Research monitoring shows that the Long-tailed duck population decreased in Lagarfljót between 2005 and 2012 and then increased in 2013. Fluctuations in bird numbers are common but the decrease between years seems to be unusually prolonged.
The Natural Environment & Visual Aspect
Landsvirkjun generates electricity from renewable natural resources, but the infrastructure required to generate energy causes unavoidable disturbance to the environment. The construction of power stations, transport of water and necessary manmade structures can have an effect on the ecosystem and the natural environment. The Company carries out extensive monitoring and detailed research within the areas affected by its operations. The objective is to assess if and how operations affect the environment and to find solutions to reduce any effects. This enables Landsvirkjun to work in consensus with society and in harmony with the environment.
Effects on freshwater ecology
Extensive environmental research is carried out on lakes, reservoirs and rivers within the affected areas of the power stations. The aim of the research is to acquire knowledge of the area in order to monitor any changes that could come as a result of development. This enables Landsvirkjun to implement mitigation measures when and if necessary.
The environmental impact assessment for the Kárahnjúkar Hydropower Project showed that water transport would have a significant effect on both Lagarfljót and Jökulsá á Dal as well as other rivers within the catchment area. These effects are now mostly becoming clear. Water transparency has improved in Jökulsá á Dal and organic production has increased. However, turbidity has increased in Lagarfljót and the water flow has increased. Water transparency, a key factor in primary production in a fresh-water ecosystem, is therefore less. The actual impact of operations will become clearer in the next few years. Research has, up until now, focused on fish that were present in the area before it was harnessed. Research in the next few years will focus on the condition of fish spawned in Lagarfljót after the Kárhanjúkar Hydropower Project began operations.
The construction of dams and the spillover from hydropower stations can effect fish migration. Changes to the food source and an altered environment can increase the strain on fish stocks.
Landsvirkjun has monitored the Þjórsá ecosystem since 1973. There have been a number of changes to the water flow in the lower regions of Þjórsá since the power stations in the area were constructed. Sedimentation levels have decreased and conditions have improved for the salmon population, supporting its growth and increasing angling in the river. Landsvirkjun constructed a fish ladder by the Búði Waterfall in 1991. Migration has increased via the fish ladder between years and salmon now spawns above the fish ladder.
Þjórsá and Tungnaá catchment area
Birdlife in the affected areas of the power stations
Landsvirkjun’s operations can have a diverse effect on birdlife. The construction of reservoirs and changes to river channels can affect bird habitat. In addition, road construction, transmission lines, wind turbines and other manmade structures can cause a disturbance to birdlife.
Landsvirkjun monitors birdlife in the affected areas of its power stations. Monitoring includes following numbers of certain bird species, bird pairs, young, eggs and nests. The objective is to assess if and how Landsvirkjun’s operations affect bird numbers and their distribution.
Development in the number of Long-tailed ducks in the Lagarfljót area. Numbers are recorded four to six times over the summer months.
Research monitoring shows that the Long-tailed duck population decreased in Lagarfljót between 2005 and 2012 but increased in 2013 when the population was similar to figures recorded ten years ago. There were similar developments in the Tufted-duck and the Mallard. This could be connected to an increase in turbidity and altered conditions for food sourcing by the sea and heathland lakes. Landsvirkjun therefore supports further monitoring on birdlife and the ecosystem in the Lagarfljót area.
Increased turbidity in Lagarfljót is thought to diminish the food source of migrating birds.
The Pink-footed goose population has increased rapidly in the area in the last decade which is consistent with an overall increase in the population all over Iceland. Construction in the area does not seem to have had a negative impact on the density of the Great-skua whose main nesting area is in the Úthérað area in the east of Iceland.
Reindeer monitoring in the Snæfell wilderness
Landsvirkjun has been responsible for the yearly monitoring of reindeer numbers within the affected area of the Kárahnjúkar Hydropower Project (in the area north of Brúarjökull Glacier) since 1993. The objective of monitoring is to assess the condition of the reindeer population and to assess if and how this is affected by Landsvirkjun’s operations.
The population and distribution of reindeer is monitored in the Snæfell wilderness in an area covering 400 km2. Aerial monitoring is also used.
Aerial photography offers an effective overview of reindeer distribution. The monitoring is carried out by the Engineering Institute of the University of Iceland, on an annual basis, in an area covering 400 km2.
