Advancing environmental flows: novel findings, challenges to conventional thinking, and embracing uncertainty
Organizers: Shannon K. Brewer(1), Elise Irwin(2), Mary Freeman(3), and Jim Burroughs(4)
(1) U.S. Geological Survey, Oklahoma Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit; (2) U.S. Geological Survey, Alabama Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit; (3) U.S. Geological Survey, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center; (4) Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation
There is wide recognition by the scientific community that environmental flows are necessary to maintain or improve both ecological and associated habitat complexity among regulated rivers. The science of environmental flows is intended to balance the multidimensional nature of shared water resources in a human-dominated world. Even still, as population growth continues and water become limited, environmental flow science will be challenged to ensure flows sustain aquatic ecosystems within highly altered landscapes. In part, this is due to the global extent of hydrologic alteration that has moved environmental flow science toward more holistic frameworks, such as the Ecological Limits of Hydrologic Alteration. However, efforts that focus on the uniqueness of a river’s flow regime are still applicable and beneficial in some circumstances. The right approach for determining necessary flows is governed by a tradeoff of spatial resolution, complexity, cost, and underlying ecological circumstances. Applications of many of these approaches have increased and advancements have been made in classification of hydrological regimes, development of flow-ecology relationships, understanding the ecological outcomes of particular flow regime alterations or prescriptions. Alongside other scientific advancements, we have started to answer more complex questions to better examine altered-flow solutions while improving our interpretation of underlying sampling data and incorporating water-quality and social science into our decision making. In addition, we recognize the value of connected lotic and lentic ecosystems and are working to identify management options that support the persistence of aquatic assemblages within these landscapes and identify the opportunities that exist to maintain these systems and provide ecological advantages to both systems. Therefore, the objectives of this symposium are to bring together scientists and managers that are advancing how we think about and apply environmental flow techniques, examine novel findings that challenge conventional thinking, and identify underlying uncertainties in our decision processes.