Science Center Objects

Hydropower has served as a significant and reliable source of electricity to many communities and industries across the nation for more than five decades. One of the largest challenges in managing rivers with hydropower resources is maintenance or restoration of viable fisheries that support commercial and sports fishing economic activity, for migratory species such as salmon, herring, and shad. USGS has extensive experience and capability in design and testing of fish passage engineering systems to improve and restore fisheries in managed rivers. 

Each project below is associated with a type of energy production or transmission. Types of energy production or transmission are represented by the following icons:

Hydropower and Oil and Gas Extraction icons

Projects below also are grouped into the following categories:

Alaska Species

eDNA for Species Detection and Conservation

Fish Passage and Behavior at Hydropower Dams

 Hydropower Effects on Fish and Aquatic Resources

Oil and Gas Effects on Water Quality

Optimizing Dam Operations and Management

Line

Alaska Species

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

North Pacific Pelagic Seabird Survey Data

Science Center: Alaska Science Center

USGS produced the North Pacific Pelagic Seabird Database, an online resource compiling the results of 40 years of bird surveys from the United States, Canada, Japan, and Russia. The database documents the abundance and distribution of 160 seabird and 41 marine mammal species over a 26-million-square-kilometer, or 10-million-square-mile, region of the North Pacific. This database is a powerful tool for analysis and mitigation of anthropogenic effects on marine ecosystems of the Arctic and North Pacific, including the impacts of oil development and production, fisheries, and vessel traffic. Use of this tool also provides an unprecedented opportunity to study the biogeography and marine ecology of dozens of species of seabirds and marine mammals throughout their range in Continental Shelf waters of the United States.

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

Status of Seabirds and Forage Fish in Cook Inlet, Alaska

Science Center: Alaska Science Center

Seabird densities in lower Cook Inlet are among the highest in Alaska, and populations were decimated by the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. Large resident and migratory seabird populations are sustained by local stocks of key forage fish species. Monitoring of seabird populations and forage fish stocks in potential oil and gas lease areas is a BOEM priority, both to mitigate the impacts of development and to assess the impact of potential oil spills. In 2016, USGS initiated new studies to update knowledge gained from seabird and forage fish studies in lower Cook Inlet from 1995 to 2000, in advance of potential lease sales and associated activities in Cook Inlet during 2017 and beyond. These studies are also assessing change in seabird and fish populations following anomalous high temperatures in 2014–16.

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

Summary of Wildlife-Related Research in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Science Center: Alaska Science Center

USGS summarized publicly available information from studies within the 1002 Area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as well as terrestrial and coastal ecosystems elsewhere in the Arctic Coastal Plain that are relevant to the 1002 Area. The report provides an update on earlier research summaries on caribou, forage quality and quantity, polar bears, muskoxen, and snow geese, and resources such as forage quality and quantity. The report also includes information on new research related to climate, migratory birds, permafrost, coastal erosion, coastal lagoons, fish, water resources, and the potential effects of industrial disturbance on wildlife.

Forage fish collage

From left: Herring dip net of forage fish (Credit: Sarah Schoen, USGS). Catch of forage fish from Prince William Sound (Credit: Mayumi Arimitsu, USGS). Mayumi Arimitsu sorting through fish caught in the mid-water trawl (Credit: Sarah Schoen, USGS).

Line

eDNA for Species Detection and Conservation

 

Oil and gas extraction and hydropower icons

A Model for Estimating Aquatic Species Density From eDNA

Science Center: Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center

Environmental DNA (eDNA) analytical methods are effective for estimating site occupancy and species distribution of aquatic organisms. The next frontier of eDNA applications is to estimate species abundance and density. Building upon previous studies correlating eDNA concentration and associated animal density, researchers developed a modeling approach that uses eDNA and associated animal density data from a subset of sites to estimate animal density at other sites where only eDNA data are available. Areas were noted where the model could be further developed to yield more accurate estimates. This approach advances the difficult, but important, topic of inferring animal density from eDNA data.

 

Oil and gas extraction and hydropower icons

Estimating Fish Abundance Using eDNA

Science Centers: Western Fisheries Research CenterNew York Water Science Center

Environmental DNA (eDNA) quantitative analysis is being explored as a tool for monitoring the distribution
and abundance of species; however, questions remain whether species’ populations can be detected using this method. USGS scientists and partners evaluated different sampling methods and whether eDNA could be used to accurately predict the presence and abundance of several aquatic species, such as brook trout populations in remote streams in upstate New York and sockeye salmon in a small stream in Alaska. Study findings show that eDNA surveys can enable researchers to effectively characterize the presence as well as the abundance of certain species of fish in streams. The studies provide new insights into the use of  quantitative applications of eDNA in conservation and stream management.

