Marine and Freshwater Research Marine and Freshwater Research Society
Advances in the aquatic sciences
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Dam reoperation in an era of climate change

R. J. Watts A , B. D. Richter B , J. J. Opperman C and K. H. Bowmer D
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Institute for Land, Water and Society, Charles Sturt University, Albury, NSW 2640, Australia.

B The Nature Conservancy, Crozet, Virginia, USA.

C The Nature Conservancy and the Center for Watershed Sciences, University of California, Davis, USA.

D Institute for Land, Water and Society, and School of Agricultural and Wine Sciences, Charles Sturt University, Locked Bag 588, Wagga Wagga, NSW 2678, Australia.

E Corresponding author. Email: rwatts@csu.edu.au

Marine and Freshwater Research 62(3) 321-327 https://doi.org/10.1071/MF10047
Submitted: 21 February 2010  Accepted: 10 October 2010   Published: 18 March 2011

Abstract

Climate change is predicted to affect the future supply and demand for water resources. Current water-management practices may not adequately cope with the impacts of climate change on the reliability of water supply, flood risk, health, agriculture, energy generation and aquatic ecosystems. Water managers can adapt to climate variability by structural change, such as increasing the size or number of dams, building desalination plants and transferring water between catchments; however, a broader set of alternatives with multiple beneficial outcomes for society and the environment should be explored. We discuss how modifying dam operations, ‘dam reoperation’, can assist with adaptation to climate change and help restore ecosystems. The main operating purpose of a dam (e.g. flood management, hydropower or water supply) will influence dam reoperation strategies. Reoperation may require integration across sectors or involve multiple dams, enhancing benefits such as water supply or hydropower while simultaneously achieving ecosystem restoration. We provide examples of lessons learned during extreme scenarios (e.g. floods and droughts), where operational flexibility has been demonstrated. We contrast structural climate-change adaptation strategies (e.g. building new dams) and their resulting detrimental environmental outcomes with dam reoperation, which can maximise benefits for ecosystems and society.

Additional keywords: dams, environmental flows, flood control, flow restoration, flow variability, freshwater ecosystems, hydropower, water supply.


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