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A Method to Consider Whether Dams Mitigate Climate Change Effects on Stream Temperatures


  • Paper No. JAWRA-12-0146-P of the Journal of the American Water Resources Association (JAWRA).

  • Discussions are open until six months from print publication.


This article provides a method for examining mesoscale water quality objectives downstream of dams with anticipated climate change using a multimodel approach. Coldwater habitat for species such as trout and salmon has been reduced by water regulation, dam building, and land use change that alter stream temperatures. Climate change is an additional threat. Changing hydroclimatic conditions will likely impact water temperatures below dams and affect downstream ecology. We model reservoir thermal dynamics and release operations (assuming that operations remain unchanged through time) of hypothetical reservoirs of different sizes, elevations, and latitudes with climate-forced inflow hydrologies to examine the potential to manage water temperatures for coldwater habitat. All models are one dimensional and operate on a weekly timestep. Results are presented as water temperature change from the historical time period and indicate that reservoirs release water that is cooler than upstream conditions, although the absolute temperatures of reaches below dams warm with climate change. Stream temperatures are sensitive to changes in reservoir volume, elevation, and latitude. Our approach is presented as a proof of concept study to evaluate reservoir regulation effects on stream temperatures and coldwater habitat with climate change.