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Environmental flows—basics for novices

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The term environmental flows has become widely used to define the hydrological regime required to sustain freshwater and estuarine ecosystems and the human livelihoods and well‐being that depend on them. A large range of frameworks and methods has been developed to assess environmental flow needs and many authors have identified subtleties in the approaches needed for different situations and required outcomes. This article summaries some basic concepts that can assist those new to environmental flows to navigate the rapidly expanding plethora of information. It briefly covers key areas of setting objectives for river ecosystems, examining pressures that constrain reaching these objectives, the level of detail needed, implementation, and how future changes affect environmental flow assessments. WIREs Water 2016, 3:622–628. doi: 10.1002/wat2.1160 This article is categorized under: Water and Life > Conservation, Management, and Awareness Engineering Water > Planning Water Science of Water > Hydrological Processes
Natural flow regime (solid) and the flow require altered by a constant abstraction (dashed).
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Environmental flows releases from dams can be achieved by building a flow regime from a zero flow baseline using hydrograph components (gray blocks) that support particular parts of the river ecosystem. (Reprinted with permission from Ref . Copyright 2009)
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Natural flow regime (solid) and the flow require produced by a constant dam release and occasional flows over the spillway (dashed).
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Hydro‐ecological impacts can be quantified by recording the difference between a natural (solid) and altered (dashed) flow regime as a set of indices that capture changes in key hydrograph components.
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