, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 257-267
Date: 10 Jan 2007

Hydropower production and river rehabilitation: A case study on an alpine river

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Despite the numerous benefits of hydropower production, this renewable energy source can have serious negative consequences on the environment. For example, dams act as barriers for the longitudinal migration of organisms and transport of particulate matter. Accelerated siltation processes in the receiving river reduce the vertical connectivity between river and groundwater. Hydropeaks, caused by short-term changes in hydropower operation, result in a negative impact on both habitat and organisms, especially during winter months when natural discharge is low and almost constant. In this study, we report the current deficits present in the River Rhone from two different scientific perspectives – fish ecology and hydrology. Potential rehabilitation solutions in synergy with flood protection measures are discussed. We focus on the effects of hydropeaking in relation to longitudinal and vertical dimensions and discuss local river widening as a potential rehabilitation tool. The fish fauna in the Rhone is characterized by a highly unnatural structure (low diversity, impaired age distribution). A high correlation between fish biomass and monotonous morphology (poor cover availability) was established. Tracer hydrology provided further details about the reduced permeability of the riverbank, revealing a high degree of siltation with K values of about 4.7 × 10−6 m s−1. Improving the hydrologic situation is therefore essential for the successful rehabilitation of the Rhone River. To this end, hydropeaks in the river reaches must be attenuated. This can be realized by a combination of different hard technical and soft operational measures such as retention reservoirs or slower up and down ramping of turbines.

M. Fette and C. Weber contributed equally to this work.