Analyzing the impacts of dams on riparian ecosystems: A review of research strategies and their relevance to the Snake River through Hells Canyon

Publication Date



dams, ecosystems, strategy, Snake River, flow regulation, upstream, sediment, salmon, Salmon River, photographs

Journal or Book Title

Journal of Environmental Management


River damming provides a dominant human impact on river environments worldwide, and while local impacts of reservoir flooding are immediate, subsequent ecological impacts downstream can be extensive. In this article, we assess seven research strategies for analyzing the impacts of dams and river flow regulation on riparian ecosystems. These include spatial comparisons of (1) upstream versus downstream reaches, (2) progressive downstream patterns, or (3) the dammed river versus an adjacent free-flowing or differently regulated river(s). Temporal comparisons consider (4) pre- versus post-dam, or (5) sequential post-dam conditions. However, spatial comparisons are complicated by the fact that dams are not randomly located, and temporal comparisons are commonly limited by sparse historic information. As a result, comparative approaches are often correlative and vulnerable to confounding factors. To complement these analyses, (6) flow or sediment modifications can be implemented to test causal associations. Finally, (7) process-based modeling represents a predictive approach incorporating hydrogeomorphic processes and their biological consequences. In a case study of Hells Canyon, the upstream versus downstream comparison is confounded by a dramatic geomorphic transition. Comparison of the multiple reaches below the dams should be useful, and the comparison of Snake River with the adjacent free-flowing Salmon River may provide the strongest spatial comparison. A pre- versus post-dam comparison would provide the most direct study approach, but pre-dam information is limited to historic reports and archival photographs. We conclude that multiple study approaches are essential to provide confident interpretations of ecological impacts downstream from dams, and propose a comprehensive study for Hells Canyon that integrates multiple research strategies.





This document is currently not available here.