Special Issue "Environmental Flows, Ecological Quality and Ecosystem Services"

A special issue of Water (ISSN 2073-4441). This special issue belongs to the section "Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 November 2020).

Special Issue Editor

Dr. Carles Ibáñez
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Head of Climate Change Research, Area of Sustainability, EURECAT, Catalonia, Spain
Interests: aquatic ecology; integrated management of water resources; climate change

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Establishing proper environmental flows (e-flows) across river basins is one of the keystones to implement an integrated management of water resources. This is even more critical in water scarce river basins due to increasing water uses (i.e., irrigation) and climate change. Functions and values of aquatic ecosystems (i.e., water quality, sediment dynamics, productivity, biodiversity, ecosystem services, etc.) are influenced by river flow regime alterations. However, scientists and managers often find very difficult to quantitatively link the ecological status of aquatic ecosystems and their services to specific e-flow regimes. This Special Issue welcomes papers investigating the links among river flows, the status of aquatic ecosystems and the benefits they provide to our society, either from the science or management perspectives.  

Dr. Carles Ibáñez
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

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Keywords

  • river flow
  • aquatic ecosystems
  • water quality
  • biological indicators
  • water uses
  • water scarcity
  • natural capital

Published Papers (9 papers)

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Research

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Open AccessArticle
Environmental Flow Releases for Wetland Biodiversity Conservation in the Amur River Basin
Water 2020, 12(10), 2812; https://doi.org/10.3390/w12102812 - 10 Oct 2020
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 741
Abstract
Flow regulation by large dams has transformed the freshwater and floodplain ecosystems of the Middle Amur River basin in Northeast Asia, and negatively impacted the biodiversity and fisheries. This study aimed to develop environmental flow recommendations for the Zeya and Bureya rivers based [...] Read more.
Flow regulation by large dams has transformed the freshwater and floodplain ecosystems of the Middle Amur River basin in Northeast Asia, and negatively impacted the biodiversity and fisheries. This study aimed to develop environmental flow recommendations for the Zeya and Bureya rivers based on past flow rate records. The recommended floodplain inundation by environmental flow releases from the Zeya reservoir are currently impracticable due to technical reasons. Therefore, the importance of preserving the free-flowing tributaries of the Zeya River increases. Future technical improvements for implementing environmental flow releases at the Zeya dam would improve dam management regulation during large floods. The recommendations developed for environmental flow releases from reservoirs on the Bureya River should help to preserve the important Ramsar wetlands which provide habitats for endangered bird species while avoiding flooding of settlements. The results emphasize the importance of considering environmental flow during the early stages of dam planning and the need to enhance the role of environmental flow in water management planning. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Environmental Flows, Ecological Quality and Ecosystem Services)
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Open AccessArticle
Ten Principles to Determine Environmental Flow Requirements for Temporarily Closed Estuaries
Water 2020, 12(7), 1944; https://doi.org/10.3390/w12071944 - 08 Jul 2020
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 729
Abstract
Temporarily closed estuaries require seasonal opening to tidal flows to maintain normal
ecological processes. Each estuary has specific environmental flow (EFlow) requirements based
on the relationship between freshwater inflow, coastal dynamics, rate of sandbar formation,
and the open/closed state of the mouth. Key [...] Read more.
Temporarily closed estuaries require seasonal opening to tidal flows to maintain normal
ecological processes. Each estuary has specific environmental flow (EFlow) requirements based
on the relationship between freshwater inflow, coastal dynamics, rate of sandbar formation,
and the open/closed state of the mouth. Key abiotic processes and ecosystem services linked
to mouth state were highlighted. We reviewed completed EFlow requirement studies for temporarily
closed estuaries in South Africa and found that the formulation of these requirements should
consider the timing and magnitude of flows in relation to the morphology of an estuary, its mouth
structure, catchment size, and climate. We identified ten key principles that could be adapted to
similar systems in equivalent climatic settings. Principle 1 recognizes that each estuary is unique in
terms of its EFlow requirements because size, scale, and sensitivity of core elements to freshwater
inflow are specific for each system; EFlows cannot be extrapolated from one estuary to another.
Principle 2 highlights the importance of baseflows in keeping an estuary mouth open because a small
