2014 – Voëlvlei Dam – A Reservoir in Flux

JN Rossouw, AHM Görgens and PC Blersch

Shallow lakes or reservoirs generally exist in either of two stable states; a clear water state dominated by rooted water plants, or a turbid state dominated by free floating algae. A dramatic event can switch a shallow reservoir from one state to another. Voëlvlei Dam, a relatively shallow off-channel storage reservoir in the Berg River catchment, South Africa, switched from a stable, clear water system to a turbid, algal dominated system when it was severely drawn down during a drought in the mid-2000s.
It appears that there is tipping point beyond which a shallow reservoir can switch from one stable state to another and that there are buffers that maintain it in a specific state. Voëlvlei Dam is a good example of what such a switch might be (low water levels and high wind mixing) and what buffers (change to bottom-feeding fish species) may maintain it in the new state. It is only by understanding the hydrodynamic behaviour of a shallow reservoir that one can predict what these switches and buffers could be. Complex hydrodynamic modelling and comprehensive fish monitoring will facilitate more informed decision making and better management of reservoirs.
This paper describes the mechanisms that lead to the switch and how it can be prevented by developing an understanding of the hydrodynamic behaviour of shallow reservoirs through hydrodynamic water quality modelling.

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