In his article "Making Hydro Sustainable" (Jan. 1, 1995), Thomas Russo forgets an important consideration in any large-scale engineering project: the social impact. The construction and commissioning of large-scale hydroelectric generating facilities have always required large capital investments and produced widespread impacts on the ecosystem. These impacts have generally been fairly obvious and carefully examined. What is usually ill-considered is the impact, both short- and long-term, on the people and communities "in the way."
Several recent examples demonstrate the gravity of ignoring the social impact. Thailand's Pak Mun Dam project forcibly displaced many people and spawned a grassroots protest movement effective enough to thwart the Thai government's plans for further hydroelectric development. Now Thailand is being forced to contract for power from their neighbours, effectively exporting the problem.
Closer to home, Hydro Qu‚bec's James Bay project has flooded incredible amounts of land, with significant impact on the lives, health, and culture of the Province of Qu‚bec's First Nations. Hydro Qu‚bec's management should be tossing and turning at night over the fact that the province has no firmly established legal right to that land. If the current government is successful in its drive for independence, the land ownership issue may end up in the World Court, where the decision could prove costly to Hydro Qu‚bec's owners and customers.
There is evidence of a growing surge in humanitarism and communitarism in North America and around the world. Utilities and governments may find that the social impact of large-scale engineering projects will become the primary consideration in choosing between alternatives or making any choice at all. Mr. Russo's "entire view" of a project may fall short of what is needed.
Business Analyst, Mgmt. Info. Systems
BC Gas Utility Ltd.
Vancouver, BC, Canada
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