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|Is mean discharge meaningless for environmental flow management?
|McKay, S. Kyle.
|Engineer Research and Development Center (U.S.)
|Technical Note (Ecosystem Management and Restoration Research Program (U.S.)) ; no. ERDC/TN EMRRP-SR-91
|River ecosystems are highly dependent on and responsive to hydrologic variability over multiple time scales (e.g., hours, months, years). Fluctuating river flows present a key challenge to river managers, who must weigh competing demands for freshwater. Environmental flow recommendations and regulations seek to provide management targets balancing socio-economic outcomes with maintenance of ecological integrity. Often, flow management targets are based on average river conditions over temporal windows such as days, months, or years. Here, three case studies of hydrologic variability are presented at each time scale, which demonstrate the potential pitfalls of mean-based environmental flow criteria. Each case study shows that the intent of the environmental flow target is not met when hydrologic variability is considered. While mean discharge is inadequate as a single-minded flow management target, the consequences of mean flow prescriptions can be avoided in environmental flow recommendations. Based on these case studies, a temporal hierarchy of environmental flow thresholds is proposed (e.g., an instantaneous flow target coupled with daily and monthly averages), which would improve the efficacy of these regulations.
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