Disruption in water quality patterns along the river continuum by a large bottom release dam

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Australasian Journal of Environmental Management, 2015, 22 (4), pp. 400 - 416
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© 2015 Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand Inc. Understanding longitudinal variation in water quality along rivers and how they are influenced by large dams is important for both ecological theory and river management. This study examines longitudinal changes in water quality downstream of a large bottom release dam (Lake Copeton) on the Gwydir River, Australia. We compared longitudinal changes in water quality variables from sites upstream and downstream of Lake Copeton over a two-year period and a total river distance of approximately 200 km. Lake Copeton acted as a source of nitrogen as nitrogen oxides (NOx) and phosphorus as filterable reactive phosphorus (FRP). A significant increase in the concentration of NOx and FRP was evident downstream of the dam, particularly in summer with elevated concentrations detected up to 60 km downstream. Significantly lower chlorophyll a (Chl-a) concentrations and electrical conductivity (EC) were evident below the dam. Mean nutrient concentrations declined with increased distance downstream of Lake Copeton while Chl-a concentrations increased, suggesting uptake by autotrophs. This study suggests that Copeton Dam disrupts the river continuum for nutrients, Chl-a and EC as predicted by the serial discontinuity concept, with recovery occurring approximately 60 km downstream.
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