Modeling Changes in Bed Surface Texture and Aquatic Habitat Caused by Run-of-River Hydropower Development
Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 11:05 AM
Run-of-river (RoR) hydropower has emerged as an important alternative to large reservoir-based dams in the renewable energy portfolios of China, India, Canada, and other areas around the globe. RoR projects generate electricity by diverting a portion of the channel discharge through a large pipe for several kilometers downhill where it is used to drive turbines before being returned to the channel. Individual RoR projects are thought to be less disruptive to local ecosystems than large hydropower because they involve minimal water storage, more closely match the natural hydrograph downstream of the project, and are capable of bypassing trapped sediment. However, there is concern that temporary sediment supply disruption may degrade the productivity of salmon spawning habitat downstream of the dam by causing changes in the grain size distribution of bed surface sediment. We hypothesize that salmon populations will be most susceptible to disruptions in sediment supply in channels where; 1) sediment supply is high relative to transport capacity prior to RoR development, and 2) project design creates substantial sediment storage volume. Determining the geomorphic effect of RoR development on aquatic habitat requires many years of field data collection, and even then it can be difficult to link geomorphic change to RoR development alone. As an alternative, we used a one-dimensional morphodynamic model to test our hypothesis across a range of pre-development sediment supply conditions and sediment storage volumes. Our results confirm that coarsening of the median surface grain-size is greatest in cases where pre-development sediment supply was highest and sediment storage volumes were large enough to disrupt supply over the course of the annual hydrograph or longer. In cases where the pre-development sediment supply is low, coarsening of the median surface grain-size is less than 2 mm over a multiple-year disruption period. When sediment supply is restored, our results show that the time required for a channel to re-establish its pre-development median surface grain-size is inversely correlated to the pre-development sediment supply conditions. These results demonstrate that morphodynamic models can be a valuable tool in assessing the risk to aquatic habitat from RoR development.