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Secuirng environmental flows for Chilika Lake, India

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Chilika, a brackishwater coastal lagoon situated in the Orissa State forms the base of livelihood security of more than 0.2 million fishers and 0.4 million farmers living in and around the wetland and its adjoining catchments. Spanning between a monsoon maximum of 1,165 km2 to a dry season minimum of 906 km2, Chilika is an assemblage of shallow to very shallow marine, brackish and freshwater ecosystems and a hotspot of biodiversity. 

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Environmental Flows as key to informed decision-making over water allocations – linking up to eFlowNet

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IUCN, in collaboration with a consortium of partners, has led development of the Global Environmental Flows Network (eFlowNet). This portal brings together scientists, policy makers and water basin managers to work towards accelerating uptake of environmental flows as a standard tool to enhance informed, equitable and sustainable decision making in water management. It is a ready-made platform for outreach to other sectors, learning and knowledge exchange, and participation that feeds into decision making processes. This experience helps build a support base across diverse groups and organisations from local to global communities that can improve our understanding of ecological fragility. In particular, eFlowNet helps inform decisions about investments, and build the social and environmental resilience needed for water infrastructure projects to succeed.

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Joint Zambezi River Basin Environmental Flows Programme

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The partners in this programme believe that realising environmental flows in the Zambezi River Basin would be the preferred way forward. Environmental flows (EFs) will make explicit the water requirements (quantity, timing, and quality of water flows) to sustain freshwater and estuarine ecosystems and the human livelihoods and well-being that depend on these ecosystems. Such an ecosystem approach is considered as a prime requirement for sustainable development of the region.

To achieve the objective, dam operations need to be modified to accommodate multi-purpose water use downstream while maintaining some tributaries free-flowing in order to maintain a sustainable sediment transport and a suitable water regime down the river. Designated areas of groundwater recharge, flooding, water retention, headwaters and rich biodiversity require protection because they are crucial for the well functioning of the ecosystem and are therefore an integral part of any Integrated River Basin Management strategy. Flood protection in the basin is crucial. 

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Ecosystem response modelling of rivers and floodplains

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Environmental flows have been traditionally determined from comparison of reference conditions, either in the same river prior to regulation, or to a reference river under similar climatic conditions. Given the large changes that rivers have been experiencing under river management, regulation and with climate change, a more quantitative assemement of impacts on river flows and ecology is called for. In large rivers with large floodplains it is important to model the spatial and temporal nature of river flows and floods. Modelling ecosystem response to changes in hydrology using spatially and temporally explicit models provides a detailed tool for prediction of managment options. In the lower River Murray in Australia a floodplain inundation model has been built and linked to ecosystem response models. These models have been used to identifiy future outcomes for the ecosystem and to identify and prioritise investments in river management for economic, social and environmental benefits.

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Water reserves program. An adaptation strategy to climate change

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Since 2010, WWF-Mexico and the National Water Commission (CONAGUA) have developed a number of pilot-projects that aim to determine the feasibility and requirements to implement environmental flows (EF) in Mexico. CONAGUA –a leader in the regional dialogue on water and climate change in Latin America– is advancing an agenda that is supporting the creation of a water adaptation community at global scale. One of the most important messages in this dialogue is that the incorporation of an ‘environmental dimension’ in the water management process is imperative in order to maintain and improve the ecological functionality of ecosystems, and the adaptation services they provide.

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Environmental flows in Mexico, now a national standard. The recognition of the environment as the only water provider

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The establishment of environmental flows (EF) to regulate the basins that drain the Mexican landscape could only be possible by developing and implementing a National Standard. From the experience gathered since 2004 in managing river basins, WWF-Mexico learned that two fundamental principles had to be part of the backbone of the National Standard: the Natural Flow Regime (Poff et al, 1997) and the Biological Condition Gradient (USEPA, 2005; Davies &; Jackson, 2006). Alongside with these principles, environmental objectives were set according to the ecological importance and water pressure of each and every basin. Other key factors considered in this process were the role that each these basins play in the water cycle, ecosystem connectivity, and ecological functionality of their environment (or management of water exploitation).

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The ecosystem approach – a step-wise process to IWRM implementation

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The “ecosystem approach” is a strategy for integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way. Meeting people’s needs is a central element of the ecosystem approach that aims to: i) maintain ecosystem functions and services; ii) enhance equitable sharing of benefits; iii) promote adaptive management strategies; iv) implement management actions through decentralization; v) foster inter-sectoral  and inter-disciplinary cooperation.

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eFlowNet: a global network to manage environmental flows in the water/food/energy nexus

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This portal brings together scientists, policy makers and water basin managers to work towards accelerating uptake of environmental flows as a standard tool in water infrastructure development and operation. It is a ready-made platform for outreach to other sectors, learning and knowledge exchange. Other platforms have been convened for multiple stakeholder participation that feed into decision making processes over water, food and energy. This experience helps build a support base across diverse groups and organisations from local to global communities that can improve our understanding of ecological fragility. In particular, eFlowNet helps inform decisions about investments, and build the social and environmental resilience needed for water infrastructure projects to succeed.

Environmental flows as a management tool is vital for the water/food/energy nexus: they are the quantity, quality and timing of water flows in regulated rivers required to sustain freshwater and estuarine ecosystems and the human livelihoods and economic development that depends on these ecosystems. Environmental flows are effectively a balance between the need to protect freshwater-dependent ecosystems and water ressources development.

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