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Reservoir sedimentation

Article  in  Journal of Hydraulic Research · September 2016

DOI: 10.1080/00221686.2016.1225320


39 2,053

4 authors:

Anton J. Schleiss Mário J. Franca

École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne IHE Delft Institute for Water Education


Carmelo Juez Giovanni De Cesare

École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne


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Journal of Hydraulic Research

ISSN: 0022-1686 (Print) 1814-2079 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/tjhr20

Reservoir sedimentation

Anton J. Schleiss, Mário J. Franca, Carmelo Juez & Giovanni De Cesare

To cite this article: Anton J. Schleiss, Mário J. Franca, Carmelo Juez & Giovanni De Cesare
(2016) Reservoir sedimentation, Journal of Hydraulic Research, 54:6, 595-614, DOI:

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Journal of Hydraulic Research Vol. 54, No. 6 (2016), pp. 595–614
© 2016 International Association for Hydro-Environment Engineering and Research

Vision paper

Reservoir sedimentation
ANTON J. SCHLEISS (IAHR Member), Full Professor, Laboratory of Hydraulic Constructions, École Polytechnique Fédérale
de Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland
Email: anton.schleiss@epfl.ch (author for correspondence)

MÁRIO J. FRANCA (IAHR Member), Research and Teaching Associate, Laboratory of Hydraulic Constructions, École
Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland

CARMELO JUEZ, Research Scientist, Laboratory of Hydraulic Constructions, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne,
Lausanne, Switzerland

GIOVANNI DE CESARE , Research and Teaching Associate, Laboratory of Hydraulic Constructions, École Polytechnique
Fédérale de Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland

Artificial water storage, originated by the construction of dams, is essential for the sustainable health and welfare of civilizations since it supplies
water for human consumption, irrigation and energy production. Furthermore, dam reservoirs are used for recreation, navigation and they provide
safety in the downstream valleys against extreme flood events and droughts. All reservoirs are subjected to sedimentation which, without adequate
prevention and mitigation counter-measures, threatens their sustainability. As well as the evident loss of storage capacity, the adequate and safe
operation of water intakes and bottom outlets belonging to the vital outlet structures can be affected by the deposition of sediments in the reservoir.
This Vision Paper first addresses the state-of-the-art and the main scientific advances in terms of prevention and mitigation measures against sedi-
mentation in reservoirs. Then, the main research challenges, which result from the assessment of what are the remaining open questions, are pointed
out. The emerging research methodologies to study sedimentation processes are also discussed.

Keywords: Dams; mitigation measures; reservoirs; reservoir sedimentation; sediment production; sediment storage; sediment
transport; sustainability

1 Introduction Bank report by Mahmood (1987). This means that without fur-
ther action, one quarter of all dams will lose their storage to sedi-
A river basin conveys water, sediments, heat, chemical mentation in the next 25 to 50 years (WCD, 2000). Furthermore,
substances and biological species from the hill slopes to the low the worldwide annual loss of storage to sedimentation is higher
hills and further downstream to lakes, seas and oceans. The con- than the increase of capacity by construction of new reservoirs
struction of an impounding structure across a valley interrupts (Schleiss & De Cesare, 2010; Sumi & Hirose, 2009), which
these fluxes, causing sediment to deposit upstream and to lack means that reservoirs, as vital water infrastructures, are non-
downstream, resulting in loss of volume to store water in the sustainable and thus mitigation measures are urgently needed
reservoir. to increase the lifetime of existent reservoirs.
Reservoir sedimentation has always been a challenge for dam The natural sediment cycle is a coherent continuum of
owners. The outlet tunnels of the Roman dam of Proserpina, mechanical and chemical processes along a river basin (Burt &
built around 100–200 AD in Extremadura, Spain, are known Allison, 2010). Three main general processes can be distin-
to have been raised in the seventeenth century to clear lay- guished (Kondolf, 1997): (1) sediment production, comprising
ers of accumulated silt (Smith, 1971). Annually 0.5–1 % of erosion and unchannelled conveyance of sediments in the upper
global storage volume is estimated to be lost to sedimentation regions of the river basins due weathering, snow avalanches and
(Basson, 2009), figures that have been kept since the 1987 World glaciers, rill and gully erosion, stream bank failure, landslides

Received 4 August 2016; accepted 14 August 2016/Open for discussion until 30 June 2017.

ISSN 0022-1686 print/ISSN 1814-2079 online

596 A.J. Schleiss et al. Journal of Hydraulic Research Vol. 54, No. 6 (2016)

and debris flow; (2) sediment transport, along the channel applied at all project phases: design, operational management
network and inside reservoirs and lakes; and (3) sediment and decommissioning.
deposition, in the flat lands, lakes and oceans. This Vision Paper aims at: presenting the current status of
Reservoir sedimentation can be seen as the process by reservoir sedimentation, providing a state-of-art of the current
which the reservoirs accumulate sediments until they eventu- knowledge and of the existing mitigation techniques; present-
ally become completely filled. The transport and accretion of ing and discussing the recent developments and future trends
sediments within a reservoir depend mostly on the size of the for mitigation and management of reservoirs; and discussing
sediments. The mechanisms contributing to reservoir sedimen- the main research challenges to be addressed in the forthcoming
tation are well known but their physical contents are not yet fully years.
apprehended theoretically. On the other hand, sustainable and
preventive measures are rarely taken into consideration from 2 Effects of the deposition of sediments in reservoirs
the beginning of the layout of new storage infrastructures. The
sedimentation problems are often dealt with in existing reser- The accumulation of sediments reduces the water storage
voirs with mitigation measures applied only some time after capacity of a reservoir (Alam, 1999; Alemu, 2016; Fan &
commissioning of the dams. These measures are typically effi- Morris, 1992b), and eventually eliminates the capacity for flow
cient only for a limited time and have to be repeated. The current regulation which is crucial for assuring the reservoir functions of
design of new reservoirs still often assumes a deliberate loss of water supply, energy production, navigation, and flood control
storage in the long term. (Brandt, 2000; Graf, 1984; ICOLD, 2012; Morris & Fan, 1998).
Field observations on reservoir sedimentation processes have For instance, if reservoir sedimentation becomes dramatic, the
started as early as 1936, but the majority (some 80%) of all pub- production of valuable peak energy in hydropower dams is
lications on this topic have appeared only since the 1980s (De endangered (Schleiss & De Cesare, 2010).
Cesare & Lafitte, 2007). Surveys were reported only from the The excess of sedimentation in a reservoir leads to sedi-
1960s, whereas reservoir sedimentation studies were published ment entrainment in waterway systems and hydraulic schemes
from the 1970s. Papers published before 1950 are exceptional. (Faghihirad, Lin, & Falconer, 2015). Depending on the degree
Most methods for achieving the sustainable use of reservoirs of sediment accumulation, outlet structures may be clogged.
were proposed in the late 1980s and in the 1990s. Blockage or damage of intakes and outlets, not designed for
The economic and societal importance of water storage sediment passage, may generate security problems (Fig. 1).
makes sedimentation in reservoirs an active and expanding field Abrasion of hydraulic machinery, decreasing their efficiency
of research, as indicated, for instance, by the number of publi- and increasing the maintenance costs, is a possible consequence
cations in Schleiss, De Cesare, Franca, & Pfister (2014). Never- of excess of sediments in a reservoir. Furthermore, cooling cir-
theless, as it will be shown in this paper, besides an increase of cuits adjacent to turbines which capture water directly from
awareness of owners, a significant effort to improve the exper- the reservoir were observed to be clogged by sediments in
tise of researchers and engineers is still necessary to preserve suspension.
this important source of water. Future scientific developments The existence of a reservoir has also implications down-
must aim at a better comprehension of the physical processes stream of dams (Harrison & Mellema, 1982; Williams &
involved in the production, transport and fate of sediments, Wolman, 1984). The dam traps the sediments in the upstream
and at competent prevention and efficient mitigation tools to be reservoir, originating negative consequences in terms of river

(a) (b)

