2002 – Implications of Cold Water Releases for Freshwater Fish Populations

Tom Ryan, Charles Todd and Simon Nicol

The potential impacts of cold water releases on the downstream thermal regime include: reducing the seasonal temperature range (lowering of the maximum and raising the minimum); reducing the diurnal temperature variation; rapid temperature changes; and delaying the seasonal warming of stream temperatures. Recent investigations have identified at least 20 large dams within Victoria, that have the potential to release cold water from below the hypolimnium. A monitoring program is currently being implemented in Victoria to identify the occurrence of cold water releases and to estimate the extent of the downstream impacts.

Cold water releases have been shown to impact the biological processes within aquatic ecosystems and consequently reduce the natural productivity. The physiological development of native freshwater fish can be impacted in a number of ways. Growth and reproductive development of adult fish is impacted while the survival of eggs and larvae can also be retarded. As a result, the sustainability and viability of native fish populations are greatly compromised.

Using stream temperature data from the Mitta Mitta River downstream of Dartmouth Dam, the decline of the native fish populations, due to cold water releases, can be demonstrated under current operating conditions. The decline in population numbers can be further demonstrated with the use of a simple age-based population model for Murray Cod. The spawning opportunity and survival of egg and larvae can be improved for Murray Cod by increasing the overall spring release temperatures by 2, 4, 6 and 8 oC. The population model adjusted for these thermal improvements, results in increased survival prospects for the Murray Cod population.

Buy this resource