On quantifying ecologically sustainable flow releases in a diverted river reach

Lorenzo Gorla*, Paolo Perona

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Water demand for hydropower production has been increasing along with a growing awareness of the importance of preserving riparian ecosystems and their biodiversity. Some Cantons in Switzerland have begun replacing the inadequate concept of Minimum Flow Requirement (MFR) with a dynamic one, by continuously releasing a percentage of the total inflow.

In this work, we evaluate both ecological and economical benefits of dynamic release policies within a diverted river reach in the Swiss Canton of Graubunden. We compare such policies to another one that generates inflow-dependent variable releases as a result of an economic competition between traditional (e.g., hydropower) and non-traditional (e.g., environment) water uses (Perona et al., 2013). We propose to compute flow statistics from different release polices by using Indicators of Hydrologic Alteration (Richter et al., 1996; Richter et al., 1997). Then, we aggregate the hydrological differences from the natural flow regime as a proxy for assessing environmental benefits and we look at the mean of the ratio of the allocated net flows between environment and hydropower as a suitable engineering parameter to represent their relative value. Eventually all the simulated release policies find an economical significance explained by marginal utility functions.

We show that dynamic redistribution policies can perform better than MFR-like ones. Moreover, by introducing the concept of inflow-dependent water allocation, both economic and ecological indicators can be further improved, without necessarily implying higher installation costs.

This method aims to provide a simple but effective step towards eco-sustainability in the growing market of mini hydropower plants, where MFR-rules are still widespread. (C) 2013 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)98-107
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Hydrology
Publication statusPublished - 10 May 2013


  • Run-of-the-river hydropower plants
  • Environmental benefits
  • Water allocation policy
  • Principle of equal marginal utility
  • Dynamic flow releases
  • Hydrological alteration


Dive into the research topics of 'On quantifying ecologically sustainable flow releases in a diverted river reach'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this