Figure 1 (a) Sediments deposited upstream the bottom outlet of Mauvoisin dam (Switzerland), when the reservoir was emptied in 1985 (photo by
A.J. Schleiss); (b) complete blockage by sediments and driftwood of the inlet to the power intake of the dam of Ta Niet in the Sap river (North-West
Vietnam), during the construction phase (personal communication and photo courtesy of K. Sloff)
Journal of Hydraulic Research Vol. 54, No. 6 (2016) Reservoir sedimentation 597

morphology and ecology (Grant, Schmidt, & Lewis, 2005; Table 1 Average sedimentation rates in the world and dates when
Juracek, 2015; Petts & Gurnell, 2005). These changes in mor- 80% and 70% of the reservoir storage capacity, used for hydropower
production and for other uses, respectively, is lost to sedimentation
phology have negative effects on the riverine ecosystems,
(Basson, 2009)
through the loss of aquatic and riparian habitats with conse-
quences for water quality (Kondolf, 1997; Merz, Pasternackc, & Average
Wheaton, 2006; Power, Dietrich, & Finlay, 1996). sedimentation Hydropower Other uses
Region rate %/year dams: 80% dams: 70%
An impounding structure traps also nutrients, often attached
to the sediments. Due to the high concentration of nutrients, Africa 0.85 2100 2090
especially phosphates and nitrates, the upstream ecosystem Asia 0.79 2035 2025
may be altered by the proliferation of vegetation and other Australia & Oceania 0.94 2070 2080
Central America 0.74 2060 2040
living organisms. An inadequate sediment management can
Europe 0.73 2080a 2060a
greatly accelerate the process of eutrophication and organ- Middle East 1.02 2060 2030
isms dissemination at levels which compromise the functions North America 0.68 2060 2070
of the reservoir. On the other hand, these nutrients may lack South America 0.75 2080 2060
downstream, jeopardizing the ecosystems budget (Sumi & a Including Russia.
Hirose, 2009).
Sediments fix or degrade pollutants, reducing their bio-
availability. However, if toxic substances trapped in the sedi- columns of Table 1 detail for different regions of the world the
ments are stored in a reservoir, they constitute a potential hazard year when 80 and 70% of the useful reservoir volumes will be
to the downstream valley (SedNet, 2004). Contaminated sed- lost to sedimentation, for hydropower production and for other
iments remain a potential source of pollution to surface and uses, respectively (Basson, 2009). In Asia, for instance, 80%
groundwater, and they cannot easily be handled in the case of of the useful storage capacity for hydropower production will
sediment removal or downstream releases. be lost in 2035, whereas 70% of the storage volumes used for
In the far-reach, the retention of sediments in reservoirs irrigation will be lost to sedimentation in 2025. This applies to
may reduce the global sediment delivery to deltas and coastal the Middle East in 2030, and Central America in 2040. These
areas (Syvitski & Milliman, 2007), where accelerated erosion figures underline that reservoir sedimentation endangers sus-
can occur in dune systems due to the lack of sediment supply tainable energy and food production in many regions in the
(Sumi & Hirose, 2009). world.
The sedimentation in a reservoir may bring ecological advan-
tages (Halcrow Water, 2001) such as the generation of wetland
4 Physical processes
habitats, the opportunity to use economically the trapped sed-
iments, and entrapment of fine sediments which are harmful
4.1 Sediments
to the downstream ecosystem services and water quality. How-
ever, these fine sediments, if released downstream, may provoke The routing of sediment contributing to reservoir sedimenta-
downstream riverbed clogging and reduction of the channel tion must be assessed at the river basin scale with adequate
conveyance (Kemp, Sear, Collins, Naden, & Jones, 2011). conceptual models. These have to consider the relevant key
environments and their interrelationships: sources, pathways
3 Trends in sedimentation rate and storage (Owens, 2005). Further, a basin-scale model must
include information on sediment fluxes and dynamics of mobi-
Dam construction creates an extremely efficient sink of sedi- lization of sediment stored throughout the basin. Recent reviews
ments in the valley. Without efficient sediment management, it highlighted the development of empirical and physically based
strongly alters the natural equilibrium between sediment dynam- distributed catchment models in the last decades, for fore-
ics and morphology in a river catchment. Over the years, as the casting sediment production and transport (Merritt, Letcher, &
sediments accumulate, the reservoir loses the storage capacity Jakeman, 2003; Aksoy & Kavvas, 2005).
for which it was initially designed. The installed water stor- The origin of sediments may be in the far-reach and mid-
age capacity of reservoirs worldwide is about 7000 km3 , from reach of the catchment, and in the reservoir. Williams &
which some 4000 km3 are used for energy production, irriga- Smith (2008) proposed a similar spatial classification for the
tion, and water supply (Basson, 2009). The mean age of existing origin of sediments regarding the location in the watershed:
reservoirs is between 30 and 40 years, and it is estimated that in-field, in-stream and in-reservoir.
0.5–1% of the worldwide water storage capacity is lost annually The far-reach includes production on the steep hill slopes
to sedimentation. A detailed collection of sedimentation rates all of the valleys from soil erosion and rock weathering, and
over the world is given in Batuca & Jordaan (2000). The highest unchannelled transport through the slopes by the running water
average sedimentation rate occurs in arid regions, as the Middle and wind (Morgan, 2009). The quantification of rainfall/run-off
East, Australia and Oceania, and Africa (Table 1). The two last and thermodynamic actions within the catchment is essential
598 A.J. Schleiss et al. Journal of Hydraulic Research Vol. 54, No. 6 (2016)

for estimating the sediment production. Furthermore, in alpine with the sediment gradation. Figure 2b shows the example of
catchments, the contribution of glacier retreat and permafrost sedimentation in the Turtmann dam, Switzerland, where the gra-
disappearance must be considered. dation between coarse sediments, deposited upstream, and fine
Mid-reach sediment sources include rill, gully and stream sediments, deposited downstream, is visible.
bank erosion and legacy load. The legacy load (Hargrove, Vegetation is also relevant to the production and transport
Johnson, Snethen, & Middendorf, 2010), or temporary storage of sediment throughout the catchment (Bronstert et al., 2014)
(Fryirs, 2013), includes sediment stored dispersively throughout and in the reservoir (Sundborg, 1992). It has a beneficial effect
the alluvial environment. In the mid-reach, a cascading process on the reduction of soil erosion and unchannelled transport
occurs where sediment size decreases by crashing and abra- (Morgan, 2009). Fine sediments are adsorbed by the plant
sion of the coarser sediments transported by rivers (Burt & surface, and their root system forms a natural barrier at the
Allison, 2010). Fox et al. (2016) present a review and research sediment–water interface. Thus the main objective in soil con-
perspectives on mid-reach sediment production contributing to trol practices is to maximize vegetation coverage by imple-
reservoir sedimentation, namely about rill, gully and stream menting grassed waterways and vegetative and riparian buffers
bank erosion. It is known that, in dryland regions, sediment pro- in agricultural crop and grazing land (Chitata, Mugabe, &
duction resulting from gully erosion may be more important Kashaigili, 2014; Hargrove et al., 2010). Vegetation slows down
than that resulting from soil erosion (Stromquist, Lundén, & riverbank erosion and reduces the risk of the formation of rills
Chakela, 1985). Fox et al. (2016) argues that the non-uniform and gullies (Fox et al., 2016), and the risk of landslides.
dependence of sediment yield in reservoirs of geophysical and
thermodynamic factors of the catchment is due to the contribu-
4.2 Delta migration
tion of the production due to streambank and gully erosion.
The sediment yield produced in the reservoir is mainly due When a river flows into a reservoir, the flow velocity and trans-
to the direct contribution of subaerial and subaqueous landslides port capacity reduces and, consequently, the coarser sediments
originating in the reservoir banks and subaquatic slopes (Imran, settle gradually, and form a delta in the head water region of
Parker, Locat, & Lee, 2001; Mulder & Alexander, 2001), the reservoir, which extends further into the reservoir as deposi-
Fig. 2a. tion continues (Fan & Morris, 1992a; Graf & Altinakar, 1998).
Depending on the sediment supplied and on flow velocity Delta is one of the most common deposition pattern in reser-
and turbulence, rivers usually carry sediment particles with a voirs and it can be described to be formed by three regions,
wide range of sizes in the form of bed or suspended loads. from upstream to downstream: top-set, fore-set and bottom-set
In the reservoir, coarser sediments tend to be deposited in (Kostic & Parker, 2003; Morris & Fan, 1998; Sloff, 1997).
the upstream regions of the reservoir, advancing downstream The sediment gradation reduces gradually downstream, with
steadily but slowly in the form of a delta; whereas fine sedi- the coarser grains rapidly deposited in the top-set region and
ments reach the reservoir in the form of suspended load (Fan & the finest sediments region transported along the bottom-set
Morris, 1992a), by means of homogeneous or stratified dense typically by turbidity currents. The top-set region is relatively
flow. Morris & Fan (1998) and Juracek (2015) represent the flat whereas the fore-set region is characterized by a larger
geomorphic stages of reservoir life, where the deposition of slope which varies depending on the composition of the sedi-
sediment within the reservoir is shown to be clearly associated ment load. The point of slope change is called the pivot point,

