Countless watersheds, rivers, and wetland ecosystems worldwide have become degraded and disconnected. Dams, with and without hydropower, have historically been the primary disrupters of connectivity in rivers, preventing fish, water and critical sediment from moving through rivers and streams.
Healthy riverine ecosystems depend upon a fully connected river to function, and disruption of connectivity disrupts the critical equilibrium necessary for a river to provide many of its benefits to aquatic animals, plants, sediment, area wildlife, and humans. Disconnection and degradation of a river can cause low flows, dry/incised river beds, and species decline, among other negative effects.
With support from the United States Department of Energy (DOE), we worked with researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, leading river restoration experts at Natural Systems Design, and recreational designers and engineers from Mclaughlin Whitewater, as well as University of California, Berkeley’s Environmental Systems Dynamics Laboratory, Small Hydro Consulting, and Wells Engineering to apply the principles of Restoration Hydro to a paper demonstration site in Virginia, United States.
The conceptual partial dam removal project would provide meaningful restoration outcomes including reconnecting 137 miles of upstream habitat for migratory fish (eel, shad, striped bass, river herring) and improved sediment transport, while replacing a recreational hazard with a world-class surfing facility — all while delivering 2.4 MW / 13 GWh of fish-safe hydro and replacing ~50% of the existing dam with a rock arch that would enable upstream fish passage.
Restoration Hydro projects generate multiple environmental co-benefits that may include habitat creation, improved water quality and sustained increases in groundwater and aquifer recharge rates. When deployed strategically at multiple sites across a basin, Restoration Hydro projects enhance river, wetland and watershed connectivity, which can help partially mitigate the impacts of droughts and floods.