STANDISH — As regulators consider a proposed transmission corridor carrying hydroelectricity from Quebec to Massachusetts through Maine, they should keep in mind that hydroelectric dams with large reservoirs and unnatural flow regulation comprise one of the most destructive forms of energy generation on Earth.

Thirty-seven years ago, in 1982, Hans Neu, a senior marine scientist with the Canadian government, warned in a column for the Marine Pollution Bulletin that Canadian reservoir hydro development might not only wreck freshwater ecosystems but also starve marine life. These large hydro projects, according to Neu, could have dire consequences for marine fisheries and our climate, and this required immediate scientific attention.

“Obviously, these changes which are already implemented are a fundamental modification to the freshwater regime of Canada and to the physics and dynamics of its coastal regions,” he wrote. “There is no doubt in the mind of the author that if Canada continues this development and the USSR follows its lead, the hydrological balance of our globe would be threatened and as a result the biological productivity of our oceans, primarily in their coastal waters, may be seriously jeopardized.”

Neu predicted the timing and magnitude of the permanent crash of fish stocks that occurred in the 1980s in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the coast of Newfoundland and the Gulf of Maine and suggested that the decline might be due not to overfishing but to the impact of hydro reservoir projects on freshwater flow regulation.

He warned us about changes to ocean temperatures and consequential impacts on climate, writing: “It can be assumed … that freshwater regulation modifies the climate of the coastal region to be more continental-like in the summer and more maritime-like in the winter.”

Neu made it very clear how critical the spring freshet is to the timing and extent of mixing of freshwater and saltwater and to the successful reproduction of marine life and movement in coastal and ocean waters.

Speaking to the severity of freshwater flow regulation and hydropower’s elimination of the spring freshet, he wrote, “Runoff is transferred from the biologically active to the biologically inactive period of the year. This is analogous to stopping the rain during the growing season and irrigating during the winter, when no growth occurs.”

On Feb. 9, 1977, the Canadian Press wire service reported, summarizing a talk by Neu, that “Canada has more than 20 projects controlling flows at least as great as the Aswan High Dam. … There has been much concern over the effects of these dams on the inland environment, yet nobody has studied what harm they are doing to the ocean environment.”

In 2019, we must ask why hydropower interests, in public outreach efforts such as a recent Press Herald commentary (Jan. 15), fail to mention any impacts of hydropower dams and regulation on the ocean environment. Something is very wrong with this strange absence of scientific inquiry. It gives credence to past allegations of the deliberate silencing of Canadian scientists regarding the Gulf of Maine ecosystem.

The predictions of Hans Neu are now a reality. The Gulf of Maine, the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the northwest Atlantic coastal waters are warming at an accelerating rate, and the fishing industry continues to decline. More hydro dams have been built or planned in Canada since the turn of the 21st century. The consequences of freshwater flow alteration by the hydropower industry on the marine environment in Maine are difficult to understand. The industry takes advantage of the impacts’ complexities to speed the time frames of proposed projects.

In order to preserve our quality of life and the environment, our scientists must be protected from the influence of the hydropower industry. They must be able to pursue unbiased and accurate research on all the causes of the deterioration of our marine ecosystem, and the climate of the Gulf of Maine. If we do not heed the warnings of Hans Neu, future generations will condemn us.


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