Quantifying the trade-offs in re-operating dams for the environment in the Lower Volta River

Afua Owusu*, Jazmin Zatarain Salazar, Marloes Mul, Pieter van der Zaag, Jill Slinger

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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The construction of the Akosombo and Kpong dams in the Lower Volta River basin in Ghana changed the downstream riverine ecosystem and affected the lives of downstream communities, particularly those who lost their traditional livelihoods. In contrast to the costs borne by those in the vicinity of the river, Ghana has enjoyed vast economic benefits from the affordable hydropower, irrigation schemes and lake tourism that developed after construction of the dams. Herein lies the challenge; there exists a trade-off between water for river ecosystems and related services on the one hand and anthropogenic water demands such as hydropower or irrigation on the other. In this study, an Evolutionary Multi-Objective Direct Policy Search (EMODPS) is used to explore the multi-sectoral trade-offs that exist in the Lower Volta River basin. Three environmental flows, previously determined for the Lower Volta, are incorporated separately as environmental objectives. The results highlight the dominance of hydropower production in the Lower Volta but show that there is room for providing environmental flows under current climatic and water use conditions if the firm energy requirement from Akosombo Dam reduces by 12% to 38% depending on the environmental flow regime that is implemented. There is uncertainty in climate change effects on runoff in this region; however multiple scenarios are investigated. It is found that climate change leading to increased annual inflows to the Akosombo Dam reduces the trade-off between hydropower and the environment as this scenario makes more water available for users. Furthermore, climate change resulting in decreased annual inflows provides the opportunity to strategically provide dry-season environmental flows, that is, reduce flows sufficiently to meet low flow requirements for key ecosystem services such as the clam fishery. This study not only highlights the challenges in balancing anthropogenic water demands and environmental considerations in managing existing dams but also identifies opportunities for compromise in the Lower Volta River.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2001-2017
Number of pages17
JournalHydrology and Earth System Sciences
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2023


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