TIDAL BARRAGE POWER PLANTS:ENVIRONMENTAL CONSIDERATIONS

ENVIRONMENTAL CONSIDERATIONS

Construction of a barrage across a tidal river is bound to affect the conditions on both sides of the structure. Water movement patterns will be changed, sedimentation movement will be affected, and the conditions at the margins of the estuary on both the landward and seaward side of the barrage will be altered. For a barrage across an estuary, the movement of marine animals is likely to be restricted too. This could have a dramatic effect on both marine and avian life.

The major effect of the barrage will be on water levels and water movement.

Water levels will be altered on both sides of the barrage and the tidal reach may change behind the barrage, although the effect will be reduced as the distance from the barrage increases. Some areas that were regularly exposed at low tide will be continuously under water after the barrage is constructed. Though the volume of water flowing down the river should remain the same, patterns of movement will be changed.

Sedimentation will be affected in complex ways. The tidal waters of an estuary frequently bear a great deal of sediment. Some is brought in from the sea, some carried downstream by the river. Changes in current speeds and patterns caused by the interpolation of a barrage will affect the amount of sediment carried by the water and the pattern of its deposition. This will, in turn, affect the ecosystems that depend on the sediment.

Other areas of concern involve animal species. The effect on fish, particularly migratory species, is significant. Fish gates can be built to permit species to cross the barrage. Many can also pass through the sluice gates. However, there is a danger that fish will pass through the turbines too, being injured in the process. Various methods have been explored to discourage fish from the vicinity of the turbines, with patchy success.

Many species of birds live on mud flats in estuaries. There is a possibility that such mud flats would disappear after a barrage had been built, and with them the birds whose habitat they formed. Salt marshes adjacent to estuaries are also likely to be affected. Studies have been conducted at potential U.K. bar- rage sites to try and estimate the scale of such effects but much work remains to be done in this area.

The effects of a tidal lagoon or bunded reservoir are likely to be less dramatic than those associated with a coastal barrage. Since none has yet been built, the range of effects is currently unknown.

Elsewhere, global experience with tidal power plants is limited. What evidence there is suggests that such projects have no major detrimental effect on the environment. The evidence from La Rance, in particular, has provided no serious cause for alarm. Even so, it would be dangerous to make any assumptions. An extremely careful environmental impact assessment would form a vital part of any future tidal project.

It is important to remember when considering tidal barrage and similar pro- jects that while these projects change the local environment, they do not destroy it. As with hydropower projects discussed in Chapter 8 there will be ways of mitigating the effects, and the new environment created after barrage construction may be as rich as the one it replaces. However, any tidal project is likely to provoke fierce debate.

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