Nepal, situated in the Central Himalaya region, has an area of 147,181 sq. km and is located in Latitude 26º 22’ to 30º 27’ N and Longitude 80º 40’ to 88º 12’ E 38. There are 12 National Parks (IUCN category II), one Wildlife Reserve (IUCN category IV), one Hunting Reserve (IUCN category VI), six Conservation Areas (IUCN category VI) and 13 buffer zones (IUCN category VI), and the country’s 23.39% area is protected under these areas 63. Most of these protected areas are distributed in northeast and southern areas, and there are few protected areas located in the hill 39,40 (Figure 3). Additionally, Chure Environment Protection Area (hereafter CEPA) extends from west to the east of the entire country, covering 12.78% area of the country, which is designed for the protection of the fragile Siwalik region especially from the landslide, soil erosion, sand, and boulder extraction, and deforestation (www.chureboard.gov.np, accessed on 6 Sep 2018) (Figure 3).
The country has a variety of biodiversity due to vast variations of altitude from 67 masl (meter above sea level) to Mount Everest, 8848 masl 38. Nepal has divided into three geographic regions; Northern areas with a low population density that contain the Himalayas up to height 8848m called mountain; the mid-range areas with moderate population density having a gorgeous mountain, high peaks, hills, valley, and lakes called hill; and the densely populated lowlands with flat terrain called terai 37. The eastern part of Nepal has one of the biodiversity hotspots, the Eastern Himalayan Biodiversity hotspot 64, which also makes it important from a global conservation viewpoint.
The data and maps for the study were collected from secondary sources from 16 August to 15 September 2018. The hydropower projects’ location (latitudes and longitudes), status, and capacity were collected from the Department of Electricity Development (DoED) website (www.doed.gov.np, accessed on 6 Sep 2018). Nepal’s protected area information was downloaded from the ICIMOD website (www.icimod.org, accessed on 27 August 2018) and verified using WCMC/IUCN and Nepal geoportal databases. (www.iucn.org/theme/protected-areas/our-work/world-database-protected-areas, accessed on 27 August 2018; www.nationalgeoportal.gov.np, accessed on 27 August 2018). The data for Chure Environment Protection Area (CEPA), was downloaded from President Chure-Terai Madesh Conservation Development Board, Nepal website (www.chureboard.gov.np, accessed on 27 August 2018). Nepal’s geographic area data was downloaded from the ICIMOD website (www.icimod.org, accessed on 27 August 2018). The data for the eco-region was downloaded from The Nature Conservancy website (www.maps.tnc.urg/gis_data.html, accessed on 27 August 2018).
The important bird and biodiversity area (IBA) and Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) of Nepal data were downloaded from Birdlife International on request (www.birdlife.org, accessed on 28 August 2018; www.keybiodiversityareas.org/site/requestgis, accessed on 6 September 2018). Nepal administrative boundary data was downloaded from Nepal geoportal (www.nationalgeoportal.gov.np, accessed on 27 August 2018).
I considered the license boundary of the project issued by the DoED (for government projects that do not require a license, the coordinate listed in the DoED website was considered) as the location of hydropower projects as most of the project structures are located inside the license boundary. Although most of the previous studies on hydropower projects’ impacts focus on the number of dams 11,14,16,19,33,65, there are debates about whether single large or several small hydropower projects have higher environmental impacts 8,18,32,33,35,60,62,66. So, I considered both the numbers and total capacity of hydropower projects for this study. For this study, the projects having a capacity of one Mega Watt (MW) or more were considered, because project having capacity less than one MW does not require environmental study based on installed capacity 67, are localized and managed by local level, and expected to have minimal environmental impacts.
For the study, I considered different categories of hydropower projects as existing projects (projects that have undergone commercial operation), under-construction projects (projects whose feasibility and environmental study have completed, and acquired construction license from DoED, and also include one government under-construction project) and proposed projects (projects that have received survey license and are under study phase, projects whose study are completed and have applied for construction license; and government projects under study phase as well as the study completed but have not gone to construction phase). I did not consider projects that applied for the survey license as they are in the preliminary stage, and permission for the study has not been issued by the government.
I studied the geographical and eco-regional distribution of the project to show which areas have the highest number and capacity of the projects. In Nepal, the IBA and KBA areas are found to be overlapped. The IBA, KBA, and protected areas were merged and named as PIKs (short form for protected areas, IBA, and KBA) or biodiverse areas (Table 3) because most of the protected areas are found to be IBA and KBA, and vice versa in Nepal. The 27 IBA and KBA, and 33 protected areas (including buffer zones) were located in the country; combining them a total number of 45 PIKs or biodiverse areas were included in the analysis. The Chure Environment Protection Area (CEPA) data had been merged into a single layer from the given KMZ file, and due to its unique nature (it is not included in IUCN categories, is designated to protect the fragile environment and established under different act than other protected areas), it was separately analyzed.
Altogether 608 hydropower projects with a total capacity of 35.98 GW were considered in the analysis. The current installed capacity of existing projects was found to be 1.01 GW (73 projects), 162 projects (5.00 GW capacity ) were under-construction and 373 projects (29.97 GW capacity) were proposed.
I used ESRI Arc Map 10.3 GIS software for spatial analysis 68. The maps were converted into Modified UTM 84 using the project tool as most of Nepal’s data is in this projected coordinate system. As eco-regions have global data, I clipped them by Nepal administrative boundary to select the data related to Nepal. I conducted most of the spatial analysis between hydropower projects and environmentally important areas (PIKs and CEPA) using selection and field calculator in Arc MAP 10.3. The findings were expressed in percentage as well as in number.
The analysis for the geographic and eco-regional distribution of hydropower projects was conducted to find out the number and capacity of projects found in each region. For the hydropower projects’ distribution with respect to CEPA and PIKs, the number and capacity of the projects whose project area interacted with the CEPA and PIKs areas as well as the number and capacity of hydropower projects that were completely within them were spatially analyzed using the Arc MAP. As the areas of PIKs vary greatly (less than one sq. km. to more than 7,000 sq. km), the hydropower projects’ number and capacity were analyzed while considering the areas of the PIKs as the number and capacity of hydropower projects per 100 sq. km of the area (named them the number density and capacity density respectively); and compared them among various PIKs. During the analysis, if one project was located in two or more regions/areas, its capacity and number were considered in both regions/areas.
The analysis of the data was conducted in Microsoft Excel with the help of add-in ‘STATISTICIAN (version 2.00.01.81)’. First, I analyzed the data normality of the capacity of projects whose project area interacted with environmentally sensitive areas (PIKs and CEPA) using the Shapiro-Wilk test as it was most appropriate to test the normality 69,70. The data was not found to be normally distributed. In addition, the number of projects whose project area interacted PIKs and CEPA is discrete variables (count). So, I used the Kruskal Wallis H test to assess the differences in number and capacity of existing, under-construction, and proposed projects in environmentally sensitive areas (PIKs and CEPA) because this test is appropriate for non-normal and discrete data 71,72. In addition, I used linear regression to analyze the trends of the interactions between hydropower project locations’ with PIKs and CEPA to assess future interactions.