Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)


Watershed Sciences

Committee Chair(s)

Sarah Null


Sarah Null


Phaedra Budy


David Rosenberg


River barriers, such as dams, culverts and diversions are important for water conveyance, but disrupt river ecosystems and hydrologic processes. River barrier removal is increasingly used to restore and improve river habitat and connectivity. Most past barrier removal projects prioritized individual barriers using score-and-rank techniques, neglecting the spatial structure and cumulative change from multiple barrier removals. Similarly, most water demand models satisfy human water uses or, only prioritize aquatic habitat, failing to include both human and environmental water use benefits. In this study, a dual objective optimization model identified in-stream barriers that impede quality-weighted aquatic habitat connectivity for Bonneville cutthroat trout. Monthly streamflow, stream temperature, channel gradient and geomorphic condition were indicators of aquatic habitat suitability. Solutions to the dual objective problem quantify and graphically present tradeoffs between quality-weighted habitat connectivity and economic water demands. The optimization model is generalizable to other watersheds, but it was applied as a case study in Utah’s Weber Basin to prioritize removal of environmentally-harmful barriers, while maintaining human water uses.

Modeled results suggest tradeoffs between economic costs of removing barriers and quality-weighted habitat gains. Removing 54 in-stream barriers increases quality-weighted habitat by about 160 km and costs approximately $10M, after which point the cost effectiveness of removing barriers to connect river habitat slows. In other words, there is decreasing benefit of removing barriers, so that after removing the first 54 barriers, it costs more to connect more high-quality habitat. Removing reservoirs or diversions that result in large economic losses did not substantially increase habitat. This suggests that removing numerous small barriers results in greater increases in habitat for the same removal costs, without significant water scarcity losses. The set of barriers prioritized for removal varied monthly depending on limiting habitat conditions for Bonneville cutthroat trout. The common barriers removed in the model were identified to communicate the most environmentally harmful barriers to local stakeholders and inform decision-making. Additionally, limiting the budget or number of barrier removal projects resulted in a different set of barriers removed. This research helps prioritize barrier removals and future restoration decisions in the Weber Basin although the model formulation is generalizable to other watersheds. Available data and a simplified approach limit the scope of this model. The modeling approach expands current barrier removal optimization methods by explicitly including economic and environmental water uses.