Social and Ecohydrological Science Connections for Environmental Flows

This is an excerpt of information provided by Water Future
wetland

Water flow is neccessary to sustain the ecological values of freshwater ecosystems, like this wetland. Image: Simon Linke

Rivers are lifelines for communities, centres of cultural and biological diversity, and stores of precious natural capital.  As water insecurity and the pace of water infrastructure development intensifies, the flow needs of these socio-ecological systems have become a pivotal element of sustainable water resources management.

Environmental Flows describes the quantity, timing and quality of water flows required to sustain our freshwater and estuarine ecosystems and the human livelihoods and well being that depend on these ecosystems.

Until recently, efforts have concentrated on establishing and scaling up the science of ecohydrology, putting it into practice to determine ecologically appropriate flow levels and standards to maintain river health.  In contrast, the social dimensions that are so vital for effective environmental flow implementation have remained weakly developed and largely disconnected from these efforts.  Even at the fundamental level of subsistence resource use, knowledge of human dependencies on flow regimes is scant.  Few bridges exist linking social scientists studying the relationships between basin systems, human communities, and their values, cultures, livelihoods and institutions, with natural scientists with expertise in environmental flow assessment.

These challenges will start to be addressed at an international workshop, “Social and Ecohydrological Science Connections for Environmental Flows“, at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, in Annapolis, Maryland, USA, from 20-23 June 2017.

A group of 25 social scientists and ecohydrologists from across the world, with diverse institutional backgrounds and on-the-ground experience, are getting together for the first time to catalyse novel and transdisciplinary efforts to incorporate critical social dimensions into environmental flows.

Workshop Aims:

  • To build momentum for socio-environmental flows by:
    • bringing together a group of river social scientists and ecohydrologists, many of whom have never collaborated;
    • initiating a first joint dialogue on environmental flows;
    • developing a convincing argument that it is an important area;
    • establishing a common language for communication; and
    • formalizing a new and engaged transdisciplinary community with a common vision and agenda.
  • To synthesize the state of knowledge and experience with incorporation of relevant branches of the social sciences into current environmental flow practice.
  • Conduct a comparative, analytical review of the various methodologies used to date in both the social and ecohydrological sciences to develop relationships between river flow regime and ecological and social responses. This analysis will form the basis of a new integrated framework for characterizing and expressing human dependencies on flow regime that expands beyond the present-day focus on ecosystem services.
  • Illustrate the range of human activities dependent on the flow regime. incl. Assembly of case studies from around the world that examine flow-human linkages.

Further information:

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