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Hydraulic modeling at selected dam-removal and culvert-retrofit sites in the northeastern United States

July 8, 2021

Aquatic connectivity projects, such as removing dams and modifying culverts, have substantial benefits. The restoration of natural flow conditions improves water quality, sediment transport, aquatic and riparian habitat, and fish passage. These projects can also decrease hazards faced by communities by lowering water-surface elevations of flood waters and by removing the risk of dam breaches associated with aging or inadequate infrastructure.

This report documents and provides results of one- and two-dimensional hydraulic models developed for selected rivers and streams in the northeastern United States where a dam was removed or a culvert was retrofitted. The models were developed for conditions before and after the dam removal or culvert modification. The discharges applied in the models included monthly discharges and flood discharges for the annual exceedance probabilities of 50, 20, 10, 4, 2, 1, 0.5, and 0.2 percent.

This study, by the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, demonstrates the benefits resulting from dam removal and retrofitting undersized culverts in terms of decreased water-surface elevations during flooding and improved fish passage. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Hydrologic Engineering Center’s River Analysis System was used to model the sites in one- and two-dimensional hydraulics, and decreases in the 1-percent annual exceedance probability discharge water-surface elevation were found at all sites studied. The decreases in water-surface elevation at sites in which the impoundment was removed ranged from 1.3 to 10.4 feet. One site, Bradford Dam in Westerly, Rhode Island, had only a 0.2-foot decrease, but at that site the dam was replaced by a series of weirs to retain the upstream impoundment and allow fish passage.

Minimal differences were found between the water-surface elevations computed by the one- and two-dimensional models. The two-dimensional models, however, provide the additional benefit of detailed velocity and depth data throughout the channel at a resolution not possible with a one-dimensional model. These velocity and depth data allowed for assessment of the suitability for fish passage at the sites. Fish passage was improved at all the sites by removing the dams and retrofitting the culvert. Prolonged swim velocity criteria for selected fish species were maintained throughout three of the nine study sites, and burst swim velocity criteria were met at all study sites.

Publication Year 2021
Title Hydraulic modeling at selected dam-removal and culvert-retrofit sites in the northeastern United States
DOI 10.3133/sir20215056
Authors Scott A. Olson, Caelan E. Simeone
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2021-5056
Index ID sir20215056
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization New England Water Science Center