reduction in flow can cause the mouth to close and alter essential ecological processes. Principle 3
outlines the role of floods in resetting natural processes by flushing out large volumes of sediment
and establishing the equilibrium between erosion and sedimentation. Principle 4 emphasizes the need
for open mouth conditions to allow regular tidal flushing that maintains water quality through
reducing retention times and preventing the onset of eutrophic conditions. Principle 5 advises
artificial breaching to be practiced with caution because execution at low water levels encourages
sedimentation that reduces the scouring eect of flushing. Principle 6 holds that elevated inflow
volumes from wastewater treatment works or agricultural return flows can increase the frequency of
mouth opening and cause ecological instability. Principle 7 states that water released from dams to
supply the environmental flow cannot mimic the natural flow regime. Principle 8 specifies the need
for short- and long-term data to increase the confidence levels of EFlow assessments, with data to
be collected during the open and closed mouth states. Principle 9 advocates the implementation of
a monitoring program to track the achievement of EFlow objectives as part of a strategic adaptive
management cycle. Finally, Principle 10 recommends the adoption of a holistic catchment-to-coast
management approach underpinned by collaboration with regulatory authorities and stakeholders
across a range of sectors. These principles can be used to guide the formulation and management
of EFlows, an essential strategy that links the maintenance of estuarine ecological integrity with
social well-being. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Environmental Flows, Ecological Quality and Ecosystem Services)
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Open AccessArticle
Species-Richness Responses to Water-Withdrawal Scenarios and Minimum Flow Levels: Evaluating Presumptive Standards in the Tennessee and Cumberland River Basins
Water 2020, 12(5), 1334; https://doi.org/10.3390/w12051334 - 08 May 2020
Viewed by 690
Abstract
Water-resource managers are challenged to balance growing water demand with protecting aquatic ecosystems and biodiversity. Management decisions can benefit from improved understanding of water-withdrawal impacts on hydrologic regimes and ecological assemblages. This study used ecological limit functions for fish groups within the Tennessee [...] Read more.
Water-resource managers are challenged to balance growing water demand with protecting aquatic ecosystems and biodiversity. Management decisions can benefit from improved understanding of water-withdrawal impacts on hydrologic regimes and ecological assemblages. This study used ecological limit functions for fish groups within the Tennessee and Cumberland River basins to predict species richness responses under simulated constant-rate (CR) and percent-of-flow (POF) withdrawals and for different minimum flow level protections. Streamflow characteristics (SFC) and richness were generally less sensitive to POF withdrawals than CR withdrawals among sites, fish groups, and ecoregions. Species richness generally declined with increasing withdrawals, but responses were variable depending on site-specific departures of SFCs from reference conditions, drainage area, fish group, ecoregion, and minimum flow level. Under POF withdrawals, 10% and 20% daily flow reductions often resulted in loss of <1 species and/or ≤5% richness among fish groups. Median ecological withdrawal thresholds ranged from 3.5–31% for POF withdrawals and from 0.01–0.92 m3/s for CR withdrawals across fish groups and ecoregions. Application of minimum flow level cutoffs often resulted in damping effects on SFC and richness responses, indicating that protection of low streamflows may mitigate hydrologic alteration and fish species richness loss related to water withdrawals. Site-specific and regionally summarized responses of flow regimes and fish assemblages under alternative withdrawal strategies in this study may be useful in informing water-management decisions regarding streamflow allocation and maintaining ecological flows. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Environmental Flows, Ecological Quality and Ecosystem Services)
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Open AccessArticle
Emerald Growth: A New Framework Concept for Managing Ecological Quality and Ecosystem Services of Transitional Waters
Water 2020, 12(3), 894; https://doi.org/10.3390/w12030894 - 22 Mar 2020
Cited by 7 | Viewed by 973
Abstract
The aim of the present paper is to propose and elaborate on the concept of Emerald Growth as a new framework concept for managing ecological quality and ecosystem services of transitional waters. The research approach combines the longstanding experience of the authors of [...] Read more.
