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Environmental Foundation, Wildlife & Nature Protection Society respond to Small Hydropower Associati

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The Environmental Foundation and Wildlife and Nature Protection Society said that the Small Hydropower Association had “attempted to falsify the destructive nature of the industry by denying any impacts, distorting facts and deliberately misleading the public” through an article it had written in the Daily FT.

The following is the full statement by the Environmental Foundation and Wildlife and Nature Protection Society.

The Small Hydropower Association (SHPA) via its article in Daily FT article on 30 May has attempted to falsify the destructive nature of the industry by denying any impacts, distorting facts and deliberately misleading the public, so that it can continue wiping out endemic species in exchange for widening profit margins. 

The Secretary, Prabath Wickramasinghe, says that, “there are delays in obtaining various Government approvals due to the unreasonable and baseless allegations by these NGOs and the reluctance of Government officials to give their consent due to the pressures exerted on them by these interested parties.” The Small hydropower industry debunks negative theories.

Firstly, this idea that Government officials are overwhelmingly reluctant to endorse mini hydro projects (MHPs) is untrue.  Last year, Special Assignments Minister Sarath Amunugama attempted to revoke the suspension of several mini hydropower projects that had stalled due to environmental concerns. 

Secondly, these villainous “interested parties” that exert pressure on Government officials are environmental organisations and scientists who are concerned about the depletion of forest cover, the eradication of endemic species as well as local communities who stand to lose their agricultural livelihoods and natural environments.  If they are indeed interested parties, their interest should lie in ensuring Sri Lanka’s biodiversity and natural heritage is protected for future generations. 

The real scientific harm of mini hydropower

The Secretary of the SHPA claims that there is no tangible evidence to suggest that mini hydropower negatively impacts ecosystems or freshwater fish.  Firstly, this is false as the diversion of streams completely changes the ecology of the stream and can be devastating for endemic species that inhabit these streams. It is precisely because of the potential damage to biodiversity and ecosystems that mini hydro power plants are required to conduct an Initial Environmental Examination (IEE).

If the SHPA are under the delusion that these projects do not affect biodiversity, it is because they conveniently deny the presence of endemic and threatened species in proposed project sites, often distorting biodiversity information in Initial Environmental Examination reports by under representing species and hiring consultants that do not have required expertise to assess biodiversity. 

CEA Regulations

Mr. Wickramasinghe claims that all mini hydro projects comply with Central Environmental Authority regulations, but sadly, mini hydropower projects frequently contradict the specifications of their own IEEs.For instance, the weir length of the hydropower project in Anda Dola was stated as 12m in the IEE report, but was actually 16.04m in length.  The Koskulana mini hydro project indicated that there would be no rock blasting during construction yet rock blasting was heard on multiple occasions, with dust muddying the pristine stream.  The SHPA should be ensuring that blatant disregard for regulations do not become an industry norm, instead of bashing those who are flagging these violations. 


Localised destruction 

The other strategy of the SHPA is to trivialise destruction, terming it as “localised” and “negligible” but here is the unfortunate truth, Sri Lanka is not blessed with vast swathes of uninhabited wilderness.  Our wet zone forests may sustain startling levels of biodiversity, but they are fragmented and decreasing rapidly due to projects like MHPs.  

Every forest patch lost decreases the habitat that fosters species that are still being discovered, and who are often restricted to a few kilometres.  While the SHPA claims that only 200 km of 15,000 km of rivers are being used for MHP, the fact remains that biodiversity isn’t equally distributed across the country.  The proliferation of projects on even 1% of river area in Sri Lanka has long lasting effects because they are situated in the areas with the richest and rarest biodiversity and are thus the most critical for conservation efforts.  

Mr. Wickramasinghe claims that there are no hydropower projects in environmentally sensitive areas, which is objectively untrue. From the Eli Hatha project in the Peak Wilderness Strict Nature Reserve to the Anda Dola Project in the Dellawa Forest Reserve, the reality is that mini hydropower projects have disregarded environmentally sensitive areas and are even located within protected areas that have been legally designated for conservation. Consider the Koskulana Mini Hydropower Project, which is positioned on the boundary of one of the most protected and valued forests in the country, the Sinharaja Forest Reserve.  Even “localised” impacts would be devastating for biodiversity in this protected area. 

Smear campaign 

In a desperate attempt to detract from their woeful indifference to the environment, the SHPA then claims that even if there is some destruction it is relatively low compared to other development projects, and that farmers using agrochemicals are the real threat to freshwater ecosystems. They accuse “NGOs” of going after mini hydro companies because they are “easy targets” even though they frequently tarnish the name of local environmental organisations. 

The sad truth is that the SHPA has decided to attack groups that are actively involved not only in bringing to light destructive MHPs but also advocating standardised regulations and mechanisms such as CCTV and digital flow meters, which could help the industry become more sustainable. Perhaps because they have enjoyed green status of renewable energy for so long, the hydropower industry cannot respond to any critique, deciding to attack instead of amend and improve. 

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