The latest figures show a decrease in numbers to the north of Brúarjökull Glacier but the numbers fluctuate. Monitoring in the Eyjabakki area, to the east of Snæfell, did not identify any significant changes up until 2012.
The population seems to be growing in the east (Suðurfirðir) and in the north (Vopnafjörður heathland area).
Monitoring carried out by the East Iceland Natural History Institute shows that the number and location of reindeer is dependent on snowfall in the area. Reindeer are more likely to give birth in areas where snowfall is less and where there is better grazing land.
The environmental impact assessment carried out for the Kárahnjúkar Hydropower Project in 2001 predicted changes to the reindeer population and their distribution. Monitoring carried out in the last decade shows that reindeer behaviour is unpredictable and that further monitoring will be necessary to give more insight into the potential long-term effects of the power station on the reindeer population.
Reclaiming land quality
Efficient utilisation and decreasing GHG emissions are amongst Landsvirkjun’s main objectives in environmental matters. The main resources utilised by Landsvirkjun in energy generation are hydropower and geothermal energy but the land is also an important resource for carbon binding efforts.
The total surface area of re-forested areas by Landsvirkjun is estimated to be 135 ha.
Landsvirkjun has been involved in the extensive land reclamation and re-forestation of the areas surrounding their power stations since 1968 in cooperation with the Iceland Forest service, the Soil Conservation Society of Iceland, various forestry associations and local residents.
The aim of land reclamation is to reinstate land quality, reduce disturbance to vegetated areas and stop soil erosion and vegetation destruction. Increased knowledge on climate change has inspired land reclamation efforts with carbon binding measures in mind. In 2013, Landsvirkjun planted approx. 63,000 plants around its power stations, as well as completing sowing and land reclamation in areas affected by the Company‘s operations. Landsvirkjun also took part in the cooperative project “Many Hands Lighten the Load” where 162,000 plants were planted.
2.3 million Birch trees and approx. 50,000 Mountain ash trees have been planted within 1200 ha of land in the Hekla area. The objective of the project is to reclaim one of the key ecosystems in Iceland: the birch tree ecosystem. The project is in cooperation with the Soil Conservation Service of Iceland, the Iceland Forest Service and various forest associations. Landsvirkjun has supported the project by providing equipment, personnel and financial support.
Working against erosion and encroachment
Landsvirkjun monitors several aspects pertaining to erosion and sedimentation within the affected areas of the Company’s power stations. The aim is to map any changes to the river waterways and reservoirs in order to take action if and when the need arises. Land reclamation measures are carried out in most of Landsvirkjun‘s operational areas in an attempt to support increased vegetation coverage and to prevent sand encroachment from the Company’s reservoirs.
The size of the re-vegetated area by Hálslón is 680 ha and the success rate has been promising so far.
Sand encroachment can be problematic in the Hálslón Storage Reservoir over the summer period when the reservoir height is low and the reservoir is filling. Landsvirkjun has distributed fertiliser in the eastern end of the reservoir since 2009 in an attempt to increase vegetation. Sand encroachment became a problem in the Hálslón area for the first time in 2013. Sand trenches on the eastern banks of the reservoir proved effective as large amounts of sand accumulated there which would otherwise have drifted into the highland areas.
Erosion mitigation measures and planting have been some of the key projects at the Blanda Reservoir. Land reclamation support vegetation coverage and reduces the risk of sand encroachment and erosion.
The natural environment and visual aspects
All construction work carried out by Landsvirkjun is accompanied by unavoidable disturbance to land and can have an impact on the ecosystem and the natural environment as well as potentially having a visual impact on the surroundings. Disturbance to the land can be in the form of reservoirs, dams, waterways, pipes, underground cables, facilities and geothermal drilling. The effects can differ tremendously according to the nature and shape of the land surrounding the site as well as the utilisation of it.
Landsvirkjun recently appointed a landscape architect to help the Company to analyse the visual impact of manmade structures early on in the design process.
Larger projects can have a significant visual impact and Landsvirkjun is therefore committed to designing new projects which harmonise manmade structures, landscaped areas, and the natural surroundings.
The Krókslón Waterfalls are manmade waterfalls below the Krókslón Reservoir. The waterfalls are approx. 20 metres in height and are active when the reservoir is on spillover.