NCEAS Product 25528

Forsberg, Bruce R.; Melack, John M.; Dunne, Thomas; Barthem, Ronaldo; Goulding, Michael; Paiva, Rodrigo; Viana Sorribas, Mino; Lopes da Silva, Urbano; Weisser, Sabine. 2017. The potential impact of new Andean dams on Amazon fluvial ecosystems. PLoS ONE. (Abstract)

Abstract

Increased energy demand has led to plans for building many new dams in the western Amazon, mostly in the Andean region. Historical data and mechanistic scenarios are used to examine potential impacts above and below six of the largest dams planned for the region, including reductions in downstream sediment and nutrient supplies, changes in downstream flood pulse, changes in upstream and downstream fish yields, reservoir siltation, greenhouse gas emissions and mercury contamination. Together, these six dams are predicted to reduce the supply of sediments, phosphorus and nitrogen from the Andean region by 69, 67 and 57% and to the entire Amazon basin by 64, 51 and 23%, respectively. These large reductions in sediment and nutrient supplies will have major impacts on channel geomorphology, floodplain fertility and aquatic productivity. These effects will be greatest near the dams and extend to the lowland floodplains. Attenuation of the downstream flood pulse is expected to alter the survival, phenology and growth of floodplain vegetation and reduce fish yields below the dams. Reservoir filling times due to siltation are predicted to vary from 106–6240 years, affecting the storage performance of some dams. Total CO2 equivalent carbon emission from 4 Andean dams was expected to average 10 Tg y-1 during the first 30 years of operation, resulting in a MegaWatt weighted Carbon Emission Factor of 0.139 tons C MWhr-1. Mercury contamination in fish and local human populations is expected to increase both above and below the dams creating significant health risks. Reservoir fish yields will compensate some downstream losses, but increased mercury contamination could offset these benefits.