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Research Project Description


 Project Title Hydropower-related pulsed-flow impacts on stream fishes
 Issue
Pulsed flow release from Camino Dam, Silver Creek, CA, on Sept. 15, 2004. Photo by Lisa Thompson.
The societal benefits of hydropower systems (e.g., relatively clean electrical power, water supply, flood control, and recreation) come with a cost to native stream fishes. Until now, the specific effects of the associated pulsed-flow releases on stream fishes have not been reviewed in detail, or synthesized in a conceptual model that would allow managers to predict and mitigate the negative effects.

 Objectives We had four main objectives: 1) Review the international literature for the effects of pulsed flows on stream fishes; 2) Develop a conceptual model to predict the effects of different types of pulsed flow; 3) Identify gaps in knowledge; and, 4) Identify research activities to address these gaps.

 Research Activities We reviewed and synthesized the literature on hydropower-related pulsed flows to guide resource managers in addressing significant impacts while avoiding unnecessary curtailment of hydropower operations.

 Results Dams may release pulsed flows in response to needs for peaking power, recreational flows, reservoir storage adjustment for flood control, or to mimic natural peaks in the hydrograph. Depending on timing, frequency, duration, and magnitude, pulsed flows can have adverse or beneficial short and long-term effects on resident or migratory stream fishes. Adverse effects include direct impacts to fish populations due to 1. stranding of fishes along the changing channel margins, 2. downstream displacement of fishes, and 3. reduced spawning and rearing success due to redd/nest dewatering and untimely or obstructed migration. Beneficial effects include: 1. maintenance of habitat for spawning and rearing, and 2. biological cues to trigger spawning, hatching, and migration. We developed a basic conceptual model to predict the effects of different types of pulsed flow, identified gaps in knowledge, and identified research activities to address these gaps.

 Outcomes and Impacts Our work indicates that there is a clear need for a quantitative framework incorporating mathematical representations of field and laboratory results on flow, temperature, habitat structure, fish life stages by season, fish population dynamics, and multiple fish species, which can be used to predict outcomes and design mitigation strategies in other regulated streams experiencing pulsed flows. The results of this project have been published as a report to the California Energy Commission, in a peer-review journal, and will be presented at the national annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society. This information may now guide current licensing endeavors and encourage new research to allow a more thorough synthesis of pulsed flow effects.  Ultimately, this will allow resource managers to prevent or mitigate significant negative impacts of pulsed flows while avoiding unnecessary curtailment of hydropower operations due to a lack of knowledge.

 Photos
View of pool on Silver Creek, CA during summer baseflow, Aug. 2004 (same vantage as photo below). Photo by Lisa Thompson.
View of pool on Silver Creek, CA during summer baseflow, Aug. 2004 (same vantage as photo below). Photo by Lisa Thompson.

Kayaker runs a drop on Silver Creek, CA during pulsed flow on Sept. 15, 2004 (same vantage as photo above). Photo by Lisa Thompson.
Kayaker runs a drop on Silver Creek, CA during pulsed flow on Sept. 15, 2004 (same vantage as photo above). Photo by Lisa Thompson.

 Supporting Information

Young P, JJ Cech, LC Thompson. 2011. Hydropower-related pulsed-flow impacts on stream fishes: A brief review, conceptual model, knowledge gaps, and research needs. Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries. DOI: 10.1007/s11160-011-9211-0 Download Request Reprint

Young PS, Conklin DE, O’Hagan J, Canaday J, Cox C, Cech JJ Jr, Sih A, LC Thompson. 2007. Hydropower-related pulsed flow impacts on stream fishes, amphibians, and macroinvertebrates. Prepared for California Energy Commission-Public Interest Energy Research Program, Sacramento, California. December 2007. 50 p. Request Reprint

 Acknowledgements This project was funded by the California Energy Commission.

 For more information contact

Dr. Lisa C. Thompson

Wildlife, Fish, & Conservation Biology Department
University of California, Davis

Email: lcthompson@ucdavis.edu
Phone: (530) 754-5732

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