Resource: Tamed Rivers: A Guide to River Diversion Hydropower in British Columbia

Authors / Publisher: Gower, T., A. Rosenberger, A. Peatt, and A. Hill, for Watershed Watch Salmon Society

Date: October 2012

PDF: Tamed Rivers: A Guide to River Diversion Hydropower in British Columbia


British Columbia has become a global testing ground for river diversion hydroelectricity. Yet these kinds of hydropower projects are controversial, as are British Columbia’s policies promoting their development. Since 2002, nearly all new renewable electricity projects in British Columbia have been built and owned by private developers. Most of these private-sector projects are river diversions – often referred to as “run-of-river” or “small hydro.” It is often assumed that these projects have smaller environmental impacts than traditional hydropower dams, but the impacts of river diversion projects can be just as severe. The sheer number of river diversions is the key concern. Because there has been no land use planning, clusters of these projects – both proposed and approved – are now threatening some of British Columbia’s fish and wildlife populations.

Watershed Watch developed Tamed Rivers with two goals: 1) to provide a comprehensive, technically-referenced guide to the known and potential impacts of river diversion hydropower, and 2) to offer constructive solutions to improve BC’s current approach to electricity production, particularly with respect to hydroelectricity. In Tamed Rivers, Watershed Watch proposes a planning process similar to that developed by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment for these types of land use issues.

Strategic land use planning, supported by rigorous regional assessments that address cumulative impacts, is the only way to manage the collective damage caused by river diversion hydropower in BC. The best outcome for BC would be a coordinated set of regional plans that include all the renewable energy options, to help us develop the most energy for the least amount of environmental damage. We can be global leaders in sustainable energy development if our government works with concerned citizens, experts and First Nations to manage our resources in a strategic and forward thinking manner.


Watershed Watch Salmon Society prepared this document with funding from the Vancouver Foundation, the Orange County Community Foundation, the Liber Ero Foundation and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. It was authored by Tanis Gower, Andrew Rosenberger and Alison Peatt, with assistance from Aaron Hill and Craig Orr.

We wish to thank peer reviewers Dr. Jack Stanford (aquatic effects), Dr. Paul Paquet (terrestrial effects) and Dr. Viorel Popescu (cumulative effects). John Kelson provided expertise on eulachon and Dr. Alan Burger provided expertise on marbled murrelet. Jim Pojar and Patrick Williston provided expertise on rare plants in spray zones.

The recommended citation for this document is as follows:
Gower, T., A. Rosenberger, A. Peatt, and A. Hill. 2012. Tamed Rivers: A guide to river diversion hydropower in British Columbia. Prepared for Watershed Watch Salmon Society. 64 pages.

Go to Top