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Sustainable reservoir operation: can we generate hydropower and preserve ecosystem values

Jager, Henriette I., Smith, Brennan T.
River research and applications 2008 v.24 no.3 pp. 340-352
carbon, dissolved oxygen, ecosystems, electricity, emissions, energy, fish health, hydroelectric power, models, nutrients, rivers, sustainable engineering, temperature, water balance, water quality, water reservoirs
Hydroelectric power provides a cheap source of electricity with few carbon emissions. Yet, reservoirs are not operated sustainably, which we define as meeting societal needs for water and power while protecting long-term health of the river ecosystem. Reservoirs that generate hydropower are typically operated with the goal of maximizing energy revenue, while meeting other legal water requirements. Reservoir optimization schemes used in practice do not seek flow regimes that maximize aquatic ecosystem health. Here, we review optimization studies that considered environmental goals in one of three approaches. The first approach seeks flow regimes that maximize hydropower generation, while satisfying legal requirements, including environmental (or minimum) flows. Solutions from this approach are often used in practice to operate hydropower projects. In the second approach, flow releases from a dam are timed to meet water quality constraints on dissolved oxygen (DO), temperature and nutrients. In the third approach, flow releases are timed to improve the health of fish populations. We conclude by suggesting three steps for bringing multi-objective reservoir operation closer to the goal of ecological sustainability: (1) conduct research to identify which features of flow variation are essential for river health and to quantify these relationships, (2) develop valuation methods to assess the total value of river health and (3) develop optimal control softwares that combine water balance modelling with models that predict ecosystem responses to flow.