It was on the 28th of October that took place the official launching of the FCT-funded project EcoPeak4Fish: An integrated approach to support self-sustaining fish populations downstream hydropower plants.
This project is based on four fundamental elements: Ecology, Engineering and Economy acting together to ensure the sustainability of freshwater Ecosystems downstream of Small Hydropower Plants (SHP). The main goals of EcoPeak4Fish are three-fold: to evaluate the impacts of pulsed flows associated with peak electricity demand on downstream fish fauna, to propose and implement mitigation measures and, to develop a framework that optimizes hydropower production profit without compromising the freshwater ecosystem.
This was an in-person and online event to present the project objectives, structure, planned activities and the research team to a wider national and international audience that shared mutual interests considering hydropower production and freshwater ecosystem protection. This event gathered students, scientists, hydropower producers, consultancy companies, environmental NGO´s and public entities for the protection and management of the environments that, at the Civil Engineering Department of Instituto Superior Técnico and online, were able to participate actively.
Eduardo Júlio, full professor at Instituto Superior Técnico and president of CERIS Research Unit, has officially opened the event and highlighted the importance of these research projects for scientific progress, and in particular, of EcoPeak4Fish for its integration in the renewable energy sector. He applauded the research facilities of the project, referring to the certified bioterium located at the Laboratory of Hydraulics. The indoor flume of the bioterium will be the stage for the experimental trials where the research team will develop and test mitigation measures for the impacts of hydroelectricity production on fish fauna.
Isabel Boavida, senior researcher at CERIS and project leader, presented the research team, the project goals and structure, and the SHP’s representing the test cases. During her presentation, she referred that “this project integrates a multidisciplinary team, innovative tools and methods that will answer three fundamental questions: How do fish react to pulsed flows? Are flow-refuges effective mitigation measures to their impacts? How to identify a SHP operation scheme that guarantees the sustainability of fish communities while maintaining profitable hydropower production?”
These questions are compatible with the future challenges of the renewable energy sector presented by Pedro Eira Leitão, manager of the hydropower company Hidroerg. Rui Mota, senior researcher at NOVA School of Business and Economics, will lead the research to develop a model that will be able to describe a SHP operating in hydropeaking while including habitat and other ecological requirements for fish. This major output will be the basis to review the present legal instruments regarding environmental flows.
António Pinheiro, full professor at Instituto Superior Técnico, and Francisco Godinho, freshwater ecologist and consultant at Hidroerg, presented the main outputs of the European H2020 project FIThydro – Fish Friendly Innovative Technologies for Hydropower Project, and how these are expected to contribute for EcoPeak4Fish.
José Maria Santos, freshwater ecologist and assistant professor at Instituto Superior de Agronomia, and Maria João Costa, hydrobiologist and researcher at CERIS, presented the ecological component of the project. The results from fish habitat use downstream SHPs and in reference river segments, task led by José Maria Santos, will be integrated into the development of flow-refuges that will be tested at the indoor flume presented by Maria João Costa. The main output, a flow-refuge prototype, will be deployed downstream of the SHPs and its use by fish will be monitored. Finally, Jeffrey Tuhtan, professor and Head of the Environmental Sensing and Intelligence Lab in Taltech, presented the technological aspect of the project. His expertise in innovative automated river monitoring technologies will reflect on the installation of underwater motion-activated cameras inside each flow-refuge.
The discussion periods after each presentation and at the end of the event reflected the relevance of this topic to the scientific community, hydropower producers and consultants, and their common motivation to find integrative solutions to protect freshwater ecosystems in the context of hydropower production.