There is well-established evidence that dams disconnect upstream to downstream sediment flux in rivers and that this may have negative impact on downstream ecosystems. For this reason, the development of environmental flows now includes sediment supply and transport whether through reconnecting upstream supplied sediment to a river downstream of a dam, eco-morphogenic flows to rework the stream bed, or artificial sediment supply. However, especially in Alpine systems, there may be unregulated tributaries that are able to deliver gravel and coarser sediment naturally to compensate for the effects of dam-related sediment disconnection. To represent these effects we propose a geomorphic form of the serial discontinuity concept and apply it to two hydropower dam-impacted Alpine streams in the Swiss Pennine Alps. Conceptually, the relative position of a dam influences the degree of coarse sediment disconnection as well as the rate of coarse sediment recovery, especially as many Alpine valleys have strong down-valley gradients in tributary sediment delivery. In both case-studies, there was rapid recovery in likely coarse sediment delivery downstream of the dams. By following geomorphic response of the rivers to eco-morphogenic flow trials, proposed as a solution to perceived dam-driven coarse-sediment disconnection, we confirmed that both rivers are likely to have more than sufficient natural coarse sediment supply and unregulated floods. Natural coarse sediment supply is rarely considered in the management of Alpine streams impacted by hydropower but it needs to be evaluated through a geomorphological assessment, considering both the geomorphic context of the river reaches downstream of the dam and the geomorphic attributes of the basin in which the dam is found. A copy is freely available here.
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