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Managing for Sustainability: The Development of Environmental Flows Implementation in China

1 and 2,*
State Key Laboratory of Simulation and Regulation of Water Cycle in River Basin, China Institute of Water Resources and Hydropower Research, Beijing 100038, China
College of Hydrology and Water Resources, Hohai University, Nanjing 210098, China
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Water 2019, 11(3), 433;
Received: 11 January 2019 / Revised: 22 February 2019 / Accepted: 25 February 2019 / Published: 28 February 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Water Related Disaster and Water Environment Management)
PDF [1025 KB, uploaded 28 February 2019]
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Environmental flows (e-flows) are important for river protection and restoration under degraded ecological conditions. With increasing public desire for and pursuit of sustainable development, e-flows are widely used to reflect the hydrological regime requirements for sustaining freshwater ecosystems and human livelihoods. Over the past 40 years, e-flows implementation has shifted from static minimum flows to dynamic flow components. However, e-flows standards used to manage flow releases from dams are to a great extent based on expert judgement and government supervision. These attributes make it difficult to effectively implement e-flows in the non-stationary world. The primary focus of this paper is to review the history, management systems and scientific basis of e-flows in China. Firstly, the study classifies the development phases into four periods and then analyses the underpinning legal system for e-flows implementation in each period, including the laws, regulations, policies and responsible authorities. Finally, the scientific basis and methods for e-flows determination and assessment were analyzed. The study showed that: (1) e-flows have been officially regarded as ecological flow in China, which evolved from minimum flow, and the contents and connotations are still broadening; (2) currently, there are too many authorities related to e-flows and complicated legal documents in China which lead to ineffective implementation; (3) the scientific basis of e-flows is enriched from the relationship between hydrological alteration and ecological response, so that the practices will be more holistic in China. Despite the successful practices of e-flows implementation in large rivers, there are challenges for implementing future e-flows in small rivers. This study recommended that future e-flows implementation be integrated with sustainable water management by setting clear responsibilities for governments, ministries, and other stakeholders. View Full-Text
Keywords: environmental flows; ecological flow; freshwater ecosystem; hydrological regime; water governance environmental flows; ecological flow; freshwater ecosystem; hydrological regime; water governance

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Chen, A.; Wu, M. Managing for Sustainability: The Development of Environmental Flows Implementation in China. Water 2019, 11, 433.

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