(a) Weggis (b)

plex N
gis com


1 km

Figure 2 (a) Excerpt of bathymetric map (shaded relief, colour indicating depth ranging from 208 m (blue) to 0 m (red)), superimposed to extract
of the topographic map of Switzerland (swisstopo), representing the Vitznau basin of Lake Lucerne where the Lützelau subaerial rockfall and the
Weggis complex of subaqueous slides are shown (modified after Hilbe, Anselmetti, Eilertsen, Hansen, & Wildi, 2011); (b) example of sedimentation
in the reservoir of Turtmann dam, Switzerland (photo courtesy of A. Broccard, Knoblauch, Hartmann, & De Cesare, 2005)
Journal of Hydraulic Research Vol. 54, No. 6 (2016) Reservoir sedimentation 599

knickpoint or delta lip, and will move either downstream by ambient water, originating a turbidity current (Simpson, 1999).
the continuous feed of sediments from the upstream river, or Turbidity flows have been a matter of theoretical discussion for
upstream if flushing operations are performed. The position of some decades (Bell, 1942; Forel, 1892; Kuenen, 1951). Along
this pivot point is linked to the sediment sizes, to the reservoir with the propagation of fluidized sediments, granular and debris
exploitation, reservoir shape and volume of deposited sediments flow, turbidity currents are known as a main mechanism for
(Matyas & Rothenburg, 1986). distal sediment transport within lakes and reservoirs. They are
Delta propagation depends on hydrology, channel morphology generally unsteady and occur at relatively short time scales.
and sediment characteristics, but can show dramatic evolutions In narrow reservoirs such as in the Alpine regions, turbidity
as the example of the Wushe reservoir of the Choushui river currents are the main mechanism of reservoir sedimentation
in Central Taiwan (Fig. 3a, Lai & Capart, 2009), where in (Oehy, 2003). Meiburg & Kneller (2010) present a review on
two months the delta advanced about 15% of the total length turbidity currents where, among others, modelling approaches,
of the reservoir which is about 4.5 km. In Fig. 3b another initiation mechanisms and interaction between the current and
example of a Gilbert-type delta migration into the reservoir of the bed are discussed.
Wasserfallboden, Austria, is shown. Turbidity currents in reservoirs may be initiated by: fail-
Alluvial deltas are subjected to fluvial processes such as ure of the slopes of the reservoirs and deltas; during floods
gully incision, formation of meandering or braiding chan- with high suspended-sediment concentrations; storms, winds
nel networks, levee formation and armouring. In the fore- and waves which mobilize fine sediments from the shallow
set, the most unstable part of the delta, gravity-driven trans- banks; construction or dumping of fine material in the banks of
port processes can occur, contributing to the displacement the reservoir; or pumping and turbines operations in reservoirs
of sediments into the reservoir (Nemec, 1990). Ferrer-Boix, (Müller, De Cesare, & Schleiss, 2014).
Martín-Vide, & Parker (2015), and references therein, mention During floods, the fraction of sediments smaller than sand,
several mechanisms related to grain sorting in the fore-set face which is typically transported in suspension, may reach 80–90%
of a Gilbert-type delta (slope failure, grain flows and avalanches, of the total sediment carried by the river. These fine parti-
hydrodynamic sorting, and individual grain falls). cles flow in suspension over the delta, plunging to form a
downstream density underflow. The phenomenon of plung-
ing density currents has been extensively investigated in the
4.3 Turbidity currents
field (Cao, 1992; De Cesare, Schleiss, & Hermann, 2001;
Sediments kept in suspension by the flow turbulence form, with Hebbert, Imberger, Loh, & Patterson, 1979) and in the labo-
the water, a two-phase mixture with density higher than the ratory (Akiyama & Stefan, 1984; Hauenstein & Dracos, 1984;

(a) (b)

Figure 3 (a) Migration of a Gilbert-type delta into the Wushe reservoir, Central Taiwan (photo courtesy of H. Capart, Morphohydraulics research
group, National Taiwan University); (b) migration of a Gilbert-type delta into the reservoir of Wasserfallboden, in Austria (photo courtesy of
S. Haun)
600 A.J. Schleiss et al. Journal of Hydraulic Research Vol. 54, No. 6 (2016)

Oehy & Schleiss, 2007; Singh & Shah, 1971; Xia, Li, Wang, Research on mitigation measures against turbidity currents is
Zhang, & Deng, 2016) to determine the water depth at which not a new subject, and promising results can be found in proto-
plunging occurs. The plunge phenomenon can be defined as the types. The old Aswan dam completed in 1902 has 180 sluices
transition from a homogeneous open channel flow to a stratified aimed at flushing. Published work exists on venting the tur-
underflow. bidity currents through the outlet circuits of a dam (Chamoun
The plunging flow establishes a weak counter-current in the et al., 2016; Lee, Lai, Tan, & Sung, 2014), on the effect
overlying clear water upstream of the plunge line. Since the of obstacles and opposing jets on turbidity currents retention
turbid and the clear flows converge along the plunge line, float- (Oehy, 2003; Oehy, De Cesare, & Schleiss, 2010; Oehy &
ing debris including driftwood carried by the flood typically Schleiss, 2007) and on solutions to evacuate sediments from
accumulate in the region of the plunging flow. reservoirs (Jenzer-Althaus, De Cesare, & Schleiss, 2014). Nev-
Depending on the length to depth ratio of the reservoir, a ertheless, historically there is a lack of publications on sediment
significant return flow may occur after the arrival of a turbid- removal techniques (Chung, Hipsey, & Imberger, 2009). If tur-
ity current inside the reservoir. With a supply long enough, bidity currents can be entirely stopped or influenced in such
the conditions to originate an oscillatory movement may exist a way that the sediments are not deposited in critical loca-
(Theiler & Franca, 2016). These reflections may be partial and tions, then the sustainability of the reservoir operation may be
caused by topographical features lower than the current height increased considerably (Schleiss & De Cesare, 2010).
originating reflected bores (Kneller & Buckee, 2000; Oehy &
Schleiss, 2007; Tokyay, Constantinescu, & Meiburg, 2011).
4.4 Flow circulation
The extent of a turbidity current depends on the shear stress
at the bed and the turbulence intensity, i.e. the capacity to keep The shape of a reservoir controls the velocity distribution affect-
the sediments in suspension. Their life period depends directly ing the sedimentation, re-suspension and transport of sediments
on the discharge and indirectly on the sediment concentration. (Kantoush, Bollaert, & Schleiss, 2008; Kantoush, De Cesare,
Turbidity currents are non-conservative density currents since Boillat, & Schleiss, 2008; Tarela & Menéndez, 1999). The
the sediments in suspension may deposit forced by gravity, prediction of the preferential sedimentation zones is essen-
or be incorporated due to erosion by the current itself. If the tial to improve reservoir management (Camnasio, Orsi, &
bed shear stress exerted at the bed is sufficient, typically in Schleiss, 2011). The efficiency of sediment management tech-
steep slopes, more sediments are entrained causing the flow to niques are strongly dependent on the reservoir geometry
increase the concentration and accelerate (Parker, Fukushima, & (Olsen, 1999), as in the flushing operations of the Cachí
Pantin, 1986; Parker, Garcia, Fukushima, & Yu, 1987). This reservoir in Costa Rica, a known case of excessive reservoir
self-reinforces the current, allowing the development of an sedimentation (Fig. 4a, Jansson & Rodríguez, 1992). Opti-
auto-sustaining turbidity current that can reach high propaga- mal geometries of reservoirs, combined with purging devices,
tion velocities. The unavailability of sediments in the bed for should be sought in the design phase of reservoirs (Kantoush &
entrainment, the reservoir geometry or the eventual damping Schleiss, 2009; Morris & Fan, 1998).
of turbulence, will limit the growth of such a gravity-driven Empirical methods were developed for characterizing
flow. the sediment distribution along a reservoir (Borland &
When the turbidity current reaches the dam, its kinetic energy Miller, 1958). The principle of minimum stream power may
is converted into potential energy as the current rises up against be applied to predict the equilibrium sedimentation pattern
the face of the dam and the sediment concentration distribution of fine sediments within the reservoir (Annandale, 1984).
becomes homogenized throughout the vertical. The impact of Rahmanian & Banihashemid (2012) analysed data from Iranian
the turbidity current against the dam may contribute to a return reservoirs and showed that, when accounting for the wet perime-
turbidity current or may promote sediments settling and the for- ter variation and hydraulic radius of the reservoir cross-section,
mation of a muddy layer near the dam. In De Cesare et al. (2001) the quality of predictions of the sediment deposition improves.
an important return flow after the impact of a turbidity current The presence of water-retaining structures (groynes, dead
against the dam of Luzzone, Switzerland, was observed. branches and training structures) implies the formation of zones
A known example of recorded turbidity current in reser- where flow velocities are very low. These cause the forma-
voirs is the incident in the Sanmenxia reservoir described tion of different sedimentation patterns and they often develop
by Jiahua (1986), UNESCO (1985), Jiahua (1986) and into biotopes of high ecological importance. In the long term,
Middleton (1993), where a 2–3 m thick current propagated at these biotopes ought to be protected from detrimental sedi-
a velocity of around 0.6 m s−1 for about 50 km, over a bed slope mentation or destructive flushing. Depending on the geome-
of 0.25‰. In this case, the distribution of the volumetric con- try, groyne fields and harbours act as sediment traps where
centration of suspended sediment was fairly uniform of about sediments accumulate (Jenzer-Althaus & De Cesare, 2006).
6%. Recently Haun & Lizano (2016) reported results from field Convective- and diffusive-type water exchange between dead-
measurements performed in the Peñas Blancas reservoir, Costa water zones and the stream govern suspended sediment delivery
Rica, where a turbidity current was observed. and re-suspension. These are mainly a function of the size of
Journal of Hydraulic Research Vol. 54, No. 6 (2016) Reservoir sedimentation 601

