Research ArticleENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES

The changing hydrology of a dammed Amazon

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Science Advances  01 Nov 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 11, e1700611
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1700611

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Abstract

Developing countries around the world are expanding hydropower to meet growing energy demand. In the Brazilian Amazon, >200 dams are planned over the next 30 years, and questions about the impacts of current and future hydropower in this globally important watershed remain unanswered. In this context, we applied a hydrologic indicator method to quantify how existing Amazon dams have altered the natural flow regime and to identify predictors of alteration. The type and magnitude of hydrologic alteration varied widely by dam, but the largest changes were to critical characteristics of the flood pulse. Impacts were largest for low-elevation, large-reservoir dams; however, small dams had enormous impacts relative to electricity production. Finally, the “cumulative” effect of multiple dams was significant but only for some aspects of the flow regime. This analysis is a first step toward the development of environmental flows plans and policies relevant to the Amazon and other megadiverse river basins.

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