IHE Delft researcher wins challenge with report on reducing hydropower dam’s harm to salmon in Norway

Written by Susanna Lööf, on 28 July 2022

Hydropower dams produce low-carbon energy, but they also threaten many species who live in the rivers they are built on. IHE Delft researcher Bich Tran and co-authors won a prize with a report that shows how adapting dam operations on a river in Norway can protect young salmon. 

Bich and colleagues were awarded in the first International Association for Hydro-Environment Engineering and Research (IAHR) Hydro-Environment Challenge for young professionals. The challenge prize included participation in the IAHR World Congress, held in June in Granada, Spain, where Bich networked with other winners and presented some of her research results.

Improving salmon's survival

Bich, of Vietnam, and co-authors Renzo Medina of Peru and Kevin R.J. Pantow of Indonesia won the challenge with a technical report that integrates hydrodynamic modelling and socio-economic analysis of the Gaula and Lundesokna Rivers in Norway. Gaula River is home to wild Atlantic salmon, and Lundesokna River, a tributary to Gaula, has a hydropower plant that changes the release of water to meet fluctuating energy demand, a practice known as hydropeaking. This practice can make it hard for young salmon to survive, as it affects water flows and temperatures. 

The authors used modelling software (HEC-RAS 2D) to investigate how adjusting hydropeaking practices would affect the salmon’s survival, and they found that changes that reduce the power production by just 1.1% would prevent that the nests of the spawning salmons on the bottom of the river freeze, killing their eggs – a significant benefit at a relatively small cost.

Water connects everything

The IAHR’s challenge, divided into three themes, attracted 81 participants, with Bich and colleagues winning the top prize in the ecohydraulics category. They  presented their paper during the first IAHR Online Forum.   

When Bich decided to join the challenge, she was involved in a project at IHE Delft and was preparing to start her PhD on application of remote sensing in water resources management. She decided to join the challenge, held in early 2021, as she was curious about the topic and keen to learn more.

Over two months, she devoted much of her spare time to working with colleagues from around the world on the case study chosen by IAHR. Initially, her team included 10 people from all around the world, but eventually, only Bich and two co-authors persevered with the challenge.

“The main challenge was that it very difficult to collaborate online: people are from different part of the world and it’s hard to find a suitable time to meet and work on a project,” she said. “You need to dedicate time and you need to find time to work on it. Most people found it too difficult or were too busy and couldn’t keep up with the workload.”

Bich appreciated the opportunity to work with people whose perspectives, shaped by their fields, backgrounds and professions, were different to hers. Her two co-authors are not in academia but in industry and government, and their focus on civil engineering and hydraulics combined well with Bich’s interest in hydroecology and socioeconomic challenges.

“Water connects everything. We should not narrow our interest and always stay in the same circle and work on the same thing over and over, but connect with people in other fields who are also working on water. Then you see overlaps in our definitions and approaches, and you find a way to work together,” she said. “It changes my perspective. I see the different approaches that other people are using even though they tackle the same problems, such as water scarcity.”
Bich Tran
PhD candidate an project assistant for the project FAO Water Accounting

For early-career academics, challenges and similar initiatives can be good opportunities to expand their horizons, Bich said.

“If you have the time, challenges can be a chance to step out of your comfort zone, to do something that is completely different from what you are doing. It can be a mental vacation,” she said. “The key thing is that you learn something from it.”
 

Photo by Rudiger Stehn via Flickr.

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