Thad Tuggle from the Huntington District’s Water Resources Engineering Section deployed the EcoMapper Automated Underwater Vehicle to collect dissolved oxygen levels above and below the R.C. Byrd Lock and Dam. High dissolved oxygen levels can have a negative impact on aquatic life. The EcoMapper uses GPS and acoustic Doppler to track its location while measuring a full suite of water quality parameters at multiple depths through the water column.
The Water Quality team is currently investigating the effect roller dams and hydropower dams have on dissolved oxygen (DO) within the river. One of the Water Quality Team’s missions is to evaluate current project operations to look for opportunities to improve environmental stewardship. In the past, little effort has been placed on locks and dams because it was believed that little could be done to improve operations of those projects. The lock and dams on the Ohio River have created a series of pools that have lost oxygen inputs from natural falls and riffles. It is believed that the lock and dams are an important source of oxygen input on the river, how the project is operated could play a major role in the amount of that input. In order to maximize benefits of project operations, the Water Quality Team is evaluating which gate configuration maximizes oxygen inputs. Currently, there are three main methods that lock and dam project managers use to maintain navigation pool elevations, passing all flow evenly through all gates, passing flow through a minimum number of gates, and passing all flow through hydropower. Determining which configuration maximizes oxygen inputs will allow the USACE to operate lock and dams to potentially improve river conditions without increasing operational costs. The Huntington District developed and spearheaded this initiative that has generated interest outside the District due to its applicability nationwide. In addition, requests to complete hydropower projects on lock and dams have raised concerns from private, state, and federal interests on loss of oxygenation and the cumulative effect on the river. Not only will this information allow the Water Quality Team to make operational improvement recommendations to project managers, it will assist the District in reviewing and providing feedback on hydropower applications.
Future goals are to take the EcoMapper to Meldahl to measure upstream and downstream of the locks and dam as water is being run through the hydropower.