Damming and regulating the flow of rivers is a widespread issue and can have a significant impact on resident biota. The Tongariro River, central North Island, New Zealand, has a flow regime that is regulated by two hydroelectric dams along its length, and it has been suggested that ‘flushing flows’ would assist benthic communities by removing ‘nuisance’ periphyton growth forms that typically occur in autumn. We assessed whether (i) damming has altered periphyton and macroinvertebrate communities downstream of the Rangipo Dam and (ii) whether the release of a flow pulse equivalent to 50 times the baseflow is sufficient to (a) move the substrate in the section of river downstream of this dam and (b) impact benthic periphyton and macroinvertebrate communities. Downstream macroinvertebrate communities were impacted by the presence of the dam, but periphyton was not. No movement of substrate occurred downstream of the dam as a result of the flow release, which was likely because of naturally high embeddedness and armouring of substrate. Periphyton biomass and macroinvertebrate density were not affected by the release indicating that larger releases would be required to have any effect on benthic communities downstream of this dam. This study highlights the importance of considering natural bed structure and sediment dynamics when using flow releases downstream of dams to control periphyton.