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Keywords:

  • environmental flows;
  • European Commission;
  • good ecological status;
  • reservoir releases;
  • Water Framework Directive

Summary

1. Environmental flows is now a widely accepted term that covers the quantity, timing, duration, frequency and quality of water flows required to sustain freshwater, estuarine and near-shore ecosystems and the human livelihoods and well-being that depend on them.

2. The Water Framework Directive (WFD) of the European Union does not use the term environmental flows explicitly, but requires member states to achieve good ecological status (GES) in all waterbodies, which is assessed by reference to aquatic biology. Nevertheless, it is accepted that ecologically appropriate hydrological regimes are necessary to meet this status. Implementing environmental flows will be a key measure for restoring and managing river ecosystems.

3. The WFD explicitly requires stakeholder involvement, but this has been interpreted as largely a dissemination exercise by national government agencies. Stakeholders are no longer involved in negotiation over ecological objectives as these are pre-set in the WFD. However, stakeholders may be more involved in reviewing standards and agreeing to measures to restore river ecosystems to the status required by the WFD.

4. The U.K. has undertaken two major projects to set environmental standards for water resources (i) to define water abstraction limits that maintain a healthy river ecosystem and (ii) to define ecologically appropriate flow releases from reservoirs.

5. Implementation of environmental flows remains a major issue, but new ideas such as time-limited licences and licence trading are being tried.