Sustainably Managing Sediment in Regulated Rivers: Recent Developments

Thursday, 18 December 2014
G Mathias Kondolf, Univ California Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, United States, Yongxuan Gao, Natural Heritage Institute, San Francisco, CA, United States, George William Annandale, Golder Associates Inc, Water Resources, Lakewood, CO, United States, Gregory Lee Morris, GLM Engineering COOP, San Juan, PR, United States and Tetsuya Sumi, Kyoto University, Disaster Prevention Research Institute, Kyoto, Japan
Inspired by the current drought and concerns about maintaining water storage capacity, California State Senate this year passed SB1259, directing the Department of Water Resources to assess the state’s reservoirs for sedimentation problems. The need to actively manage sediment in reservoirs is increasingly recognized, as valuable reservoir storage capacity is lost and downstream reaches suffer from sediment starvation, manifesting problems such as channel incision, accelerated erosion of deltas, and loss of gravels important for habitat. With increased dam construction globally, these impacts will be widespread. Despite the opportunities to pass sediment through or around reservoirs (to preserve reservoir capacity and to minimize downstream impacts), these sustainable approaches to managing sediment are not applied in many situations where they would be effective. From a workshop involving international and Chinese experts and review of recent literature, collective global experience in managing reservoir sediments and mitigating downstream sediment starvation suggest that sediment management can be classified as catchment management (to reduce sediment inflow), sediment removal, and sediment routing through or around the reservoir. Sediment routing has the virtues of maintaining sediment flows to downstream reaches, as well as preserving reservoir capacity. Where geometry is favorable, sediment can often be bypassed around the reservoir (avoiding reservoir sedimentation and supplying sediment to downstream reaches) or sluiced through large-capacity outlets after flowing rapidly through the reservoir to avoid sedimentation. In narrow reservoirs with steep longitudinal gradients, sediments accumulated in the reservoir can often be re-suspended and flushed through when the reservoir is drawn down. Turbidity currents can often be ‘vented’ through the dam, with the advantage that the reservoir need not be drawn down to pass sediment. In planning dams, the expert group recommended that these sediment management approaches be utilized where possible to sustain reservoir capacity and minimize environmental impacts of dams.