A Dam Conundrum: The Role of Impoundments in Stream Flow Alteration
Brogan, Connor O'Beirne
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Over the past century, the world's rivers have become increasingly impounded to combat water scarcity and fossil-fuel reliance. Large dams have faded from popularity due to their adverse environmental effects, but small ponds and reservoirs continue to be constructed at high rates. Due to limited data regarding their size and flow, it has been difficult to assess how these smaller impoundments impact rivers. This study combined rainfall runoff data from the Chesapeake Bay Model with the unique routing framework of VA Hydro to create a simplistic hydrologic model capable of analyzing impoundment-induced flow alteration. Using standard design techniques and satellite imagery, a methodology was developed to build realistic stage-storage-discharge relationships for small and large impoundments. Eleven impoundments of the Difficult Run watershed were modeled within VA Hydro to assess their cumulative impact on downstream flow. Multiple models were created with different active impoundments and run for the full model period, 1984 - 2005. Flow alteration increased significantly with additional impoundments. Peak flows were attenuated as water was stored behind outlets, but median flows were increased as this water was slowly released. Average storm duration increased due to extended rising and falling limbs caused by impoundment outlets. Headwater channels increasingly ran dry, decreasing extreme low flows due to impoundment evaporation. Large reservoirs had a greater impact on median flows, but smaller ponds dominated low flow alteration. These results suggest that traditional hydrologic assumptions and metrics may be incapable of analyzing a changing flow regime without explicitly considering small and large impoundments upstream.
- Masters Theses