ABSTRACT

In March 2015, the village of San Pablo de Amalí on the Dulcepamba River in Ecuador was hit by a flood that killed three residents, destroyed five homes, and eroded several hectares of farmland. Residents asserted that the recent construction of a run-of-the-river hydroelectric facility built in the river channel directed flood flows toward the village, causing the associated damage and fatalities. We conducted a forensic hydrologic and hydraulic analysis of the catchment to assess potential causal mechanisms affecting flooding, including the construction of the hydroelectric facility. Hydrologic analysis demonstrated that the river flows produced by the March 2015 storm were equivalent to a 6-year return interval event, with a discharge of 58.6 cms, not the much more extreme 33-year return interval, 400-cms event that had been suggested in a report produced by the hydroelectric company. Hydraulic modeling determined an ∼2-m elevation surcharge of water attributable to the hydroelectric facility, suggesting that damage to the village would not have occurred without the obstruction created by debris blockage of the hydroelectric plant intake. Hydrologic modeling also quantified monthly totals of water availability in the Dulcepamba watershed, including average dry-season flow volumes. When compared to flow volumes allocated to the hydroelectric operator, the modeling indicated that the seasonal water availability in the Dulcepamba watershed is not sufficient to collectively meet the minimum in-stream environmental flow requirements, the agriculture demands from local subsistence irrigators, and the flow volumes allocated to the hydroelectric operator.

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