Since 1978 ORNL researchers have been studying the environmental impacts of hydropower development for DOE. Since 1983 they have been preparing environmental impact statements for hydroelectric dams for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. This work has been a logical evolution from the Laboratory's involvement in the early 1970s in preparing environmental impact statements for nuclear power plants and other energy-producing facilities and its research in aquatic ecology.
Today many staff members of the Laboratory's Environmental Sciences and Energy divisions have expertise in preparing environmental impact statements and assessments. ORNL has one of the few groups that has more than 20 years of experience in using state-of-the-art techniques to do environmental assessments.
"I think our real strength is in quantitative analysis of biological effects and linking those effects to developmental objectives," Mike Sale says. "We have maintained our niche because of our unique capabilities in evaluating the environmental and socioeconomic effects of hydropower and other sources of energy."
As an expert on the reactions of fish to the effects of energy production, Chuck Coutant has turned his attention from nuclear energy to hydropower. "I came to the Laboratory in 1970 to study the effects on fish of hot-water discharges into streams from the once-through cooling systems of nuclear power plants," he says. "From my studies of the impacts of power-station cooling reservoirs on fish, I naturally progressed to evaluations of the effects on fish of hydropower development and other water uses."
Another evolution may be ahead--from hydropower studies to broader research on water resources. "Water resources must be better managed because the demand on water is increasing in so many places," Sale says. "Water resources can become even more scarce as a result of climate change, population growth, and increases in discharges of contaminants. To increase water resources, we may have to use high-tech water treatment to purify tainted water and desalination to turn salty ocean water into fresh water for drinking and irrigation. We will also have to learn to use the water we have more efficiently."
The Laboratory has had a lot of experience in developing water-treatment techniques and desalination using nuclear energy. In addition, Sale argues, ORNL's experience in dealing with conflicting uses for hydroelectric dams "may allow us a foothold in solving the problems of multiple resource management on large river basins problems that have traditionally been the concern of agencies like the Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation."
site provided by Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Communications and