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A shorter time step for eco-friendly reservoir operation does not always produce better water availability and ecosystem benefits

Yu, Chunxue, Yin, Xin’an, Yang, Zhifeng, Cai, Yanpeng, Sun, Tao
Journal of hydrology 2016 v.540 pp. 900-913
case studies, ecosystems, humans, hydrology, models, water supply, China
The time step used in the operation of eco-friendly reservoirs has decreased from monthly to daily, and even sub-daily. The shorter time step is considered a better choice for satisfying downstream environmental requirements because it more closely resembles the natural flow regime. However, little consideration has been given to the influence of different time steps on the ability to simultaneously meet human and environmental flow requirements. To analyze this influence, we used an optimization model to explore the relationships among the time step, environmental flow (e-flow) requirements, and human water needs for a wide range of time steps and e-flow scenarios. We used the degree of hydrologic alteration to evaluate the regime’s ability to satisfy the e-flow requirements of riverine ecosystems, and used water supply reliability to evaluate the ability to satisfy human needs. We then applied the model to a case study of China’s Tanghe Reservoir. We found four efficient time steps (2, 3, 4, and 5 days), with a remarkably high water supply reliability (around 80%) and a low alteration of the flow regime (<35%). Our analysis of the hydrologic alteration revealed the smallest alteration at time steps ranging from 1 to 7 days. However, longer time steps led to higher water supply reliability to meet human needs under several e-flow scenarios. Our results show that adjusting the time step is a simple way to improve reservoir operation performance to balance human and e-flow needs.