, 25:1382 | Cite as

A method to assess the freshwater inflow requirements of estuaries and application to the Mtata estuary, South Africa

  • J. B. AdamsEmail author
  • G. C. Bate
  • T. D. Harrison
  • P. Huizinga
  • S. Taljaard
  • L. van Niekerk
  • E. E. Plumstead
  • A. K. Whitfield
  • T. H. Wooldridge


The National Water Act (Act 36 of 1998) in South Africa recognizes basic human water requirements as well as the need to sustain the country's freshwater and estuarine ecosystems in a healthy condition for present as well as future generations. In this Act, provision is made for a water reserve to be estimated prior to the authorization of water use (e.g., for agriculture, large volume residential and industrial uses) through licensing. This reserve is the water required to satisfy basic human needs (i.e., 25 1 person−1 d−1) and to protect aquatic ecosystems to ensure present and future sustainable use of the resource. This led the Departments of Water Affairs and Forestry and estuarine scientists throughout South Africa to develop a method to determine the freshwater inflow requirements of estuaries. The method includes documenting the geographical boundaries of the estuary and determining estuarine health by comparing the present state of the estuary with a predicted reference condition with the use of an Estuarine Health Index. The importance of the estuary as an ecosystem is taken from a national rating system and together with the present health is used to set an Ecological Reserve Category for the estuary. This category represents the level of protections afforded to an estuary. Freshwater is then reserved to maintain the estuary in that Ecological Reserve Category. The Reserve, the quantity and quality of freshwater required for the estuary, is determined using an approach where realistic future river runoff scenarios are assessed, together with data for present state and reference conditions, to evaluate the extent to which abiotic and biotic conditions within an estuary are likely to vary with changes in river inflow. Results from these evaluations are used to select an acceptable river flow scenario that represents the highest reduction in freshwater inflow that will still protect the aquatic ecosystem of the estuary and keep it in the desired Ecological Reserve Category. The application of the Reserve methodology to the Mtata estuary is described.


Aquatic Ecosystem Reference Condition National Water Freshwater Inflow Geographical Boundary 
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Copyright information

© Estuarine Research Federation 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. B. Adams
    • 1
    Email author
  • G. C. Bate
    • 1
  • T. D. Harrison
    • 2
  • P. Huizinga
    • 3
  • S. Taljaard
    • 3
  • L. van Niekerk
    • 3
  • E. E. Plumstead
    • 4
  • A. K. Whitfield
    • 5
  • T. H. Wooldridge
    • 6
  1. 1.Department of BotanyUniversity of Port ElizabethPort Elizabeth
  2. 2.Environmentek, Council for Scientific and Industrial ResearchCongella
  3. 3.Environmentek, Council for Scientific and Industrial ResearchStellenbosch
  4. 4.Department of ZoologyUniversity of TranskeiUmtata
  5. 5.South African Institute for Aquatic BiodiversityGrahamstown
  6. 6.Department of ZoologyUniversity of Port ElizabethPort Elizabeth

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