Ecological response of a multi-purpose river development project using macro-invertebrates richness and fish habitat value

It has been acknowledged that river morphology and hydrology have been intensively altered due to the anthropic demands in floodplain land use and management, flood protection, promotion of navigability or energy production. Rivers were transformed in water highways, having lost contact with their surrounding floodplain as well as the plethora of ecological processes and occupants once thriving in these ecotonal zones. The identification of this emerging threat of morphological and hydrological alteration on ecological integrity adds further complexity in the exploitation of hydrosystem resources. These resources are heavily coveted and guarded by different lobbies each having strategic views on future project development. Stakeholders may want to promote hydro-electricity, ecologists a natural reserve, communes may wish to have an increased flood protection and leisure promoters a nautical center. As a result, the proposition of a river development project is certain to face opposition of one party or the other. The motivations of this dissertation are anchored in this context, where various and sometimes conflicting potentials for hydrosystem exploitation remain. This works aims at contributing scientifically to an innovative approach at the conception phase of a multi-purpose river development project by developing the ecological module to be implemented in the general project's optimizer. The SYNERGIE project hypothesis is that it should be possible to identify a synergetic pattern joining the interests of ecological integrity, flood safety, energy production and leisure development. Such a multi-objective river development project would stand more chance of acceptance. This dissertation focuses on the ecological aspects of such a river development project and an application on the regulated Swiss Upper Rhone River. Is expected an ecological answer to a river development project design / management which has to be compatible with Heller's Heller (2007) general SYNERGIE project optimizer taking into account all the project poles. The system of interest is composed of a buffering reservoir of ca. 1 km2, a run-of-the-river dam, a hydro power-plant, and an artificial river ensuring longitudinal continuum. The primary part of the work consisted in an extensive literature review on system understanding, anthropic alterations and quality assessment / prediction tool available. The approach consisted of two levels (1) the general ecological considerations to be followed at the project reservoir scale and (2) the measure of the downstream ecological response through modeling. General ecological considerations at the reservoir scale were the implementation of an artificial river ensuring longitudinal connectivity, implementation of artificial ecotonal boosters and the allocation of a sanctuary zone with limited public access. The downstream measure of ecological integrity was based on the choice of three taxonomic groups of macro-invertebrates and four ecological guilds (groups) of fish. Mayflies (Ephemeroptera), stoneflies (Plecoptera) and caddisflies (Trichoptera) richness were predicted using simple hydrological and morphological covariates (i.e. substrate, current speed,...) coupled to system specific faunistic surveys. Bank, riffle, pool and midstream fish guilds habitat values were determined using existing methods. By using the simulation results of river development project scenarios as inputs, the ecological response (i.e. the measure of ecological integrity) was computed following the assumptions that high predicted macro-invertebrate richness and high guilds habitat values were linked to a high ecological integrity. An emphasis on the hydropeaking effect in relation with river morphology was performed on macro-invertebrates. They were found to respond well to hydrological and morphological changes induced by river development projects while the approach by fish habitat value encountered limitations in its applicability. Four multi-objective project scenarios were analyzed, (1) the actual state of the Swiss Upper Rhone River at the Riddes site (VS), (2) a hypothetical hydropeaking mitigation project, (3) a hypothetical bed widening project and (4) a hypothetical bed widening coupled to hydropeakaing mitigation project. The actual state resulted in the worst measure of ecological integrity, with comparable results for hydropeaking mitigation project or the bed widening project. The highest measure of ecological integrity was observed for the coupling of hydropeaking mitigation and bed widening. These results showed that a multi-purpose project can increase the ecological integrity of the Swiss Upper Rhone River, produce electricity, provide protection from floods and develop local leisure activities. The synergetic effect of the project could be measured by project acceptance. Nevertheless, our knowledge on the hydropeaking effect on hydrosystem should still be completed by more research in order to give more weight to the ecological implication of hydropeaking.

Related material