Responses of RiParian forests to hydroPeaking: towards a sustainable hydropower management

Hydropower is considered a renewable energy source and its demand is considerably increasing in Europe. However, its global benefits are accompanied by significant environmental losses. Hydropeaking constitutes a major impact from hydropower dam operation. It refers to short-term changes in river flow occurring within the span of a day caused either by the turning on or off of hydro-turbines to generate electricity according to variations in the market demand. As a result, downstream and upstream river hydrology, hydraulic parameters, water quality, river morphology, and ultimately the fluvial ecosystem, are modified. Despite the high environmental, social, industrial and regulatory requirements with regard to the hydropower production and river ecological status in Europe (and worldwide), there is still much to learn about ecological processes affected by sub-daily flow changes along rivers with hydropower plants. Scientific studies are scarce and most of them have focused on fish fauna. Moreover, there are no studies on riparian vegetation.

Hydropeaking might result in a failure of riparian species recruitment and hence affect the maintenance of riparian populations. Thus, by analysing seed germination and seedling performance, it might be possible to define hydropeaking – vegetation responses relationships that enable to quantify, correlate and predict biological responses to hydropeaking. Such relationships are crucial to objectively define thresholds which help to minimize ecological effects of hydropower generation without causing significant production losses. This project aims to bring light to the sustainable management of rivers subjected to hydropower production. For this goal, a deep literature revision, analysis of sub-daily flow series, field-experiments and computer modelling are scheduled. The final expected contributions from the project are: (1) new hydrological and ecological (i.e. riparian vegetation) metrics of hydropeaking impact, (2) new hydrology-ecology models to quantify such effects and (3) new effective measures for a sustainable operation of hydropower dams.

Page Editor: Elisabet Carlborg

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Freshwater ecologyNilsson Christer