The aim of the present paper is to propose and elaborate on the concept of Emerald Growth as a new framework concept for managing ecological quality and ecosystem services of transitional waters. The research approach combines the longstanding experience of the authors of this article in the investigation of transitional waters of Europe with an analysis of relevant European Union directives and a comparative case study of two European coastal lagoons. The concept includes and reassesses traditional knowledge of the environment of lagoons and estuaries as an engine for sustainable development, but also proposes locally tailored approaches for the renewal of these unique areas. The investigation results show that the Emerald Growth concept enables to extricate better specific management aspects of ecosystem services of transitional waters that fill-in the continuum between the terrestrial (Green Growth) and the maritime areas (Blue Growth). It results from adjusting of both Green Growth and Blue Growth concepts, drivers, indicators and planning approaches regarding durable ways of revitalising coastal communities and their prospects for sustainable development. We conclude that the Emerald Growth concept offers a suitable framework for better dealing with complex and complicated issues pertinent to the sustainable management of transitional waters. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Environmental Flows, Ecological Quality and Ecosystem Services)
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Open AccessArticle
A Comment on Chinese Policies to Avoid Negative Impacts on River Ecosystems by Hydropower Projects
Water 2020, 12(3), 869; https://doi.org/10.3390/w12030869 - 20 Mar 2020
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 886
Abstract
The rapid economic development of river basins depends on the excessive use of water resources. China experienced a rapid development of hydropower projects in the last two decades and thus faces many ecological and environmental issues, especially in ecologically sensitive areas. Environmental flow [...] Read more.
The rapid economic development of river basins depends on the excessive use of water resources. China experienced a rapid development of hydropower projects in the last two decades and thus faces many ecological and environmental issues, especially in ecologically sensitive areas. Environmental flow is an important management tool that requires attention in the environmental impact assessment of hydropower projects. Environmental flows are of great significance for maintaining river structures and protecting the health of both aquatic ecosystems and human sustainable livelihoods. Although the government authorities have done much work in this area and attempted to consider technical requirements to address the negative externalities of hydropower projects, there are still defects in the basic procedures, calculation methods, and ultimately implementation process from policy to operationalization in terms of environmental flows. The official standards for environmental flows assessment mainly appear in two documents: 1. specification for calculation of environmental flow in rivers and lakes; and 2. code for calculation ecological flow of hydropower projects. This paper reviewed the overarching framework of the two documents and then summarized their fitness in terms of environmental flows implementation in hydropower projects. The research status of environmental flows and future directions for China were also proposed in this paper. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Environmental Flows, Ecological Quality and Ecosystem Services)
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Open AccessArticle
Analysis of an Ecological Flow Regime during the Ctenopharyngodon Idella Spawning Period Based on Reservoir Operations
Water 2019, 11(10), 2034; https://doi.org/10.3390/w11102034 - 29 Sep 2019
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 821
Abstract
The study of fish habitats is important for us to better understand the impact of reservoir construction on river ecosystems. Many habitat models have been developed in the past few decades. In this study, a fuzzy logic-based habitat model, which couples fuzzy inference [...] Read more.
The study of fish habitats is important for us to better understand the impact of reservoir construction on river ecosystems. Many habitat models have been developed in the past few decades. In this study, a fuzzy logic-based habitat model, which couples fuzzy inference system, two-dimensional laterally averaged hydrodynamic model, and two-dimensional shallow water hydrodynamic model, is proposed to identify the baseline condition of suitable habitat for fish spawning activities. The proposed model considers the reservoir and the downstream river channel, and explores the comprehensive effects of water temperature, velocity, and water depth on habitat suitability. A real-world case that considers the Ctenopharyngodon idella in the Xuanwei Reservoir of Qingshui River is studied to investigate the effect of in- and outflow of reservoir on fish habitat and the best integrative management measure of the model. There were 64 simulations with different reservoir in- and outflows employed to calculate the weighted usable area and hydraulic habitat suitability. The experimental results show that the ecological flow for Ctenopharyngodon idella spawning can satisfy the basic demand when the reservoir inflow is greater than 60 m3/s and the reservoir outflow is greater than 100 m3/s. The habitat ecological suitability is the best when the reservoir outflow is 120 m3/s. A more reasonable and reliable ecological flow range can be obtained based on the habitat model in this paper, which provides the best scenario for water resources planning and management in the Qingshui River Basin. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Environmental Flows, Ecological Quality and Ecosystem Services)
