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Application of the ELOHA Framework to Regulated Rivers in the Upper Tennessee River Basin: A Case Study

Abstract

In order for habitat restoration in regulated rivers to be effective at large scales, broadly applicable frameworks are needed that provide measurable objectives and contexts for management. The Ecological Limits of Hydrologic Alteration (ELOHA) framework was created as a template to assess hydrologic alterations, develop relationships between altered streamflow and ecology, and establish environmental flow standards. We tested the utility of ELOHA in informing flow restoration applications for fish and riparian communities in regulated rivers in the Upper Tennessee River Basin (UTRB). We followed the steps of ELOHA to generate univariate relationships between altered flows and ecology within the UTRB. By comparison, we constructed multivariate models to determine improvements in predictive capacity with the addition of non-flow variables. We then determined whether those relationships could predict fish and riparian responses to flow restoration in the Cheoah River, a regulated system within the UTRB. Although ELOHA provided a robust template to construct hydrologic information and predict hydrology for ungaged locations, our results do not suggest that univariate relationships between flow and ecology (step 4, ELOHA process) can produce results sufficient to guide flow restoration in regulated rivers. After constructing multivariate models, we successfully developed predictive relationships between flow alterations and fish/riparian responses. In accordance with model predictions, riparian encroachment displayed consistent decreases with increases in flow magnitude in the Cheoah River; however, fish richness did not increase as predicted 4 years after restoration. Our results suggest that altered temperature and substrate and the current disturbance regime may have reduced opportunities for fish species colonization. Our case study highlights the need for interdisciplinary science in defining environmental flows for regulated rivers and the need for adaptive management approaches once flows are restored.

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Acknowledgments

This work was funded by the Cheoah Fund Board, a multi-agency collaboration among Alcoa Power, the USDA Forest Service, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, the NC Division of Water Resources-DENR, and other grants provided by the USDA Forest Service. Funding was also provided by the Sigma Xi Grants-In-Aid of Research Program. We thank Mark Cantrell, Chris Goodreau, Steve Fraley, Steve Reid, Jim Mead, Rick Simmons, Paul Leonard, and Andrew Bearden for providing reports, summaries, and data. Suggested revisions on earlier versions of this paper were provided by Mark Cantrell, Paul Angermeier, Emmanuel Frimpong, and Tess Wynn. In addition, comments provided by five anonymous reviewers substantially improved this paper. We also extend gratitude to Tyler Young, Toby Coyner, David Belkoski, Travis Patton, Jason Emmel, McKeever Henley, and Adam Hart for their assistance with field work.

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Correspondence to Ryan A. McManamay.

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Appendix

Appendix

See Table 7.

Table 7 List of fish species as residents, occasional, potential colonists, and reintroduced in the Cheoah River from 1993 to 2009 and in tributaries below Santeetlah Dam, Calderwood Reservoir (mouth of Cheoah), and tributaries above Santeetlah Dam

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McManamay, R.A., Orth, D.J., Dolloff, C.A. et al. Application of the ELOHA Framework to Regulated Rivers in the Upper Tennessee River Basin: A Case Study. Environmental Management 51, 1210–1235 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-013-0055-3

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Keywords

  • Environmental flow
  • Water policy
  • Dams
  • Habitat restoration
  • Fish
  • Riparian