Restoring Spring Runoff on Regulated Rivers

Session Date & Time: 
May 7, 2012 - 2:00pm
Session Length: 
90 minutes
Skill Level: 
Intermediate/Advanced
Presenter(s): 

Dave Steindorf, American Whitewater

Amy Lind, U.S. Forest Service

This workshop is well suited for advocates and agency staff working to restore and protect habitat and flows on river systems impacted by dams. The flow in rivers regulated by dams can drop from flood stage to minimum instream flows very rapidly, and when this happens, a critical piece of the natural hydrograph is eliminated. On unimpaired rivers in Mediterranean climates, peak spring flows gradually recede over time to low summer base flows in a "snowmelt recession." The timing and duration of the snowmelt recession has a direct and tangible impact on river health - from how the rocks in the river move and what habitat gets created, to which river critters are queued up for breeding and where vegetation takes root along the banks. Winter is typically a season of high and erratic flows that create abiotic stresses on riparian communities. These conditions are suboptimal for raising young of the year frogs, fish and macroinvertebrates. Low summer flows bring higher water temperatures that create biotic stresses that are similarly limiting. Similar to the rains on the Serengeti Plains, the period between high erratic winter/spring flows and low summer flows is arguably the most robust season of ecological activity in these rivers.

Bringing back the snowmelt recession is a powerful tool that can be used to restore flows, habitat and recreation opportunities to rivers impacted by dams. In this workshop, California Stewardship Director Dave Steindorf will present why, as a whitewater enthusiast, he's advocating for flows that benefit frogs and fish, and describe how American Whitewater began the process of bringing the snowmelt recession into legitimacy at FERC relicensings in California. His actions initiated a pivotal study and paper about the snowmelt recession published by U.C. Davis hydrologists. Participants will leave with an understanding of the key findings of this study, which include why the snowmelt recession is vital to riparian health.

The rationale and analytic tools demonstrated in this workshop will allow participants to integrate the snowmelt recession concept into flow development processes. Participants will analyze the differences between flows in regulated systems and those that are unhampered by dams. They will come away with the tools necessary to develop appropriate flow measures that go beyond habitat modeling, including how to calculate recession rates and water cost.

Presenter Bio(s): 

Dave Steindorf was introduced to rivers at age 7, when his father put a fly rod into his hands, and later learned to kayak, which was a natural progression from his childhood love of rivers. Dave is the California Stewardship Director for American Whitewater and has extensive experience negotiating FERC licenses on major river systems in California. He is well known as a consensus builder, and in addition to his advocacy work for free flowing rivers, he has worked as a consultant for several Utilities in the West. Additionally, he has played a key role in studies investigating whitewater recreation flows, angling, and flat-water boating. Dave believes that the best way to improve people's notions about whitewater is to get them on the river - couch potatoes make lousy river advocates.

Amy J. Lind is a wildlife biologist with the USDA Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station in Davis, California. She has a Ph.D. in Ecology from the University of California, Davis and a Master’s degree in Wildlife from Humboldt State University. She has worked for the Pacific Southwest Research Station since 1986, conducting research on land and water management activities relative to California amphibians and reptiles and their habitats. Current research projects include: livestock grazing effects on Yosemite toads (Anaxyrus [Bufo] canorus); responses of foothill yellow-legged frogs (Rana boylii) to altered water flow regimes; riverine algal communities in regulated and unregulated rivers and consequences for aquatic grazers; natural and snow-melt recession hydrology in regulated and unregulated rivers - geomorphology and aquatic species responses. In addition to research activities, she also provides technical consulting for several National Forests on Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) hydropower relicensing studies and post-license monitoring plans.