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Open AccessArticle
The Influence of Flow Regime on Ecological Quality, Bird Diversity, and Shellfish Fisheries in a Lowland Mediterranean River and Its Coastal Area
Water 2019, 11(5), 918; https://doi.org/10.3390/w11050918 - 01 May 2019
Cited by 7 | Viewed by 1211
Abstract
Designing environmental flows in lowland river sections and estuaries is a challenge for researchers and managers, given their complexity and their importance, both for nature conservation and economy. The Ebro River and its delta belong to a Mediterranean area with marked anthropogenic pressures. [...] Read more.
Designing environmental flows in lowland river sections and estuaries is a challenge for researchers and managers, given their complexity and their importance, both for nature conservation and economy. The Ebro River and its delta belong to a Mediterranean area with marked anthropogenic pressures. This study presents an assessment of the relationships between mean flows (discharges) computed at different time scales and (i) ecological quality based on fish populations in the lower Ebro, (ii) bird populations, and (iii) two shellfish fishery species of socioeconomic importance (prawn, or Penaeus kerathurus, and mantis shrimp, or Squilla mantis). Daily discharge data from 2000 to 2015 were used for analyses. Mean annual discharge was able to explain the variation in fish-based ecological quality, and model performance increased when aquatic vegetation was incorporated. Our results indicate that a good ecological status cannot be reached only through changes on discharge, and that habitat characteristics, such as the coverage of macrophytes, must be taken into account. In addition, among the different bird groups identified in our study area, predators were related to river discharge. This was likely due to its influence on available resources. Finally, prawn and mantis shrimp productivity were influenced up to a certain degree by discharge and physicochemical variables, as inputs from rivers constitute major sources of nutrients in oligotrophic environments such as the Mediterranean Sea. Such outcomes allowed revisiting the environmental flow regimes designed for the study area, which provides information for water management in this or in other similar Mediterranean zones. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Environmental Flows, Ecological Quality and Ecosystem Services)
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Open AccessArticle
Flow Regime and Nutrient-Loading Trends from the Largest South European Watersheds: Implications for the Productivity of Mediterranean and Black Sea’s Coastal Areas
Water 2019, 11(1), 1; https://doi.org/10.3390/w11010001 - 20 Dec 2018
Cited by 19 | Viewed by 2050
Abstract
In the last century, large watersheds in Southern Europe have been impacted by a combination of anthropogenic and climatic pressures, which have rapidly evolved to change the ecological status of freshwater and coastal systems. A comparative analysis was performed for Ebro, Rhône, Po [...] Read more.
In the last century, large watersheds in Southern Europe have been impacted by a combination of anthropogenic and climatic pressures, which have rapidly evolved to change the ecological status of freshwater and coastal systems. A comparative analysis was performed for Ebro, Rhône, Po and Danube rivers, to investigate if they exhibited differential dynamics in hydrology and water quality that can be linked to specific human and natural forces acting at sub-continental scales. Flow regime series were analyzed from daily to multi-decadal scales, considering frequency distributions, trends (Mann–Kendall and Sen tests) and discontinuities (SRSD Method). River loads of suspended matter, nutrients and organic matter and the eutrophication potential of river nutrients were estimated to assess the impact of river loads on adjacent coastal areas. The decline of freshwater resources largely impacted the Ebro watershed on annual (−0.139 km3 yr−1) and seasonal (−0.4% yr−1) scales. In the other rivers, only spring–summer showed significant decreases of the runoff coupled to an exacerbated flow variability (0.1–0.3% yr−1), which suggested the presence of an enhanced regional climatic instability. Discontinuities in annual runoff series (every 20–30 years) indicated a similar long-term evolution of Rhône and Po rivers, differently from Ebro and Danube. Higher nutrient concentrations in the Ebro and Po (+50%) compared to Rhône and Danube and distinct stoichiometric nutrient ratios may exert specific impacts on the growth of plankton biomass in coastal areas. The overall decline of inorganic phosphorus in the Rhône and Po (since the 1980s) and the Ebro and Danube (since the 1990s) mitigated the eutrophication in coastal ecosystems inducing, however, a phase in which the role of organic phosphorus loads (Po > Danube > Rhône > Ebro) on coastal productivity could be more relevant. Overall, the study showed that the largest South European watersheds are differently impacted by anthropogenic and climatic forces and that this will influence their vulnerability to future changes of flow regime and water quality. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Environmental Flows, Ecological Quality and Ecosystem Services)
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Review

