A Multiobjective Optimization Model for Dam Removal: An Example Trading Off Salmon Passage with Hydropower and Water Storage in the Willamette Basin

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We introduce the use of systematic, combinatorial, multiobjective optimization models to analyse ecological-economic tradeoffs and to support complex decision-making associated with dam removal in a river system. The model’s ecological objective enhances salmonid migration and spawning by maximizing drainage area reconnected to the sea. The economic objective minimizes loss of hydropower and storage capacity. We present a proof-of-concept demonstration for the Willamette River watershed (Oregon, USA). The case study shows a dramatic tradeoff in which removing twelve dams reconnects 52% of the basin while sacrificing only 1.6% of hydropower and water-storage capacity. Additional ecological gains, however, come with increasingly steeper economic costs. A second model incorporates existing fish-passage systems. Because of data limitations and model simplifications, these results are intended solely for the purpose of illustrating a novel application of multiobjective programming to dam-removal issues. Far more work would be needed to make policy-relevant recommendations. Nevertheless, this research suggests that the current practice of analysing dam-removal decisions on a dam-by-dam basis be supplemented by evaluation on a river-system basis, trading off economic and ecological goals.

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