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Policy Statement 442 - Sustainable Water Power Generation


Approved by the Energy, Environment, and Water Policy Committee on January 21, 2020
Approved by the Public Policy Committee on April 6, 2020
Adopted by the Board of Direction on July 11, 2020


The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) encourages the development and sustainable use of waterpower generation facilities, including pumped storage and hydrokinetic facilities, and more specifically ASCE supports:

  • The streamlining of licensing regulations for new hydropower projects, as well as improvements to existing hydropower relicensing regulation and implementation;
  • The development of pumped storage capacity for improved integration of renewable energy sources that are typically variable in time with conventional electricity sources which are typically on-demand;
  • Hydropower design, construction, and operation criteria which mitigate impacts to both sediment transport and aquatic species movement; 
  • Programs which demonstrate the commercial viability and environmental benefits of advanced conventional hydro turbines (fish-friendly turbines) and demonstrate the technical, commercial, and environmental feasibility of innovative new water-power systems; and
  • The use of the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) "Hydropower Vision" program to document and analyze the current status of the hydropower industry and to lead the development of a cohesive long-term vision, growth strategy, and relevant information for the broad U.S. hydropower community.


Hydroelectric generation provides a renewable, clean, and inexpensive source of energy. Hydroelectric production can contribute to reduction of dependence on fossil fuel energy sources and can provide positive impacts on clean air issues, but at the same time can pose a threat to aquatic species and their free movement.

From 1995 to 2008, the United States Department of Energy (DOE) funded a research and development program for advances in hydro turbine technology with the primary goal of enhancing environmental performance by improving fish passage for both large and small hydro units. Design and testing of the DOE advanced hydropower research program was completed in 2010. Efforts to deploy the fish-friendly turbine are still being made by industry.

Unlocking the vast hydropower potential of our rivers, oceans, tides, and conduits requires funding research and development initiatives that make innovative ideas a reality. However, the current licensing process is extremely complex, costly, and time-consuming.  Requirements tend to discourage hydro owners/developers from developing new hydro facilities at existing dams, especially small and low-head hydropower using open stream or conduit-based applications. The amendment process for increasing the capacity, efficiency and output of existing plants and relicensing projects that have reached the end of their Federal Energy Regulatory Commission operating license are similarly prohibitive. 


ASCE recognizes that continued economical, reliable, safe, and environmentally acceptable energy production and development are critical to economic growth and national security. The DOE's "Hydropower Vision" program estimated that there are nearly 50 GW of undeveloped hydropower potential in the U.S. The DOE Report also estimates that the existing 21.6 GW of domestic pumped storage capacity can increase in both the near term (2030), by 16.2 GW, and in the longer term (2050), by an additional 19.3 GW, for an additional  35.5 GW deployed by 2050. This extra capacity would also provide significant energy storage for other variable generation renewables.

ASCE also recognizes the need to balance the expansion of hydropower generation with address environmental performance at existing dams and hydroelectric facilities. Research and development, demonstration, and deployment of new technologies has significant potential to enhance fish survival, and address sediment transport concerns, increase water use efficiency and power output, and improve the quality of released water.

ASCE Policy Statement 442
First Approved in 1995