Monitoring Dewatering Fish Spawning Sites in the Reservoir of a Large Hydropower Plant in a Lowland Country Using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Sensors (Basel). 2022 Dec 28;23(1):303. doi: 10.3390/s23010303.


This paper presents research concerning dewatered areas in the littoral zones of the Kaunas hydropower plant (HPP) reservoir in Lithuania. It is a multipurpose reservoir that is primarily used by two large hydropower plants for power generation. As a result of the peaking operation regime of the Kaunas HPP, the large quantity of water that is subtracted and released into the reservoir by the Kruonis pumped storage hydropower plant (PSP), and the reservoir morphology, i.e., the shallow, gently sloping littoral zone, significant dewatered areas can appear during drawdown operations. This is especially dangerous during the fish spawning period. Therefore, reservoir operation rules are in force that limit the operation of HPPs and secure other reservoir stakeholder needs. There is a lack of knowledge concerning fish spawning locations, how they change, and what areas are dewatered at different stages of HPP operation. This knowledge is crucial for decision-making and efficient reservoir storage management in order to simultaneously increase power generation and protect the environment. Current assessments of the spawning sites are mostly based on studies that were carried out in the 1990s. Surveying fish spawning sites is typically a difficult task that is usually carried out by performing manual bathymetric measurements due to the limitations of sonar in such conditions. A detailed survey of a small (approximately 5 ha) area containing several potential spawning sites was carried out using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) equipped with multispectral and conventional RGB cameras. The captured images were processed using photogrammetry and analyzed using various techniques, including machine learning. In order to highlight water and track changes, various indices were calculated and assessed, such as the Normalized Difference Water Index (NDWI), Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), Visible Atmospherically Resistant Index (VARI), and Normalized Green-Red Difference Index (NGRDI). High-resolution multispectral images were used to analyze the spectral footprint of aquatic macrophytes, and the possibility of using the results of this study to identify and map potential spawning sites over the entire reservoir (approximately 63.5 km2) was evaluated. The aim of the study was to investigate and implement modern surveying techniques to improve usage of reservoir storage during hydropower plant drawdown operations. The experimental results show that thresholding of the NGRDI and supervised classification of the NDWI were the best-performing methods for the shoreline detection in the fish spawning sites.

Keywords: dewatered areas; drawdown operations; fish spawning sites; hydropower; large reservoir; remote sensing.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Fishes*
  • Unmanned Aerial Devices*

Grants and funding

This research was partially funded by the EU project LIFE NEXUS (LIFE17 ENV/ES/000252). The APC was funded by this project.