(a) (b)

Figure 4 (a) Example of heavy sedimentation in the Cachí reservoir, Costa Rica, caused by a combination of turbidity currents, delta propagation
and direct sediment production from the reservoir banks; (b) example of a flushing with drawdown of water surface operation in the Angostura
reservoir in Costa Rica (Haun, Kjærås, Løvfall, & Olsen, 2013) (both photos courtesy of S. Haun)

the exchange area, flow velocity, sediment concentration, and the loss of available storage. Small reservoirs will suffer to a
reservoir circulation. greater extent with climate change because their small volume
In stagnation zones like shallow margins of reservoirs pop- can not cushion significant inflowing changes in the long term
ulated with mangrove forests, sediments are trapped, settle (Annandale, 2014).
and, furthermore, barely re-rentrained into the flow due to the It is generally agreed that climate change will impact the spa-
lower levels of turbulence. Flushing operations were hindered tial and temporal distribution of sediments within a river catch-
in shallow areas of reservoirs due to the presence of water ment (Dietrich, Kirchner, Ikeda, & Iseya, 1989). The expected
hyacinths which got stranded and trapped the sediments (Jans- effects of climate change have a pervasive role in the pro-
son & Rodríguez, 1992). In the channel network, vegetation cesses related to reservoir sedimentation previously mentioned
influences the flow patterns and reduces the resuspension and since they affect their physical forcing. Climate change is thus
entrainment capacity of the flow, decreasing the mobilization expected to have an impact in reservoir sustainability by increas-
of sediments stored in the river channel and floodplains due to ing sedimentation rates (Halcrow Water, 2001; Juracek, 2015;
reduced bed and bank shear stresses (Nepf, 2012; Vargas-Luna, Yasarer & Sturm, 2016).
Crosato, & Uijttewaal, 2015). The climate change projections point to an exacerbation of
Pumped storage operations between an upper reservoir and the extremes of each particular climate, modifying the mag-
a lower reservoir generate turbulence and recirculation which nitude and frequency of weather events such as flooding and
reduces the settling of suspended sediments, promotes entrain- droughts (Kwadijk & Middelkoop, 1994). Climate change may
ment and induces sediment transfer between reservoirs (Müller alter sediment delivery: drier basins, different and more extreme
et al., 2014). thermodynamic actions, changes in the glacier and snow melt-
Unsteady water-level fluctuations (ship traffic, flood waves, ing cycles, all may directly affect the sediment production.
tide), density flows (mainly in tidal waters) and turbulence- In Alpine regions, with the glacier retreat, more moraines are
generated factors (ship propulsion) may increase the delivery exposed which directly influences sediment supply to the reser-
of suspended sediment to dead-water zones and may be respon- voirs (Beyer & Schleiss, 2000). The impact of climate change
sible for an increase in the water turbidity. Ship traffic whirls on the frozen soil in high latitudes, i.e. permafrost, may increase
up sediment and keeps it longer in suspension. It also produces erosion, landslides and ground subsidence (UNEP, 2007). With
substantial wave-induced cross-currents, which increase the lat- more extreme precipitation events, an increase in the soil erosion
eral transport of sediment towards the dead-water zones, and and river bank failure is expected (Ojima, Steiner, McNeeley,
promote bank erosion. Cozzetto, and Childress, 2015). In many temperate hydrocli-
matic regions, the occurrence of landslides and debris-flow
will increase (Rebetez, Lugon, & Baeriswyl, 1997; Stoffel,
4.5 Climate uncertainty
Bollschweiler, & Beniston, 2011).
Reservoirs are key infrastructures to mitigate the effects of cli- Climate change can have a significant impact on the bio-
mate change by their capacity to store and regulate water supply diversity of the reservoirs, which is related to sedimentation
since the expected increase of the hydrologic variability will processes. Changes in the catchment may alter the incoming
demand for more water storage capacity (Annandale, 2013; rate of nutrients and provoke the arrival of invasive species, as
Field et al., 2014). This requires the construction of new reser- new conditions can be more suitable for exotic plants than for
voirs and an efficient management of the existing ones to avoid native plants. The increasing temperature and the rainy/drought
602 A.J. Schleiss et al. Journal of Hydraulic Research Vol. 54, No. 6 (2016)

periods may alter the vegetation distribution, if present, and may help engineers (Batuca & Jordaan, 2000; García et al., 2008;
also accelerate eutrophication processes. ICOLD, 1989; Jenzer-Althaus & De Cesare, 2006; Lenzi,
Sediments trap organic carbon removed from the atmosphere Picco, & Moretto, 2015; Morris, 2014; Morris & Fan, 1998;
by photosynthesis, thus the burial of sediments in a reser- Sloff, 1991, among others).
voir constitutes a potential sink in the carbon cycle (Dean & Reservoirs may be classified as low or high management con-
Gorham, 1998; Mendonça et al., 2012). However, carbon stored cern, depending on several factors including the infrastructure
in the sediments may be released (in the form of carbon diox- purpose, the storage lost due to sedimentation, and the sedimen-
ide or methane) by diffusive surface emissions, by degassing tation rate (Juracek, 2015). Mitigation measures can be sought
through sediment releases into the downstream river, or by bub- before or during construction, preventively, or after sedimen-
ble flux emissions (Chanudet et al., 2011; Maeck et al., 2013). tation occurred, and they can be one-off or continued actions.
Recent studies show that the role of reservoirs in the carbon Retroactive measures are mainly used to restore the reservoir
cycle may depend on their age (Chanudet et al., 2011; Barros volume by sediment removal through or bypassing the dam. In a
et al., 2011) and latitude (Barros et al., 2011). At the moment no comprehensive description of methods to preserve the reservoir
definite answer is given whether reservoirs have a sink or source capacity, Fan Jiahua in UNESCO (1985) classified these into
role in the carbon cycle (Field et al., 2014). methods that minimize the deposition of sediments, methods
that maximize the sediment bypass through the flow, methods
that use the bottom outlets, and methods that directly extract the
5 Management strategies against reservoir sedimentation sediments from the reservoir.
Usually, the measures to mitigate reservoir sedimentation
The awareness for a sustainable management of sedimentation are classified in three groups depending on their location in
in the planning phases of new reservoirs presumably did not the river basin (Kondolf et al., 2014; Morris & Fan, 1998;
exist before the 1950s (De Cesare & Lafitte, 2007). Isolated Schleiss & Oehy, 2002; Sumi & Kantoush, 2011): in the river
publications on reservoir sedimentation, and examples of sed- catchment upstream the reservoir (C), in the reservoir (R) and
iment management in hydroelectric plants, date prior to 1950 at the dam (D), or a combination of the three (Beck, Lutz,
but the importance of reservoir sedimentation was not yet fully Lais, Vetsch, & Boes, 2016). Considering the physical pro-
recognized by the engineering community. Furthermore, even cesses in the sediment cycle (Section 4), the techniques for
recent design handbooks on reservoir and dam engineering often control of reservoir sedimentation may as well be classified
approach the subject lightly, underestimating or simply neglect- according to the process upon which they intervene: (far-reach,
ing its importance. Since the 1980s, studies on sedimentation mid-reach and in-reservoir) production of sediments; transport
processes in reservoirs increased considerably. In the 1990s, (in the upstream channel network or in the reservoir); and
research regarding the influence of sediments on the operation long-term storage. Both classifications, based on the processes
of outlets and water intakes started, and now it has become and on location in the river basin (C, R or D), can thus be
crucial to plan, design, build and operate reservoirs minimiz- combined:
ing the loss of storage capacity. Currently, there is a wide
range of engineering measures to control sedimentation allow-
ing long-term sustainability of reservoirs. Also, now several • Far-reach production of sediments: soil conservation tech-
solutions exist for non-intrusive survey of sedimentation levels niques (C) such as forestation, increase of the vegetated cover,
in reservoirs (Fig. 5a). At the same time, several guideline doc- slope stabilization and changes in crops practices to avoid
uments and comprehensive publications exist on the subject to sediment production.

