Classification of US Hydropower Dams by Their Modes of Operation


River Research and Applications


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Academic ArticlesPublished   1/18/2016

ABSTRACT: A key challenge to understanding ecohydrologic responses to dam regulation is the absence of a universally transferable classification framework for how dams operate. In the present paper, we develop a classification system to organize the modes of operation (MOPs) for US hydropower dams and powerplants. To determine the full diversity of MOPs, we mined federal documents, open-access data repositories, and internet sources. We then used CART classification trees to predict MOPs based on physical characteristics, regulation, and project generation. Finally, we evaluated how much variation MOPs explained in sub-daily discharge patterns for stream gages downstream of hydropower dams. After reviewing information for 721 dams and 597 power plants, we developed a two-tier hierarchical classification based on (i) the storage and control of flows to powerplants, and (ii) the presence of a diversion around the natural stream bed. This resulted in nine tier-1 MOPs representing a continuum of operations from strictly peaking, to reregulating, to run-of-river, and two tier-2 MOPs, representing diversion and integral dam-powerhouse configurations. Although MOPs differed in physical characteristics and energy production, classification trees had low accuracies (≤62%), which suggested that accurate evaluations of MOPs may require individual attention. MOPs and dam storage explained 20% of the variation in downstream subdaily flow characteristics and showed consistent alterations in subdaily flow patterns from reference streams. This standardized classification scheme is important for future research including estimating reservoir operations for large-scale hydrologic models and evaluating project economics, environmental impacts, and mitigation.

Authors: R. A. McManamay, C. O. Oigbokie, S.-C. Kao, and M. S. Bevelhimer

Environmental Sciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN USA 


*indicates class was excluded from multiple comparisons and classification trees