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A new approach for assessing natural patterns of flow variability and hydrological alterations: The case of the Spanish rivers

García de Jalón, Silvestre, González del Tánago, Marta, García de Jalón, Diego
Journal of environmental management 2019 v.233 pp. 200-210
anthropogenic activities, dams (hydrology), environmental impact, freshwater ecosystems, humans, hydrology, rivers, water use efficiency, watersheds
Ensuring water is available for human use usually requires dams and reservoirs that severely affect river ecosystems. Hydrological alteration by river damming represents one of the most prominent human impacts on freshwater ecosystems. This paper presents a methodological approach to assessing the natural patterns of flow variability and hydrological alterations in Mediterranean rivers. The methodology first defines the admissible range of flow variability under a natural flow regime. Then, the methodology measures the environmental impact of flow regulation according to the inferred hydrological alteration and classifies rivers into homogeneous groups according to the magnitude, frequency, duration and seasonality of the impacts. This paper applies the proposed methodology to thirty-three river segments below large reservoirs located in the three largest Spanish watersheds (Duero, Ebro and Tajo). For each segment, this study evaluates the general impoundment characteristics and geographical contexts and calculates the flow impacts and the divergence between the circulating flows and the reference area of admissible flow variability on a daily basis for the period 2000–2010. This assessment of dam regulation impacts provides a reference to plan measures for mitigating these impacts. The advantages of this flow regulation impact analysis over other analyses are discussed in terms of the implementation of environmental water costs as suggested by the European Water Framework Directive. This approach expands the current understanding of water environmental costs and represents a practical management tool for decreasing the environmental impacts of flow regulation and for increasing water-use efficiency.