CIE Spotlight: Limitations to the feasibility of using hypolimnetic releases to create refuges for riverine species in response to stream warming

Ty M. and Rebecca L.

Ty M. and Rebecca L.

Title: Limitations to the feasibility of using hypolimnetic releases to create refuges for riverine species in response to stream warming

Authors: Matthews, Ty G.; Lester, Rebecca E.; Cummings, Courtney R.; Lautenschlager, Agnes D.

Source: ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE & POLICY, 54 331-339, DEC 2015

Brief summary of the paper: Given predicted increases associated with human-induced climate change, stream temperatures are likely to approach upper tolerance limits of aquatic biota within the coming decades. Little information is available regarding thermal tolerance limits of lotic fauna or mechanisms allowing fauna to persist following high temperature events (e.g. use of thermal refuges). Cold-water refuges can facilitate survival of fish in the Northern Hemisphere, but little evidence of similar refuges exists elsewhere.

Planned releases of hypolimnetic, or a mixture of top and bottom, waters from reservoirs have recently been touted as a novel method to potentially ameliorate extreme temperature events. However, the feasibility of this technique has not been fully discussed in the published literature. Therefore, we present a literature review, an analysis of thermal data for some large dams in southern Australia in relation to known thermal tolerances of native fauna, and an assessment of current management practices regarding the technique.

We show that hypolimnetic releases have variable impacts on water temperatures downstream of a dam, depending on size, off-take infrastructure and management practices but, even where there is an effect, knowledge gaps are too numerous for this technique to be currently feasible. Furthermore, hypolimnetic releases generally evoke negative connotations among natural resource managers, due to the occurrence of cold-water shock in some species.

If knowledge gaps and limitations can be addressed, it is possible that the technique may be considered in future, so we present potential tools for future assessment, capacities and limitations and discuss potential scenarios where environmental managers might consider this technique.