(a) (b)

Figure 5 (a) Sonar survey of the bottom outlet of the Punt da Gall dam (Livigno reservoir) for verification of the degree of sedimentation (photo
courtesy of Engadiner Kraftwerke AG); (b) flushing without drawdown of water surface with bottom outlet at Jiroft Dam, Iran (photo courtesy of
S. Emami)
Journal of Hydraulic Research Vol. 54, No. 6 (2016) Reservoir sedimentation 603

• Mid-reach production: protection of streambanks against fail- The severity of sedimentation and local conditions may
ure (C); protection of soil against the formation of rills and reduce the efficiency and hinder the utilization of some of the
gullies (C); decrease of the mobilization of the legacy load available measures. For instance in dry lands, water is a scarce
(C) by constructing gravel and sand settling basins, sediment and expensive resource, and the sedimentation rates are high,
check dams and transverse sills. thus flushing becomes unrealistic. Flushing operations may also
• In-reservoir production: protection of the subaerial banks and impact downstream water quality and riverine ecosystems. Con-
subaquatic slopes of the reservoir with soft (vegetation or eco- taminated sediments probably cannot be extracted and surely
friendly slope stabilization techniques) or hard solutions (R). can not be bypassed through the dam to the downstream reach
• Transport in the channel network: diversions into off-stream of the river. Ultimately, conversion of the dam purpose may be
reservoirs (C); bypass channels or tunnels around the reser- sought when the reservoir is filled: conversion of a hydropower
voir (C); upstream sediment retention basins (C) (Fig. 2b). scheme with flow regularization to a run-off working princi-
• Transport in the reservoir: bypass tunnel along the reservoir ple; creation of a new reservoir; or abstraction of water from
(R); flushing with drawdown of water surface (R, Fig. 4b); elsewhere towards the intakes.
avoiding the settling of sediments in suspension (R); control
of turbidity currents (R); turbidity current venting (D); water
jets for keeping fine sediments in suspension (D). 6 Economic considerations
• Long-term storage: admission of a dead storage (R); hydro-
suction or dredging (R); dam heightening (D); increase of The still often accepted engineering practice in the design and
outlet level of bottom outlet and intakes (D); flushing and operation of reservoirs is to allow them to fill with sediments,
sluicing with or without drawdown of the water surface by generating benefits from a decreasing storage over a finite period
outlet structures (D, Fig. 5b). of time (Palmieri, Shah, & Dinar, 2001). Reservoirs are thus
seen as not amenable to sedimentation management and the
value of such loss, which may occur 70 or 100 years after
Key parameters for the choice of sediment control strate- the dam commissioning, is often not considered. The loss of
gies are: geographic location (latitude, altitude, climate and such natural resource, with high costs for future generations
weather); catchment geometry (area, topography, hypsometry, (Annandale, 2014), combined with increasing scarcity of suit-
river network); land cover and management in the catch- able locations for the construction of new reservoirs, justifies
ment; human activities in the catchment; sediment mineralogy the need to revisit the principles of the economical analysis of
and grain size distribution; reservoir geometry (area absolute future reservoirs.
and relative to the catchment area, volume, shape, orography, Traditionally, when analysing the economical viability of a
slopes); type of dam (natural or artificial, construction method); mitigation sedimentation technique, two key questions are: if
type and number of hydro-mechanical equipment of water the extra cost of the application of the technique is supported by
release; age and usage of the infrastructure; level of sedimen- the extension of the lifetime of the reservoir; and if it is economi-
tation in the reservoir; water management system; quality of the cally possible to enhance the life of the reservoir for an indefinite
water and of the sediments; economical value of the water and period of time. Nowadays, the common answer for both ques-
sediments; geo-political sensibility; local practices and available tions tends to be negative, since the scarcity of reservoirs, and
equipment; ecological issues (upstream and downstream of the a price associated with the loss of this resource, is not consid-
dam). ered. The economics of exhaustible resources (Solow, 1974),
An integrated approach for sediment management is required as described by the Hotelling principle, indicates that the price
in order to balance the sediment budget across reservoirs for an exhaustible resources increases with the discount rate.
(Morris & Fan, 1998) and to chose the most adequate tool If considered, this has a significant implication for the eco-
for sediment management. The analysis of the best sediment nomic analysis of reservoir projects. As recently discussed by
management solution must consider, besides the benefit and Bathia (2008) and Annandale (2013), the value of reservoir stor-
technical adequacy, the opportunities and nuisances generated age must be recognized and a scarcity rent has to be attributed
in the whole river basin. to the reservoir storage capacity as it is to other limited natural
Climate modification may be determinant in the choice of the resources (oil, coal, etc.).
operational mitigation techniques for reservoir sedimentation. Considering scarcity rents, which will be regionally
For instance, if water scarcity is a problem, free surface flushing dependent, changes completely the paradigm of the economi-
of the reservoir is not an option. In the feasibility analysis of new cal analysis of reservoirs. It may well justify the application of
reservoirs and of the application of mitigation measures against mitigation techniques transforming these infrastructures from an
sedimentation, the implications of these in the carbon cycle exhaustible into a renewable resource (Annandale, 2014). Fur-
should be acknowledged. Moreover, the impact of degassing thermore, the economic analysis of the cost-effectiveness of the
carbon stocked in the reservoir when applying methods such as application of sediment control techniques in reservoirs has to
flushing and dredging, for instance, is still unknown. quantify monetarily not only the direct benefits for the reservoir
604 A.J. Schleiss et al. Journal of Hydraulic Research Vol. 54, No. 6 (2016)

