A hierarchical modelling framework for assessing physical and biochemical characteristics of a regulated river
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© 2017 Elsevier B.V. Regulated rivers below dams have traditionally been managed using a minimum instream flow to provide adequate aquatic habitat. However, dam management, in conjunction with changes in climate and land use, challenges downstream ecosystem functions that cannot be properly addressed by a simple minimum flow requirement. Depending upon the river system, additional parameters such as water temperature and nutrient loading provide more critical ecological value for organisms than ensuring a constant minimum release. A new modelling methodology, utilizing a cascading hierarchical approach, is proposed and tested on a 614 km 2 headwater basin in central Idaho, USA. Application of the methodology illustrates that below large dams the river discharge becomes independent of the seasonal hydrology and specifying the discharge alone is insufficient for evaluating ecosystem response. Upstream reservoirs interrupt the watershed continuum and internally modify the thermal, chemical, and biological properties of water prior to release into a downstream river. These water properties depend on the annual hydrologic regime, characteristics of the reservoir and the offtake strategies, offtake structure depth, dam discharge, and the water column thermal stratification. This study describes the use of climatically driven hydrologic forcing and variable dam operations in a coupled reservoir-river system to optimize river ecosystem health by linking physical processes with in situ observations and incorporating multi-trophic species requirements. Such an approach can support real-time decision making on existing reservoir-river systems and provide a virtual means of evaluating ecosystem impacts prior to disturbance from new dam construction or implementation of restoration activities in a watershed.
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