 

hydropower icon

Using Genomics to Better Understand Habitat Use of the Atlantic Sturgeon

Science Center: Leetown Science Center

BOEM managers use information on the ecology of the federally protected Atlantic sturgeon in coastal waters to understand the potential impacts from offshore energy development and fulfill obligations required under Federal laws. USGS scientists are developing genomics tools aimed at providing a cost-effective, high-resolution way to characterize the sturgeon population structure and demographics. Scientists have assembled and annotated the complete mitochondrial genome of both the Atlantic and Gulf sturgeon, allowing for detection of Atlantic and Gulf sturgeon eDNA in water. These techniques can allow large numbers of sturgeon to be identified to their river and distinct population segment of origin, and facilitate accurate assessments of Atlantic sturgeon populations. These approaches are widely applicable to stock and impact assessments for a wide variety of imperiled or other species of management concern.

Line

Fish Passage and Behavior at Hydropower Dams

 

hydropower icon

Biotelemetry Studies of Fish Behavior and Passage Through Dams

Science Center: Leetown Science Center

Understanding and quantifying fish behavior is essential for identifying fish passage problems and developing effective passage solutions across hydropower dams and other manmade barriers. Biotelemetry, or using radio and acoustic telemetry to track biological organisms, has emerged as the method of choice for acquiring detailed, individual-based data to quantify passage and critical fish behaviors. Working in collaboration with the USFWS, NMFS, DOE, and State agencies, the USGS S.O. Conte Anadromous Fish Research Center scientists have adapted and developed advanced telemetry technologies for fish passage studies and statistical analysis methods for fish passage evaluations. These advances can help maximize the return on labor- and cost-intensive studies that integrate fish behavior with hydraulic and physical characteristics of passage structures to improve passage design.

 

hydropower icon

Developing Selective Fish Passage to Block Invasive Sea Lamprey

Science Center: Leetown Science Center

The sea lamprey is an invasive, parasitic fish species in the Great Lakes, causing damage to recreational and commercial fisheries, which are valued at more than $7 billion annually (Great Lakes Fishery Commission, 2018). USGS scientists, in collaboration with the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission, University of Massachusetts, Michigan State University, and the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, are evaluating velocity-based barriers, nonstick surfaces, and other strategies that take advantage of the relatively poor swimming abilities of lamprey. The goal is to develop selective fish passage that would block the passage of sea lamprey while allowing desirable fish species to pass through unharmed.

 

hydropower icon

Downstream Fish Passage and Survival Through Dams

Science Center: Western Fisheries Research Center

Dams can negatively affect emigrating juvenile salmon populations because fish must pass through the impounded river created by the dam, negotiate a passage route at the dam, and emigrate through a riverine reach that has been affected by altered river discharge. USGS scientists in Washington State monitored the movements of radio-tagged juvenile salmonids released upstream from hydroelectric dams to study how fish move across reservoirs and passage structures to better understand how these structures and water discharge methods affect fish passage success and survival. Results from these studies can inform hydropower dam operators and resource managers on ways to improve route-specific salmon passage and survival.

 

hydropower icon

Full-Scale Development and Evaluations of Fish Passage Structures and Fish Behavior

Science Center: Leetown Science Center

Many migratory fish species have been in decline worldwide due in large part to dams and poorly designed fishways that prevent fish from reaching spawning and feeding grounds. USGS has a unique large-scale flume facility that allows for full-scale testing of upstream and downstream passage conditions with live test species. The S.O. Conte Anadromous Fish Research Center laboratory provides semicontrolled conditions that enable USGS, NMFS, DOE, and State scientists and engineers to improve and develop new fish passage designs and technologies and also identify behaviors and hydraulics that inform design criteria for successful fish passage. The goal of this work is to restore self-sustaining populations of migratory fish while maintaining a balance between energy production, water management, and ecosystem restoration.

 

hydropower icon

Innovative Fishway Entrance to Enhance Fish Passage 

Science Center: Leetown Science Center

USGS, in collaboration with the University of Massachusetts, was awarded an Innovative Solutions for Fish Passage at Hydropower Dams grant by the DOE in 2018 to develop and test a new fishway attraction and entrance technology designed to enhance fish passage. Relative to other technical fishway components, the Fishway Entrance Palisade is likely to have broad applicability to many target species including Atlantic salmon, American shad, alewife, and blueback herring. This work can benefit the hydropower industry by reducing fishway operation and maintenance costs, and can benefit restoration efforts for these species by providing more efficient and safe passage around riverine and other barriers.