exploitation, but also to evaluate the benefits to the catchment and nature. Since water is usually used in physical modelling,
of the application of far and mid reach measures (Williams & the choice of the sediment material to use in the laboratory,
Smith, 2008). which includes choosing the size and density, is a difficult task.
The transport under turbulent regime (high particle Reynolds
number) must be simulated accounting for the cohesion effects
7 Research challenges
and a proper scale for settling velocity. The use of data collected
in large facilities or in the field limits scale issues.
7.1 Methods
Regarding numerical models, there are different options,
Generally, the main mechanisms contributing to reservoir sedi- ranging from 1D to 3D models. Traditionally, 1D models have
mentation are well identified in the literature. However, reser- been used due to their low computational cost and reduced data
voir sedimentation remains far from properly controlled and requirement. However, with the presence of complex topog-
the research and engineering community still faces many raphy and/or of hydraulic structures, the use of 2D/3D mod-
research challenges in what concerns understanding of pro- els may be required. 2D shallow water models may provide
cesses, modelling, and mitigation tools. The advent of new accurate predictions for the depth averaged flow velocity and
research tools, either measuring techniques to support labora- water depth, requiring though a fine topographic representa-
tory and field research, or new computational capacity, will tion. Nevertheless, shallow water assumptions may fall when
allow a deeper analysis of the thermodynamic and mechanic hydrodynamics of reservoirs is concerned. Castillo, Carillo, &
processes involved in reservoir sedimentation. Álvarez (2015), for instance, showed that 2D simulations may
Regarding physical experimentation, high-resolution instru- not adequately predict the instabilities of sediment deposits in
mentation can provide a better insight into the hydrodynamic front of outlet structures, nor the pressurized flow at the initial
and morphodynamic mechanisms. Uncertainties related to the stage of flushing events. For this reason, reliable 3D mod-
stratigraphic profile of reservoir depositions and to the deter- els are also required. These may be Euleurian-type solvers of
mination of the sediment fluxes hamper the understanding the Navier–Stokes equations, from computationally expensive
of processes related to reservoir sedimentation. Measurements direct numerical simulations, to large-eddy simulation and to
with ultrasound or image acquisition systems are now pos- Reynolds-averaged models; or may be based on Lagrangian
sible for use in field and/or laboratory studies. They allow techniques, such as smoothed particle hydrodynamics (SPH;
flow velocities, concentration and internal stresses to be char- IAHR, 2015). To reduce computational efforts required for sim-
acterized in sediment-laded flows. Ultrasound-based instru- ulating realistic scenarios, graphics processing units in combina-
ments include 3D acoustic Doppler velocity profilers with tion with non-trivial optimization procedures can be used (Juez,
convergent beams (ADVP), acoustic Doppler current profiles Lacasta, Murillo, & García-Navarro, 2016). The computational
with divergent beams (ADCP), monostatic ultrasound veloc- time gain obtained with the graphic hardware is significantly
ity profilers (UVP) and 3D or 2D point Doppler velocime- superior compared with single-core (sequential) and multi-core
ters (ADV). Image-based instrumentation includes point laser (parallel) CPU implementations.
Doppler velocimetry (LDV/LDA), particle image velocime- The experimental methods herein highlighted were devel-
try (PIV), particle tracking velocimetry (PTV), radiography, oped for several domains of geophysics but they may be
tomography and 3D holographic PIV. For the control of sedi- applied specifically to the study of reservoir sedimentation.
ment budgets and to calibrate and validate watershed sediment These are may be applied in the laboratory, mainly for the
management models, a large amount of field instrumentation study of processes, or in the field for the operational and
for measuring sediment transport and morphology evolution is timely assessment of sediment deposition. New methods have
now available, including: magnetic tracers; passive and active to be further developed and applied to rapidly assess sedi-
radio transmitters; geophones and hydrophones; impact sen- ment deposition in reservoirs. For instance, the use of LiDAR
sors; drone-based or plane-based flighted topography surveys flights and air transported spectral cameras are faster methods to
(through LiDAR or imagimetry); video analysis by (flighted of assess reservoir bathymetry changes than echo sounder surveys
laboratory) spectral cameras. Some studies show that satellite made from ships. Significant developments are needed regard-
remote sensing may be used to monitor watershed processes ing the decrease of calculation times of numerical models. These
(Birkett, 1998; Pan, Liao, Li, & Guo, 2013) and to directly are typically much longer than the time that the process of reser-
assess the degree of sedimentation of reservoirs (Jain, Singh, & voir sedimentation takes to occur in reality, which has a time
Seth, 2002; Narasayya, 2013). scale of weeks to years. Models should calculate faster than the
Laboratory work involving sediment transport, especially process in reality in order to be used operationally.
with fine sediments as in turbidity currents, bring similitude
difficulties and scale effects regarding the intervening forces
7.2 Basin-scale estimation of sedimentation rates
(Meiburg & Kneller, 2010). To assure similitude, dimensionless
parameters representing the ratio of forces acting in the sedi- Lumped models based on empirical laws are popular because
ments must be kept within similar ranges between the laboratory of their simplicity and comparably low computational cost.
Journal of Hydraulic Research Vol. 54, No. 6 (2016) Reservoir sedimentation 605

However, these tend to have low precision since they do not and interpolation techniques still require advancements to make
describe the complexity of the sediment cycle. Overoptimistic them widely usable. The use of an extensive range of real-time
forecasts of sediment accumulation led in the past to viability sensors and gauges, measuring thermodynamic conditions, sedi-
problems of some infrastructures (McCully, 2001). Examples ment fluxes, morphological changes and flow rates are crucial to
of this are the reservoirs of Chixoy (Guatemala), which filled the understanding of the physical processes underlying reservoir
with sediments more rapidly than predicted; Cerro Grande reser- sedimentation. These data can be combined in real-time with
voir (El Salvador), whose lifetime was reduced by about 10 machine-learning models to the continuous improvement of
times compared to the predicted value; Tarbela reservoir (Pak- conceptual and numerical models, and of the management tools.
istan), where the a reduction of 30% of the storage was observed The Reservoir Sedimentation Database (Ackerman et al., 2009),
between 1974 and 2009; and Dez reservoir (Iran), where a an electronic database set by the US Geological Survey, is an
reduction of 19% was observed in forty years of operation. The example of a service to managers, natural resource planners and
time required for a reservoir to be filled up by sediments is researchers, which gathers and disseminates reservoir sedimen-
given by the ratio of the reservoir volume and the mean annual tation data for more than 1800 reservoirs in USA, from as early
sediment inflow. This can vary from 60 years (Low Aswan as 1755.
reservoir Di Silvio, 2001), to some 500 years (Great Ethiopian The assessment of the temporal evolution of sedimenta-
Renaissance reservoir, Seleshi, 2015). tion rates in existing reservoirs is possible today by means of
Most projects use empirical formulations resulting from radioisotopes, as Wren, Rigby, Davidson, & Locke (2016) used
regional inferences or accumulated data, to estimate the bulk in lake accumulated sediments. This or similar techniques can
sedimentation rate of reservoirs. Empirically-based lumped be used in existent reservoirs to predict trends in sedimenta-
equations of soil denudation such as the universal soil-Loss tion rates and relate them with watershed characteristics and
equation and its variants (Beyer Portner & Schleiss, 2003; processes.
Wischmeier, 1959), the Fournier equation (Fournier, 1960) or Climate change is expected to affect reservoirs by increasing
the erosion potential method of Gavrilović (Gavrilovic, 1962), sedimentation rates (Juracek, 2015). Given the uncertain climate
among many others, are used to predict soil denudation as a modification, and the uncertainties inherent to the modelling
function of the watershed physical characteristics. This sedi- of sediment dynamics of river basins (Halcrow Water, 2001),
ment production is often considered as the sediment yield into stochasticity related to the uncertain global warming should
a reservoir. Technological advances now allow more complex be lumped into global watershed models (Loucks & Van
conceptual, and physically-based, distributed sediment deliv- Beek, 2005).
ery models, where sources and sinks of sediments, connectivity Global warming and the resulting climate change depend
and storage processes are included. These so-called global on societal choices, policies, and technology advancements to
watershed or space distributed models account for the spatial come. Climate change impact depends on both the amplitude of
variability of erosion and deposition processes (e.g. Bronstert global warming and the advances in reducing exposure and vul-
et al., 2014; Ferro & Porto, 2000; Medeiros, Güntner, Francke, nerability. Changes in the land use, induced by socio-economic
Mamede, & Araújo, 2010; Verstraeten, 2006). Models to eval- adjustments to climate change (FAO, 2015), may also alter
uate the watershed sediment connectivity such as the one pre- determinant parameters for soil erosion/sediment production
sented by Fryirs (2013) take into account sources and sinks of which are considered in global watershed models.
sediments, which are mediated in turn by linkages and block- The improvement of basin-scale estimations of processes
ages, and may be used to manage reservoir sedimentation. This related to soil erosion and sediment transport, with conse-
type of approach may be used in the future by decision-makers quences to the sedimentation in reservoirs, is possible by the
to: identify spots in the watershed where interventions are ade- combination of remote sensing with geographic information
quate to prevent sediments to reach the reservoir (intentional systems. Nowadays, data from remote sensing is extensive and
disruption of the watershed connectivity by insertion of block- of good quality, and developments to combine them with com-
ages, retention basins or establishing bypasses for instance); and putational efficient geographic information systems can give
identify the role of the dam disturbance in the sediment cascade good results in the improvement of reservoir sedimentation
of the valley. assessment. Natural stochasticity related to sedimentation pro-
The main drawback of distributed models is the requirement cesses, and stochasticity depending on climate modification,
for extensive data input. Distributed models need more data than should be considered.
low-dimensional models and this demand notably increases with
the complexity included in the model. Satellite data, increas-
ingly available and with growing quality, are a good source for
7.3 Sediment production
information on topography, rainfall, land cover and soil type.
Geographic information systems are an important tool allow- Bulk estimates, as mentioned above, may be important for the
ing superimposition of several layers of information for use assessment of the life span of reservoirs. However, if interven-
in either lumped or distributed models. However, optimization tions to reduce the sediment yield to reservoirs are required, the
606 A.J. Schleiss et al. Journal of Hydraulic Research Vol. 54, No. 6 (2016)

