Rivers, lakes, and estuaries cover less than three percent of the Earth’s land surface, yet their importance to life is immeasurable. Without the right quantity of water flowing through these systems in the right pattern during specific times of the year, their ecological health is damaged, and they cease to function properly. Think of a river’s flow as its heartbeat.
Although much of the water that is withdrawn is returned after use, some is consumed and never returns to the river or other water source. When consumption significantly exceeds supply, watersheds become stressed. In the United States, nearly one in ten watersheds is stressed, and west of the Mississippi the ratio increases to one in three.*
How much can you alter the heartbeat of a river before it is in trouble? And how can you tell if your river is in trouble? Start by defining how much water is moving into and out of your system and whether withdrawals are balanced with deposits across seasons, months, and even days or hours. Next, consider whether imbalances are harming ecosystem function or the needs of particular species. Have you defined the flow characteristics (magnitude, frequency, duration, timing, and rate of change) necessary to sustain ecological health? Do you know which water law applies to your state? Are groundwater and surface flows being managed in an integrated manner? Having numeric water quantity goals (e.g., cubic feet per second of water during specific periods of the year) can help you better advocate for your river. Check out the links below to learn more to continue your discovery.
The best practices available throughout this website provide a set of proven approaches for keeping water in our rivers and restoring flow patterns. The impact stories offer examples from around the country where people are making a difference for their rivers. Explore what approaches might be appropriate, or are already being deployed, for the waters you care about most. You can also learn what River Network is doing to deliver results.
*Averyt, Kristen, et al. “Sectoral Contributions to Surface Water Stress in the Coterminous United States.” Environmental Research Letters 8:3 (2013). IOP Science. Web. 17 Sept 2013.
Policies and regulations that support ample water in our rivers for ecological function, fish and other water dependent species, and recreation are also needed in our journey towards healthy rivers and thriving communities.
- River Voices: Water Security and Sustainability
by River Network
- Water Resources
by Shimon Anisfeld (Island Press, 2010)
- Water Budgets
by U.S. Geological Survey
- Chasing Water: A Guide to Moving from Scarcity to Sustainability
by Brian Richter (Island Press, 2014)
- Water Law in a Nutshell
by David Getches, et al (West Academic Publishing, 2015)
- Water Follies
by Robert Glennon
by Robert Glennon
- Hydrological Science for Environmental Flows
by Hydrological Sciences Journal
- ELOHA Toolbox
by The Nature Conservancy and others