 

hydropower icon

Understanding Downstream Fish Passage in the Willamette River Basin

Science Center: Western Fisheries Research Center

Efforts are currently underway to improve fish passage conditions at dams in the Willamette Valley, Oregon, and enhance populations of anadromous fish species. USGS, in cooperation with USACE—who owns and operates the 13 Willamette Project dams, completed a synthesis of existing literature on downstream fish passage research in the Willamette River Basin. Threatened populations of Upper Willamette River Chinook salmon and steelhead reside within the boundaries of the Willamette Project and are a primary focus for regional resource managers. This synthesis can serve as an important reference for resource managers and others interested in downstream fish passage within the Willamette Project.

 

hydropower icon

Use of Acoustic Cameras to Study Behavior of Fish Routed Around a Hydroelectric Dam

Science Center: Western Fisheries Research Center

USGS scientists used acoustic cameras to assess the behavior and abundance of bull trout-size fish at the entrance to the North Fork Reservoir juvenile fish FSC. The purpose of FSC is to collect downriver migrating juvenile salmonids at the North Fork Dam and safely route them around the hydroelectric dam. The acoustic cameras also determined if the presence of bull trout-size fish influenced the collection or abundance of juvenile salmonids near FSC. Results from this study can be used by managers to help inform decisions about collection and passage solutions for juvenile salmonids at FSC, as well as to identify the potential for predation by bull trout near FSC entrance.

Fish passage collage

From left: Fish ladder at John Day Lock and Dam (Credit: Karim Delgado, USACE). The floating surface collector on the Clackamas River helps juvenile salmon go downstream safely past hydropower facilities (Credit: NOAA Fisheries). Chinook salmon in the holding pool at Keswick Dam (Credit: Steve Martarano, USFWS).

Line

Hydropower Effects on Fish and Aquatic Resources

 

hydropower icon

Effects of Dam Operations on Endangered Fishes

Science Center: Southwest Biological Science Center

Glen Canyon Dam operations affect downstream environmental conditions of the Colorado River in Glen and Grand Canyons which, in turn, affect resident aquatic species like fish. USGS scientists assessed the effects of temperature, turbidity, food availability, flow variability, and nonnative fish abundance on endangered humpback chub. Growth models showed that environmental conditions like temperature and
duration of turbidity best described growth in sub-adult humpback chub. A model using data from tagged fish measured the effects of rainbow trout, an economically important nonnative sport fish, on humpback chub. Model results showed that rainbow trout have a negative effect on humpback chub survival and, to a lesser degree, their growth. Understanding the relative importance of various environmental factors on humpback chub allows managers to make informed decisions regarding the operation of Glen Canyon Dam and management actions intended to facilitate the recovery of this endangered species.

 

hydropower icon

Hydropower Effects on River Food Webs

Science Center: Southwest Biological Science Center

Aquatic insects are a cornerstone of river food webs. USGS scientists demonstrated that flow regimes on the Colorado River favoring hydroelectric-power generation can eliminate many aquatic insect species from downstream habitats. This research informed experimental flow releases from Glen Canyon Dam that are being conducted from May to August 2018. The experiment involves releasing stable and low flows every weekend, with hydropower-peaking flows occurring during weekdays. These “bug flows” are designed to minimally affect hydropower revenue while providing ideal egg laying conditions for aquatic insects on weekends.

Line

Oil and Gas Effects on Water Quality

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

Toxicity Associated With Produced Waters From Oil and Gas Activity

Science Centers: Columbia Environmental Research Center and the National Research Program

USGS and partners are investigating the potential effects of UOG activity on aquatic resources to assess toxicity levels and impacts on biological organisms. USGS scientists are measuring the levels of inorganic and organic compounds in streams following spills or downstream from wastewater facilities and studying shifts in microbial function, which can alter ecosystem processes, such as nutrient cycling, and can alter the resiliency of a community to perturbation. These studies can help identify changes in the microbial community in an environment affected by UOG wastewaters. Results can provide insight into the effects of oil brines on aquatic resources in an important rearing area for migratory waterfowl.

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

Vulnerability of Brook Trout Streams to Shale Gas Development in the Upper Susquehanna River Basin

Science Center: Leetown Science Center

The Upper Susquehanna River Basin drains parts of Pennsylvania and New York, and includes many high-quality and native brook trout streams. USGS and West Virginia University scientists are using spatial modeling approaches to assess the potential cumulative effects of UOG development on high-quality brook trout streams in the Pennsylvania portion of the basin, which has experienced relatively recent, rapid increase in UOG development. Vulnerability models were developed that incorporate all stages of the UOG development process—infrastructure, drilling, spills, and water withdrawals—that may affect fish and other aquatic resources. These models incorporate measures of aquatic health and status to identify streams that are vulnerable to UOG development. This vulnerability framework can be applied to a variety of ecosystems or energy development scenarios.

