Assessing the Establishment and Implementation of Environmental Flows in Spain

  • Gabriel MezgerEmail author
  • Lucia De Stefano
  • Marta González del Tánago


The alteration of natural flows due to water withdrawals and the presence of hydraulic infrastructure poses significant threats to the integrity of riverine ecosystems. The establishment of environmental flows (EF) has been conceived as a water management tool to mitigate the impact of in-stream flows alteration. To date, a large body of literature has focused on methods to define EF, but less attention has been paid to documenting and assessing their actual implementation on the ground. This article provides a framework to describe and assess the process of design, application, and monitoring of EF at a river basin level. The framework is applied to Spain, where significant efforts have been made during the past decade to define and implement EF across the country. The goal of the paper is to identify strengths and opportunities for improving the implementation of EF at country level. The Spanish legislation establishes that EF should contribute to the achievement of the good ecological status of surface water bodies as required by the European Union Water Framework Directive. Several pitfalls in the design, application, and monitoring of this important river management measure constrain the ability of the existing EF to deliver that fundamental outcome.


Environmental flows Assessment Water Framework Directive Adaptive management 



This study was funded by a research grant provided by the Botín Foundation and Tatiana Pérez de Guzmán El Bueno Foundation. The authors thank the editor and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive feedback of the paper; Alberto Garrido and Antonio Bolinches for their valuable comments and Guillermo Reboreda for his assistance with data preprocessing.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

267_2019_1222_MOESM1_ESM.docx (26 kb)
Supplementary Information


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Departamento de Geodinámica, Estratigrafía y Paleontología, Facultad de Ciencias GeológicasUniversidad Complutense de MadridMadridEspaña
  2. 2.Observatorio del AguaFundación BotínMadridSpain
  3. 3.Departamento de Sistemas y Recursos Naturales, E. T. S. de Ingeniería de Montes, Forestal y del Medio NaturalUniversidad Politécnica de MadridMadridEspaña

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