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Environmental Management

, Volume 11, Issue 6, pp 757-769

First online:

Basic hydrologic studies for assessing impacts of flow diversions on riparian vegetation: Examples from streams of the eastern Sierra Nevada, California, USA

  • G. Mathias KondolfAffiliated withDepartment of Geography and Environmental Engineering, Johns Hopkins University
  • , J. Warren WebbAffiliated withEnvironmental Sciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
  • , Michael J. SaleAffiliated withEnvironmental Sciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
  • , Thomas FelandoAffiliated withInyo National Forest

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Abstract

As the number of proposals to divert streamflow for power production has increased in recent years, interest has grown in predicting the impacts of flow reductions on riparian vegetation. Because the extent and density of riparian vegetation depend largely on local geomorphic and hydrologic setting, site-specific geomorphic and hydrologic information is needed. This article describes methods for collecting relevant hydrologic data, and reports the results of such studies on seven stream reaches proposed for hydroelectric development in the eastern Sierra Nevada, California, USA. The methods described are: (a) preparing geomorphic maps from aerial photographs, (b) using well level records to evaluate the influence of streamflow on the riparian water table, (c) taking synoptic flow measurements to identify gaining and losing reaches, and (d) analyzing flow records from an upstream-downstream pair of gages to document seasonal variations in downstream flow losses. In the eastern Sierra Nevada, the geomorphic influences on hydrology and riparian vegetation were pronounced. For example, in a large, U-shaped glacial valley, the width of the riparian strip was highly variable along the study reach and was related to geomorphic controls, whereas the study reaches on alluvial fan deposits had relatively uniform geomorphology and riparian strip width. Flow losses of 20% were typical over reaches on alluvial fans. In a mountain valley, however, one stream gained up to 275% from geomorphically controlled groundwater contributions.

Key words

Hydroelectric impacts Eastern Sierra Nevada Riparian vegetation