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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract - Special Sections: Environmental Standards for Agricultural Watersheds

Establishing Standards and Assessment Criteria for Ecological Instream Flow Needs in Agricultural Regions of Canada


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 41 No. 1, p. 41-51
    Received: Mar 15, 2011

    * Corresponding author(s): daniel.peters@ec.gc.ca
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  1. Daniel L. Peters *a,
  2. Donald J. Bairdb,
  3. Wendy A. Monkb and
  4. David G. Armaninibc
  1. a Environment Canada, Water & Climate Impacts Research Centre, Univ. of Victoria, Victoria BC V8W 3R4, Canada
    b Environment Canada, Canadian Rivers Institute, Dep. of Biology, 10 Bailey Dr., P.O. Box 45111, Univ. of New Brunswick, Fredericton, NB E3B 6E1, Canada
    c Prothea srl, Milan, Italy. Assigned to Associate Editor Joseph Culp


Agricultural land use can place heavy demands on regional water resources, strongly influencing the quantity and timing of water flows needed to sustain natural ecosystems. The effects of agricultural practices on streamflow conditions are multifaceted, as they also contribute to the severity of impacts arising from other stressors within the river ecosystem. Thus, river scientists need to determine the quantity of water required to sustain important aquatic ecosystem components and ecological services, to support wise apportionment of water for agricultural use. It is now apparent that arbitrarily defined minimum flows are inadequate for this task because the complex habitat requirements of the biota, which underpin the structure and function of a river ecosystem, are strongly influenced by predictable temporal variations in flow. We present an alternative framework for establishing a first-level, regional ecological instream flow needs standard based on adoption of the Indicators of Hydrologic Alteration/Range of Variability Approach as a broadly applicable hydrological assessment tool, coupling this to the Canadian Ecological Flow Index which assesses ecological responses to hydrological alteration. By explicitly incorporating a new field-based ecological assessment tool for small agricultural streams, we provide a necessary verification of altered hydrology that is broadly applicable within Canada and essential to ensure the continuous feedback between the application of flow management criteria and ecological condition.

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