Riparian vegetation and hydro

What are the potential influences of hydro-dam activities on riparian vegetation?

What are the potential influences of hydro-dam activities on riparian vegetation?

The construction of a hydro-dam can drastically change the face of a waterway by flooding large areas of the surrounding habitat, the realignment and control of flow and water levels, and the removal of riparian vegetation.

Fluctuating water levels from existing dams can also impact on riparian vegetation. Previously submerged banks may become exposed when water levels fall, thereby increasing erosion of the river bank, or existing riparian vegetation may become submerged and decompose when water levels rise again.

Potential impacts of reducing or removing riparian vegetation on water quality and mahinga kai

  • Increased bank erosion - the loss of roots decreases the stability of the bank, increasing its vulnerability at times of flooding.
  • Increased water temperature - loss of shading from trees or overhanging streamside vegetation means waterways become more exposed and are more liable to fluctuate in temperature. (Our native fish fauna generally cannot tolerate temperatures over 25ºC and trout need temperatures to be less than 19ºC for growth.)
  • Decreased dissolved oxygen through increased aquatic plant growth - plants and weeds growing within the waterway are more likely to thrive in unshaded waterways, potentially clogging and stemming flow, which can decrease oxygen levels.
  • Modified channel form - erosion through loss of vegetation can lead to scouring and breakdown of stream and river banks, eventually changing the form of the channel.
  • Loss of species habitat - many mahinga kai species need the protection and habitat provided by riparian vegetation growing around streams and rivers. (Trees provide wood and roots to the stream that are habitat for fish and kōura, and loss of cover can result in loss of breeding and feeding habitat.)
  • Decreased water clarity - erosion and increased sediment from bank erosion may contribute to decreased water clarity and reduced visibility for fish to find food.
  • Increased nutrients in streams - riparian vegetation filters contaminants and sediment from the land. (Loss of riparian vegetation may also be associated with changes in land use that increase the amount of contaminants that are present in surface water runoff.)

Learn more about the potential environmental impacts of reducing or removing riparian vegetation from around waterways