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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2022

Environmental Flow Scenarios for a Regulated River System: Projecting Catchment-Wide Ecosystem Benefits and Consequences for Hydroelectric Production

Widen, Asa; Renofalt, Birgitta Malm; Degerman, Erik; Wisaeus, Dag; Jansson, Roland


To enable prioritization among measures for ecological restoration, knowing the expected benefits and consequences of implementation is imperative but rarely explicitly quantified. We developed a novel method to prioritize among environmental flow measures to rehabilitate ecosystems in the Ume River catchment in northern Sweden, a river system heavily regulated for hydropower production. Our strategy was to identify measures with minimal impact on hydropower production while providing substantial environmental benefits. Based on field surveys of remaining natural values and potential for ecological rehabilitation, we quantified the projected gain in habitat area of implementing environmental flows for target organism groups, for example, lotic fish species and riparian vegetation, along the whole river length. We quantified the consequences for hydropower production by identifying a set of hydropower operational rules reflecting the constraints added by environmental flows. We then used production optimization software to calculate changes in hydropower production and revenues. Implementing restrictions on zero-flow events by mandating minimum discharge at all run-of-river hydropower stations and allocating 1%-12% of mean annual discharge to bypassed reaches in the entire catchment would result in a 2.1% loss of annual electricity production. Adding flow to fishways would increase the loss to 3.1% per year. With implementation of more natural water-level fluctuations in run-of-river impoundments, the loss increases to 3.8%. These actions would increase the habitat for lotic species like the grayling Thymallus more than threefold and increase the area of riparian vegetation by about 66%. Our method forms a basis for ongoing implementation of nationwide environmental rehabilitation schemes.


consequences on electricity production; cost-benefit analyses; environmental benefits estimated by habitat; hydropower optimization software; regulated rivers and hydropower; river restoration and environmental flow assessment at catchment level

Published in

Water Resources Research
2022, volume: 58, number: 1, article number: e2021WR030297

Authors' information

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Wildlife, Fish and Environmental Studies
Umeå University
Renofalt, Birgitta Malm
Umea University
Degerman, Erik
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Aquatic Resources
Jansson, Roland
Umea University

Sustainable Development Goals

SDG7 Affordable and clean energy
SDG12 Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

UKÄ Subject classification

Oceanography, Hydrology, Water Resources

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