Modeling functional flows in California rivers

Frontiers in Environmental Science
By: , and 
Edited by: Albert Chakona



Environmental flows are critical to the recovery and conservation of freshwater ecosystems worldwide. However, estimating desired ranges of environmental flows across large, diverse landscapes is challenging. To advance protections of environmental flows for streams in California, USA, we developed a statewide modeling approach focused on functional components of the natural flow regime. Functional flow components in California streams—fall pulse flows, wet season peak flows and base flows, the spring flow recession, and dry season baseflows—support essential physical and ecological processes in riverine ecosystems. These functional flow components can be represented by functional flow metrics (FFMs) and quantified by their magnitude, timing, frequency, duration, and rate-of-change from daily streamflow records. After quantifying FFMs at reference-quality streamflow gages in California, we used machine-learning methods to estimate their natural range of values for all stream reaches in the state based on physical watershed characteristics and climatic factors. We found that the models performed well in predicting FFMs in streams across a diversity of landscape and climate contexts, according to several model performance criteria. Using the predicted FFM values, we established initial estimates of ecological flows that are expected to support critical functions and are broadly protective of ecosystem health. Modeling functional flows statewide offers a pathway for increasing the pace and scale of environmental flow protections in California and beyond.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Modeling functional flows in California rivers
Series title Frontiers in Environmental Science
DOI 10.3389/fenvs.2022.787473
Volume 10
Year Published 2022
Language English
Publisher Frontiers in Environmental Science
Contributing office(s) WMA - Earth System Processes Division
Description 787473, 11 p.
Country United States
State California
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