The field of ecohydraulics is rapidly growing as the society requires a better understanding of the interrelations amongst the dynamics of the physical processes pertaining to aquatic ecosystems and the modifications observed in their habitat as well as the biological responses of the organisms. Environmental flow science is a common tool for assessing the consequences of changing the flow regime of aquatic ecosystems and providing a minimum flow of aquatic species protection. Environmental Flows assessment is a global challenge involving a number of tangible and intangible segments of hydrology, hydraulics, biology, ecology, environment, socio-economics, and several other branches of engineering including water resources management. River impoundment (dams, weirs), water diversions and consequent modifications to flow regimes have highly destructive effects on aquatic species and ecosystems.
In this research, two most common hydrologic methods Tennant and FDC Shifting were compared with a habitat simulation method i.e. PHABSIM. Tennant method is the most popular hydrological method in rivers and is based on the historic flow data. Investigation of the relationship between hydrologic approaches and physical habitat simulation approach and presentation of new recommendations based on the ecological and hydrological data can be very useful for estimating environmental flow in planning phase of river projects. We used river habitat simulation program to model the depth and velocities around boulder clusters to evaluate the habitat for Capoeta habitat in Zarrin-Gol River. The Zarrin-Gol River is one of the rivers in Golestan province in northern Iran. The statistics required for hydrologic calculations were also collected from Zarrin-Gol hydrometry station during the 42-year statistical period (1353-1395). In this regard, after the field studies and the development of the habitat suitability model for the target species, the Habitat simulation of the flow was carried out and eventually the ecological flow regime was extracted. In order to identify the important habitat variables and assess their impact, the life pattern of fish species was divided into juvenile and adult life stages.
Based on ecological assessment, the environmental water requirement of Gharahsoo river is 30% of mean annual flow for spring and summer and 10% of mean annual flow for autumn and winter seasons. It was found that application of Tennant and FDC Shifting methods led to dramatically low discharges as fixed minimum environmental flows, while habitat simulation method gave an acceptable estimation of ecological regime. However, habitat simulation technique assesses the allowable value of extraction from river flow dynamically, considering the ecological condition and average intermediate values. River conditions including flow velocity, water depth and river bed substrate are combined to form unique habitats facilitating the survival and growth of fish species populations. Habitat forms are observed in a wide range of rivers depending on the diet and the river type such as Pool, Riffle and Run. The destruction of the Riffle substrate causes disruption and impacts the biological integrity of the current. According to the Q-WUA curve of the Riffle habitat in high waters and flood conditions, the area available for juveniles of the target species decreases because of the flood, morphology and habitat of the river, so large and continuous floods inhibit the opportunity to rebuild habitats from the river and endanger the lives of fish. One of the factors limiting the desirability of the habitat and thus reducing the available habitat in low river flows is the low flow velocity, as well as high stream flow flows. The maximum and minimum flow regime, required to maintain the Zarrin-Gol river ecosystem according to ecological needs, was 2.49 and 0.58 m3/s in April and November, respectively, with an average value of 1.25 m3/s (59 % of natural stream of the river). In the next step, habitat suitability distribution along the stream was investigated. This was performed for the full range of discharges. Habitat suitability distribution along the stream at different discharges indicated that the upstream part of the stream had the poorest habitat condition and moving towards the downstream parts, the habitat suitability condition was improved.
Application of the Tennant method based on a hydrological system can be an inappropriate choice for determining the minimum flow to maintain the ecological environment of the river. According to the results, the PHABSIM model can simulate flow, habitat suitability of target species and the habitats dynamics accurately, which is highly required to protect the proper habitat of fish in river ecosystems.
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