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Open AccessEditor’s ChoiceReview
Environmental Flows in the Lower Ebro River and Delta: Current Status and Guidelines for a Holistic Approach
Water 2020, 12(10), 2670; https://doi.org/10.3390/w12102670 - 24 Sep 2020
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 614
Abstract
Deltas are a particular type of estuarine system in which the dependence on river flow (water, sediments and nutrients) is very strong, especially in river-dominated deltas such as the Mediterranean ones, but environmental flow (e-flow) proposals for deltaic systems are scarce. The Ebro [...] Read more.
Deltas are a particular type of estuarine system in which the dependence on river flow (water, sediments and nutrients) is very strong, especially in river-dominated deltas such as the Mediterranean ones, but environmental flow (e-flow) proposals for deltaic systems are scarce. The Ebro Delta is one of the largest wetland areas in the western Mediterranean and one of the most important estuarine systems in Europe. The aim of this paper is to review the state of the art regarding e-flows and to carry out a critical analysis of the proposals for the lower Ebro River and Delta, in order to highlight the possible environmental and socioeconomic impacts arising from the e-flow regime currently approved. Additionally, based on existing scientific information, methods to establish an e-flow regime that allows the maintenance of the main socio-ecological functions and values are discussed; including those functions and values for which not enough information is available. The study concludes that the currently approved e-flows are not suitable for maintaining most functions and values, as they would not prevent the proliferation of alien fish species and macrophytes in the river, the intrusion of the salt wedge in the estuary, the deficit of sediment/nutrient transport and the degradation of riparian habitats or the decline of coastal fisheries. Socioeconomic consequences on coastal fisheries, river navigation, salt water intrusion, sediment deficit, biodiversity, water quality, aquaculture and hydropower are also considered. Other e-flow proposals such as the proposed by the Catalan government would be more suitable to maintain the main socioecological functions and values of the lower Ebro River and Delta. Nevertheless, additional studies are needed to validate e-flows in some relevant aspects such as the capacity of the river to transport sediments to the delta to avoid coastal regression and mitigate the effects of sea level rise and subsidence, as well as the capacity of floods to control the spread of macrophytes. The lower Ebro River and delta is among the case studies where more quantitative and qualitative criteria to set e-flows with a holistic approach have been established. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Environmental Flows, Ecological Quality and Ecosystem Services)
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