local causes of sediment production have to be identified and transport and river morphology downstream of dams which are
studied. not permeable enough to the passage of sediments by means of
Research on the soil erosion is still necessary in order to sluicing and flushing. Although important from an ecological
reveal the influence of ecosystems types in soil production by point of view, the impact of these measures promoting sedi-
weathering, in unchannelled transport by wind and overland ment replenishment on downstream reservoir storage needs to
flow, and in the transport and erosion by landslides, debris flow, be acknowledged and quantified.
snow avalanches (e.g. Bates, Andreini, & Ancey, 2016) and
glaciers (Syvitski & Milliman, 2007).
7.4 Delta migration
The vegetation in general protects the soil from the rain drop
impact, and the roots reinforce and consolidate the soil. The The propagation of the delta front is strongly governed
influence of vegetation in the far-reach sediment production still by different underwater processes: upward-coarsening sup-
requires research efforts (Fox et al., 2016), as well as techniques ply, upward-fining supply, turbidity currents, vertical entrain-
for the efficient use of soil protection techniques based on the ment/depositions sediment fluxes or even more complex mor-
introduction of vegetation as sediment buffers. The introduction, phological patterns. The vertical (stratigraphy) and horizontal
through migration of modification, of fast-growing vegetation (surface texture) distribution of the grain sizes of the substrate
in high altitudes could bring benefits in soil protection against plays an important role on the resulting sediment fluxes. How-
erosion. ever, to unravel the mechanisms underlying the control of the
Research on the impact of management practices of soil pro- delta migration more experimental data (field and laboratory
tection is still needed as well (Hargrove et al., 2010), namely scale) are still needed, besides developments regarding the the-
regarding agricultural practices, reforestation and protection of oretical description of 2D/3D erosion/deposition patterns and
riparian areas. The impact of forest fires in the increase of soil 2D/3D numerical tools for the computational prediction.
erosion is also a crucial aspect to be understood (Di Piazza, Unstable submarine deltas pose a risk not only to the envi-
Di Stefano, & Ferro, 2007; Sankey, 2015) and with direct ronment but also to civil structures. The collapse of sections of
impact on the loss of reservoir storage to sedimentation (McCoy, the delta may initiate submarine landslides causing significant
Krasko, Santi, Kaffine, and Rebennack, 2016). Finally, as indi- modifications in the topography of the reservoir and the gen-
cated by Hargrove et al. (2010), social aspects of the watershed eration of impulse tsunami waves with a sufficient height to
inhabitants and valley dwellers have to be taken into account threaten the local shore-dwellers of reservoirs. Aquatic land-
when implementing new land-use practices. slides in reservoirs require a deeper knowledge about their
In their review on upstream sediment sources contributing triggering mechanisms, pattern of migration and ability for ero-
to reservoir sedimentation, Fox et al. (2016) list as challenges sion/deposition rates. Furthermore, landslides in the avalanche
the accurate prediction and control of the sediment yield ensu- face of deltas may initiate turbidity currents by fluidization pro-
ing from stream bank failures as well as rill and gully erosion. cesses, which propagate throughout the reservoir, an initiation
Bank failure is caused by a combination of fluvial erosion mechanism of turbidity currents which is not completely under-
and geotechnical failure (also called geomorphological collapse stood yet (Meiburg & Kneller, 2010). On the other hand, the
according to Murillo & García-Navarro, 2010) and its incor- shear provoked by the passage of a turbidity current may also
poration in river models is still an open research topic (e.g. destabilize the avalanche faces of deltas and initiate landslides
Langendoen et al., 2015). and debris flows.
In the reservoir, measures to avoid subaerial and subaqueous Exogenous causes may induce the destabilization of the
landslides are needed to avoid this source of sediments. A static delta and require further investigation. Earthquakes can shift
and dynamic stability of the delta slopes and of the reservoir the material of the delta located at the lower level, provoking
banks needs to be understood to characterize the occurrence of a massive material mobilization and a subsequent wave. Sub-
landslides and their impact on the transport and accumulation of aerial landslides in the shoreline can cause the fall of rocks
sediments near the dam. and debris into the reservoir, leading to the collapse of sections
The forms of mobilization of the legacy load, as defined of the delta. Surface and internal waves may drive processes
by Hargrove et al. (2010), have to be characterized, includ- that destabilize the avalanche faces of deltas. Stream channels
ing unstable deposits that may result in landslides and debris are formed crossing sedimentation deltas which present signa-
flow, floodplain deposits and bed forms, among others. The tures of such fluvial processes as meandering, levee formation,
quantification of the probability distribution associated to the channel incision and armouring. Further research is required to
mobilization of the legacy load should be made and included in understand their implication for reservoir sedimentation, namely
watershed models. their importance to the stability of the delta configuration.
Recent research focus on sediment replenishment techniques, Mitigation measures against the negative effects of sediment
aiming at re-establishing sediment feed into sediment-depleted deltas which may reach the dam are not adequately understood
river reaches located downstream of dams (Juez, Battisacco, yet. Experimental investigation is needed on flushing, to char-
Schleiss, & Franca, 2016). These aim at restoring sediment acterize the flushing cone dynamics and to know the influence
Journal of Hydraulic Research Vol. 54, No. 6 (2016) Reservoir sedimentation 607