Dam operations collage

From left: Invasive rusty crayfish (Credit: Missouri Department of Conservation). Morgan Falls Dam (Credit: Alan Cressler, USGS). Endangered humpback chub. (Public domain.)

Line

Optimizing Dam Operations and Management

 

hydropower icon

Aquatic Invasive Species Control Efforts and Dam Operations 

Science Centers: Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences CenterSouthwest Biological Science Center

Nonnative fishes, some potentially invasive, have been introduced in impoundments throughout the United States to create recreational fishing opportunities. The passage of individual fish and other aquatic organisms through dams as part of hydropower operations can lead to invasions of unwanted species. USGS scientists are developing and testing the feasibility of methods such as the use of liquid ammonia, carbon dioxide, and sound to eradicate undesirable species upstream and downstream from dams. The use of carbon dioxide has shown promise as a deterrent strategy for invasive fish species and could be an effective pest management tool to control invasive crayfish. Results from laboratory trials suggest red swamp and rusty crayfish avoid water enriched with carbon dioxide. The technology will be field tested in Michigan in partnership with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to eradicate invasive crayfish from small ponds. Current efforts also focus on several fish and mollusks, including four species of nonnative Asian carp, round goby, and Dreissenid mussels (quagga mussels and zebra mussels).

 

hydropower icon

Guide for Monitoring Stream Temperature

Science Center: Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center

Monitoring stream temperatures can help researchers and resource managers quantify the influence of water temperature on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Although many stream temperature monitoring protocols exist, most are written for aquatic specialists. USGS and National Park Service scientists provided precise and easy-to-understand stream temperature monitoring protocols for nonspecialists. The protocols include instructions for using a specific brand of data loggers (Onset), including launching, checking factory calibration prior to field use, installing in streams for year-round monitoring, and inputting project data into databases.

 

hydropower icon

Improving Stream Temperature With Modification to Hydropower Dam Operation

Science Center: Oregon Water Science Center

USACE owns and operates more than 10 dams in the Willamette watershed. The Willamette Basin biological opinion, issued by the NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service, 2008), requires USACE to assess the feasibility of developing project-specific alternatives for achieving fish passage as well as improved long-term temperature control downstream from these dams. USGS scientists are using models to simulate the effects of structural and operational scenarios and the effects downstream. USACE managers and engineers can use this information to determine the ways in which structural and (or) operational changes to dams can improve downstream water temperature and flow conditions for endangered fish species.

 

hydropower icon

Maintenance of Instream Flows and Water Temperatures for Salmon Egg Incubation

Science Center: Alaska Science Center

USGS, in cooperation with the Alaska Energy Authority, measures and analyzes streamflow, water temperature, and intragravel water temperature downstream from the Bradley Lake dam. A minimum discharge of 1.13 cubic meters per second, or 40 cubic feet per second, in the lower river is required to protect salmon egg incubation habitat during the winter. This minimum flow requirement is based on an open-water instream flow study that did not consider the effects of ice formation, which is fatal to eggs. Data are being collected to determine if below-freezing temperatures occur at depths 25 to 30 centimeters, or 10 to 12 inches, below the streambed. These data can be used to determine if the minimum instream flow is sufficient to maintain above-freezing temperature in the streambed and allow for salmon egg incubation.

 

hydropower icon

Missouri River Emergent Sandbar Habitat Classification

Science Center: Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

Emergent sandbars on the Missouri River are breeding habitat for the endangered interior population of least terns and the threatened northern Great Plains population of piping plovers. USACE operates several large dams on the river and manages water discharge from these dams for multiple purposes, including hydroelectric energy production and suitable habitat for threatened and endangered species. USGS scientists are using satellite imagery and remote-sensing methods to create maps for use in classifying and quantifying emergent sandbar habitat and study habitat dynamics in response to fluctuating water levels. These maps are used by USACE to monitor and manage bare and sparsely vegetated sandbars, critical breeding habitat for these two species. These maps have been incorporated into USACE management plans and are planned to be released annually to the public beginning in 2019. The methods used to create these maps and a database of potential habitats are planned for publication.

 

hydropower icon

Monitoring Total Dissolved Gas in Hydropower Dams Spills 

Science Center: Oregon Water Science Center

Spill water from dams contains supersaturated dissolved gases, a condition created by the turbulent flow conditions attributed to the dam. High dissolved gas concentrations increase mortality to fish below dams. USGS, in cooperation with USACE, monitors total dissolved gas at USACE-owned dams in the Columbia and Willamette River systems in Oregon. The data from the study are used in real time by USACE dam operators to ensure total dissolved gas levels in spills meet EPA criteria.