- Despite escalating conflict over fresh water, recent years have witnessed a growing realisation that human society must modify its behaviour to ensure long-term ecological vitality of riverine ecosystems. In response, ecologists have been increasingly asked to guide instream flow management by providing ‘environmental flow’ prescriptions for sustaining the ecological integrity of riverine systems.
- Environmental flows are typically discussed in the context of water releases from dams and water allocation for extraction (such as for urban use or irrigation), where there is general agreement that rivers need to exhibit some resemblance of natural flow variability necessary to support a functioning ecosystem. Although productive dialogue continues on how best to define environmental flows, these discussions have been focused primarily on water quantity without explicit consideration of many components of water quality, including water temperature – a fundamental ecological variable.
- Many human activities on the landscape have modified riverine thermal regimes. In particular, many dams have modified thermal regimes by selectively releasing hypolimnetic (cold) or epilimnetic (warm) water from thermally stratified reservoirs to the detriment of entire assemblages of native organisms. Despite the global scope of thermal alteration by dams, the prevention or mitigation of thermal degradation has not entered the conversation when environmental flows are discussed.
- Here, we propose that a river’s thermal regime is a key, yet poorly acknowledged, component of environmental flows. This study explores the concept of the natural thermal regime, reviews how dam operations modify thermal regimes, and discusses the ecological implications of thermal alteration for freshwater ecosystems. We identify five major challenges for incorporating water temperatures into environmental flow assessments, and describe future research opportunities and some alternative approaches for confronting those challenges.
- We encourage ecologists and water managers to broaden their perspective on environmental flows to include both water quantity and quality with respect to restoring natural thermal regimes. We suggest that scientific research should focus on the comprehensive characterisation of seasonality and variability in stream temperatures, quantification of the temporal and spatial impacts of dam operations on thermal regimes and clearer elucidation of the relative roles of altered flow and temperature in shaping ecological patterns and processes in riverine ecosystems. Future investigations should also concentrate on using this acquired knowledge to identify the ‘manageable’ components of the thermal regime, and develop optimisation models that evaluate management trade-offs and provide a range of optimal environmental flows that meet both ecosystem and human needs for fresh water.
Climate and hydrologic fluctuations in the Pacific Northwest lead to large year-to-year variations in the strength of the Columbia River hydropower resource. We describe and present results from a seasonal hydrologic prediction system for the Columbia River basin that gives insight into the seasons-ahead behavior of this resource starting near the beginning of each water year. The forecast system is based on the real-time application of a state-of-the-science, macroscale hydrologic model coupled with ensemble climate forecasts. Estimates of initial land surface conditions, primarily in the form of snow water equivalent, are improved via the assimilation of snowpack observations, and forecast biases are reduced through statistical forecast calibration. The forecast system produces graphical forecast products designed to help water and energy managers understand the current state of the Columbia River basin, the climate outlook for the water year, and the implications of both for future streamflow.
Nonpoint source pollution (NPS) studies, such as total maximum daily loads development, often require quantification of flow in small first-order and second-order streams. Frequently, stream-gaging techniques are implemented in flows that are below the manufacturer’s recommended minimum velocity. A comparative analysis of the accuracy of current technologies used in NPS pollution stream-gaging applications and their applicability in low-flow conditions was conducted. Nine stream-gaging methods were evaluated for their field and laboratory performance and control structures were used as the statistical control. Analysis of the field investigation data indicated that Marsh McBirney current meter and the One-orange method were the most accurate in the field while the results of the laboratory experiments found that the Starflow acoustic Doppler and Valeport Braystoke current meter performed best among the 10 methods. Overall, the Marsh McBirney and Valeport Braystoke current meters exhibited the best performance for both field and laboratory situations.
We investigated the effect of technical clarity on success in multi-party negotiations in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) licensing process. Technical clarity is the shared understanding of dimensions such as the geographic extent of the project, range of flows to be considered, important species and life stages, and variety of water uses considered. The results of four hydropower licensing consultations are reported. Key participants were interviewed to ascertain the level of technical clarity present during the consultations and the degree to which the consultations were successful. Technical clarity appears to be a prerequisite for successful outcomes. Factors that enhance technical clarity include simple project design, new rather than existing projects, precise definition of issues, a sense of urgency to reach agreement, a sense of fairness among participants, and consistency in participation. Negotiators should not neglect the critical pre-negotiation steps of defining technical issues and determining appropriate studies, deciding how to interpret studies, and agreeing on responses to study results.