Computer Models Improve Salmon Passage at Hydropower Dams

hydro power salmon image

Image: PNNL
Guiding Salmon to Safety
Many populations of Chinook Salmon are endangered, and hydropower dams are not making things betters. But is there a way to mitigate their impact? Part of the problem is that predators (like the pikeminnow) gather in the shallow waters downstream of the dam and devour passing salmon. Researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) decided to do something about that, so they tracked about 4,140 young salmon with a system they call Juvenile Salmon Acoustic Telemetry System (JSATS), and using computer models they figured out a way to get more salmon to pass safely. More details below.
hydro power salmon image

Image: PNNL

The first image is of the Dalles Dam on the Columbia River. Thanks to the 3D fluid dynamic computer model created by researchers at PNNL and the Corps' Portland District, the corps now knows that the best way to help the salmon pass safely is to build a concrete wall to guide them toward the area of the river where water is deeper, thus avoiding some of the predators.

This isn't exactly revolutionary, and doesn't bring back the river to its original dam-less state, but if it saves a few percents of salmons every time their cross that dam, it will add up over time and can help give the local salmon population a much needed boost.

There's probably an argument to be made for the removal of the dam altogether, but I don't think it would be such a good idea in the short-term, at least not until wind, solar, wave, and geothermal power are cheaper and more plentiful. After all, we don't want to remove a dam and see it replaced by a power plant that runs on fossil fuels. And since it's already built, we might as well let it produce relatively clean power.

Via Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
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