Glen Canyon Dam (1963) had a tremendous ecological effect on the Colorado River, but offers socio-economic benefits like water storage and distribution, hydropower, and recreational opportunities. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (pictured above) extends 1.25 million acres between Lees Ferry in Arizona to the Orange Cliffs of southern Utah. Can we trade-off socio-economic benefits with efforts to restore flow regimes?

We know that dams are a paramount driver of hydrological alteration, homogenizing regional river dynamics and biodiversity. However, dams also provide a range of socio-economic benefits, and under scenarios of water scarcity due to climate change and over-allocation of freshwater resources, it is increasingly important to ask how dams may provide engineered resilience to dependent social and ecological systems.

I am Albert Ruhi, a community ecologist motivated by applied questions about how freshwater biodiversity is responding to global change. I am a new Postdoc Fellow in the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC), working on a project that focuses on the interaction between dams, water scarcity, and freshwater biodiversity, and that has Julian Olden as an external mentor. My project examines two questions: 1) Where are the battlegrounds of water scarcity in the U.S., defined as watersheds (HUC-8) where dams have a disproportionately high impact on hydrological and ecological alteration?, and 2) Can we identify optimal trade-offs between maximizing water conservation in reservoirs (to increase human resilience to water scarcity) and securing as much biodiversity insurance as possible?

I plan to answer these questions applying time-series methods on long-term physical (streamflow), ecological (fish spatial data), and socio-economic data. These two questions combined should illuminate how dams may provide engineered resilience in river basins via controlled river flow manipulations. Stay tuned!

– Albert Ruhi