower and Freshwater Ecosystems

Karen E. Smokorowski, Steven J. Cooke, Ivan J. Dolinsek, Ana T. Silva, Terry Toner, and Jay Walmsley


Canada has recognized and tapped into its vast aquatic resources for the generation of hydroelectricity, resulting in its 2019 position as the fourth in global hydropower installed capacity behind China, Brazil, and the United States (IHA 2020). Hydropower generates electricity by converting the kinetic energy from moving or falling water into electricity using a turbine connected to a generator. The predominant view of hydroelectric power generation is that it is “clean” energy since it is efficient, renewable, and produces no toxic waste by-products, no smog-producing air pollutants, and less greenhouse gas emissions than coal or natural gas fired plants. However, hydropower is not without its negative effects, and those on fish and fish habitat are generally considered among the most serious (Ziv et al. 2012; Pracheil et al. 2016; Nieminen et al. 2017; Silva et al. 2018). Positive impacts on fish are also observed in some cases and specifics are very site and context specific. This chapter will discuss the history and current state of hydropower generation in Canada, including emerging technologies, and will briefly review the effects on fish and fish habitat. Moreover, we will summarize how government, industry, academia, and other partners are working together to better understand and minimize the negative consequences. We conclude by examining the future role hydropower can play in Canada’s energy mix in light of new regulations and new social expectations. We also consider what can be done to minimize its impact on fish and fish habitat and present future research needs.