UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Both Forest Harvesting and Hydropower Dams Yielded Negative Impact on Low Flow Regimes in the Zagunao River Watershed, Southwest China Jiang, Zhiwei; Zhang, Mingfang; Hou, Yiping

Abstract

Forest harvesting and hydropower dams can significantly affect flow regimes (magnitude, timing, duration, frequency, and variability), resulting in changes in degraded aquatic ecosystems and unstable water supply. Despite numerous studies on the effects of forest harvesting on mean flows, the impact of forest harvesting on flow regimes has been less investigated. A great difficulty lies in separating the hydrological effect of forest harvesting from that of climate variability and other watershed disturbances such hydropower dams. In this study, the Upper Zagunao River watershed (2242 km2) was selected as an example to provide a quantitative assessment of the effects of forest harvesting and hydropower dams on low flow regimes. The key findings include: (1) Forest harvesting led to a significant reduction in the magnitude and return period of low flows, and a significant increment in the variability and duration of low flows; (2) the recovery of low flow regimes occurred 40 years after forest harvesting as forest recovery processed; and (3) hydropower dams caused significant impact on all components of low flow regimes, e.g., a reduction in the magnitude, return period, and timing of low flows, and an increment in the variability and duration of low flows. Our findings highlight the negative impact of both forest harvesting and hydropower dams on low flow regimes in the Upper Zagunao River watershed. A watershed management strategy for offsetting the negative effect of hydropower dams on low flow regimes by restoring hydrological functions of subalpine forests is highly recommended in subalpine watersheds of the Upper Yangtze River.

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