of operation time as function of local variables (Kantoush & influence of granular roughness (Nogueira, Adduce, Alves, &
Schleiss, 2009). Sediment sluicing experiments should provide Franca, 2013; Sequeiros et al., 2010), macro-roughness (boul-
an insight on the amount of sediments released downstream ders) or roughness induced by vegetation (Nepf, 2012) on the
as function of time, and on the material that remains in the flow resistance; the influence of the bed shear stress exerted
reservoir. The vegetation left from the deforestation in the reser- by the current on sediments with different nature (cohesive
voir has harmful effects on the water quality. However, it may or non-cohesive); the erosion/deposition rates and its conse-
prevent the advancement of sediment deltas and cause extra quent sediment concentration evolution; and finally the current
resistance to the advancement of turbidity currents. evolution with different grain sizes.
The modulation of the sediment yield in river basins intro- Additional information is required on internal waves propa-
duced by climate modifications affects the dynamic evolution gating in the pycnocline of stratified fluids and on the interaction
of deltas advancing towards reservoirs. Due to global warm- of these with gravity currents (Meiburg & Kneller, 2010). The
ing, there is also an expected increase in the melting rate of interaction of turbidity currents with surface waves, namely
glaciers with a consequent increase of temperature-driven den- their ability to generate these, needs also further assessment.
sity currents inflowing into reservoirs. These currents have a High resolution measurements of the current hydrodynamics
potential for morphological changes (Dallimore, Imberger, & and sediment dynamics are more and more available and shall be
Ishikawa, 2001) affecting the stability of the delta and reservoir explored further. ADCPs are increasingly used to characterize,
slopes. in the field, the flow velocity distribution and sediment transport
An efficient exploitation of the delta material by dredging, as (Haun & Lizano, 2016; Kostaschuk, Best, Villard, Peakall, &
a form of mitigating reservoir sedimentation, may be foreseen Franklin, 2005).
and investigated. This however must conform with the stability Mitigation measures against the negative effects of tur-
of the delta. bidity currents (silting of reservoirs and blocking of intakes)
require further analysis. Research on venting should focus on
the amount of sediment bypassed and the amount of sediment
7.5 Turbidity currents
remaining upstream, as a function of variables such as val-
Turbidity currents are composed by a wide range of sus- ley configurations, delta heights, outlet arrangements and initial
pended particle sizes. Settling of larger particles reduces the densities (Chamoun et al., 2016). Obstacles may be situated in
density difference and the buoyancy which maintains the flow, the upper part of the reservoir aiming at stopping the current and
thus currents induced by small floods may not reach the dam forcing the sediments to settle down, in order to keep the outlet
(Oehy, 2003). This process also causes a longitudinal reduc- structures free of sediments (Oehy & Schleiss, 2007; Schleiss &
tion in the grain size of the suspended solids carried by the De Cesare, 2010; Tokyay et al., 2011). Jet screens (Bühler,
current and deposited along the delta and along the reservoir Oehy, & Schleiss, 2012; Oehy et al., 2010) may be used to con-
bed. Furthermore, the group settling velocity of the sediments trol the development of the turbidity currents and whirl them up
in suspension is dependent on the concentration and particle near the dam and intakes, keeping the sediments in suspension to
diameters. The understanding of interactions between particles be continuously evacuated through the intakes (Jenzer-Althaus
inside the current and of the geomorphological impact of the et al., 2014). Prevention measures may be used against the cur-
composition of the current in terms of grain size distribution rent plunging, and the utilization of macro-roughness on the
is still insufficient and should be improved by high-resolution reservoir bed may limit the current propagation and erosion
numerical simulations (Meiburg & Kneller, 2010). capacity.
Available literature reveals gaps in the knowledge regarding The probable, although temporary, positive effect of the
hydrodynamic properties of turbidity currents under the pres- remaining vegetation left in the reservoir bottom against the
ence of mass and momentum external sinks, i.e. basal erosion propagation of turbidity currents should be explored.
or deposition processes or outlets such as venting operations. Temperature-driven density currents inflowing into reser-
Meiburg & Kneller (2010) point at the need for further research voirs, the frequency of which may increase due to cli-
on bed erosion by the current and on the coupling between the mate change, may incorporate fine sediments (García &
evolution of the turbidity current and of the underlying sub- Parker, 1993), thus contributing to an increase of the long-range
strate. Research on erosion by turbidity currents should cover transport of fine sediments along a reservoir.
consolidated substrate composed by cohesive and non-cohesive The evaluation of the carbon stocking effect of a reservoir
material. should includes the analysis of the role of the turbidity currents
The following aspects regarding the propagation of turbidity as distal conveyers of the carbon adsorbed by the sediments.
currents are not completely understood: the initiation and
support mechanisms; the influence of turbidity currents on
7.6 Flow circulation
reservoir floor topography and plane morphology, and the sub-
sequent interaction between these (Meiburg & Kneller, 2010); The flow circulation in reservoirs is conditioned by its shape.
laminar propagation (Yilmaz, Testik, & Chowdhury, 2014); the The existence of marked concave boundaries typically leads
608 A.J. Schleiss et al. Journal of Hydraulic Research Vol. 54, No. 6 (2016)

to the creation of dead-water regions, while the existence of the reservoirs are subjected to seasonal storage with high yearly
low-velocity and shallow regions creates preferential areas for variation of level.
sediment deposition. In addition to the research already con-
ducted (Kantoush et al., 2008; Kantoush et al., 2008; Camnasio 8 Conclusions
et al., 2011), efforts are needed to clarify effects of more complex
reservoir geometries, which should be characterized by a form The main relevant issues regarding reservoir sedimentation have
parameter, and on the limitation of some mitigation methods been highlighted and discussed. Several key messages were
such as flushing and venting. The main question is the loca- given which address researchers, practitioners, legislators, pol-
tion of release structures which provoke a short-circuit between icy makers, funding agencies and outreach and educational
the sediment inflow and outflow, considering the annual stor- promoters dealing with the problem of reservoir sedimentation.
age cycles. Also, the trapping efficiency of dead-water areas, The design and layout of reservoirs and dams have to con-
possibly under low turbulence conditions, must be a target of sider reservoir sedimentation from the very early planning
research. phases. A new paradigm of the so-called sediment permeable
Two-dimensional or 3D numerical simulations are essen- dams is needed, with benefits also to the sediment continuity of
tial to enhance sedimentation studies, since it is impossible valleys downstream, which is important for maintaining river
to perform enough physical experimentation aiming at gen- morphology and ecology. Construction of new reservoirs with-
eralization of the results regarding possible reservoir geome- out the implementation of efficient sediment management strate-
tries. Hybrid physical/numerical experimentation may be a gies to ensure the sustainability of the storage should not be
solution. permitted. This should be reinforced by appropriate regulation
Accumulated field data on existing reservoirs, where var- and policies.
ious flow circulation patterns exist, should also be foreseen. Public awareness of the problem of reservoir sedimentation
Lagrangian tracers with neutral buoyancy can be used to recon- and its relation to reservoir sustainability should be increased
stitute the flow circulation pattern in reservoirs. Neutrally by more appropriate knowledge transfer from researchers to
buoyant tracers or drifters equipped with technologies such as entities intervening on the topic and to the general public.
active (Habersack, 2001) or passive (Lamarre, MacVicar, & The sustainability of reservoirs, regarding the effects of
Roy, 2005) radio transmitter tags, or smart pebbles (Maniatis, reservoir sedimentation, should be considered in the economic
Hoey, & Sventek, 2013), may be used. Tracers with different analysis of new dams and reservoirs.
buoyancy, corresponding to the range of possible buoyancies in The effect of global warming and climate change on the
the reservoir, may be used to follow the stratified flow at differ- sustainability of reservoirs needs assessment as well as the
ent depths. Reservoir bathymetry data should complement the role of the reservoirs in the carbon cycle. In many regions
hydrodynamic analysis for cross analysis of the morphological reservoirs will become vital infrastructures for climate change
response of the reservoir to flow patterns. adaptation.
Research is necessary on the construction of artificial topog- Finally, there is a need for a worldwide database on surface
raphy elements inside the reservoir, such as submerged check erosion and soil loss in catchments in general, and reservoir sed-
dams and groynes, for the creation of preferential pathways imentation in particular. Data have been compiled and organized
between the intake and the outtake to modify the flow circu- by many different sources since the 1950s, or even before. A
lation pathways in order to prevent sedimentation and enhance transnational organization should concentrate this information,
the effectiveness of some mitigation tools. The implementa- in order to make publicly available this essential resource for
tion of sediment diversion techniques, such as the creation of engineers and researchers developing techniques for reducing
bypass structures (Boes, Auel, Hagmann, & Albayrak, 2014), reservoir sedimentation.
is dependent on the flow circulation in reservoirs. Furthermore,
the use of jet-based techniques to remove sediments from the
reservoir and to keep fine sediments in suspension upstream of Acknowledgments
dam intakes (Jenzer-Althaus et al., 2014; Jenzer-Althaus, De
Cesare, & Schleiss, 2016) seems promising. The authors are grateful to Vladimir Nikora for the invitation
When bypassing sediment through a dam, ecological restric- to write this vision paper. The authors also thank the colleagues
tions should be taken into account. Fast currents originated by who contributed the photographs included in this paper: Flavio
flushing or sluicing operations can cause mechanical damage Anselmetti, Alain Broccard, Hervé Capart, Soleyman Emami,
to vegetation (broken stems or broken roots) and also increase Stefan Haun and Kees Sloff. The authors are thankful to Michael
the sediment re-suspension in sparsely vegetated and shallow Pfister for his revision of the text.
areas, which further reduces the light available for the sub-
aqueous vegetation and contributes to the formation of turbidity Funding
flows. It is thus important to assess the impact of sedimentation
control operations on the vegetation in the reservoir. In deep Carmelo Juez is funded by the ITN-Programme (Marie
reservoirs there is generally no (or little) vegetation, especially if Curie Actions) of the European Union’s Seventh Framework
Journal of Hydraulic Research Vol. 54, No. 6 (2016) Reservoir sedimentation 609

Programme FP7-PEOPLE-2013-ITN under REA grant agree- Beck, C., Lutz, N., Lais, A., Vetsch, D., & Boes, R. (2016).
ment [number 607394-SEDITRANS]. Patrind Hydropower Project, Pakistan – Physical model
investigations on the optimization of the sediment manage-
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