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A conceptual model of estuarine freshwater inflow management

“Water may flow in a thousand channels, but it all returns to the sea.”—African proverb

Abstract

As humans continue to influence the quantity, timing, and quality of freshwater input to estuaries, it is becoming increasingly common for policies to be enacted that mandate the establishment of freshwater inflow criteria that will serve to preserve and protect estuarine ecosystems. This paper reviews the scientific literature describing how changes in freshwater inflow affect estuaries, proposes a conceptual model that explores the roles of scientists, citizens, politicians, and managers in the management of freshwater inflow to estuaries, and uses the model to explore the ways in which freshwater inflow is managed in a variety of estuaries. The scientific review is organized to provide an overview of the connections between freshwater inflow (in terms of the quantity, quality, and timing of water delivery), estuarine conditions (such as salinity and concentrations of dissolved and particulate material), and estuarine resources (such as the distribution and abundance of organisms), and to highlight our understanding of the causative mechanisms that underlie the relationships among these variables. The premise of the conceptual model is that the goal of estuarine freshwater inflow policy is to protect those resources and functions that we as a society value in estuaries, and that management measures use scientific information about the relationships among inflow, conditions, and resources to establish inflow standards that can meet this goal. The management approach can be inflow-based (flow is kept within some prescribed bounds under the assumption that taking too much away is bad for the resources), condition-based (inflow standards are set in order to maintain specified conditions in the estuary), or resource-based (inflow standards are set based on the requirements of specific resources), but each of these is carried out by regulating inflow. This model is used as a framework to describe the development of freshwater inflow criteria for estuaries in Texas, Florida, and California.

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Alber, M. A conceptual model of estuarine freshwater inflow management. Estuaries 25, 1246–1261 (2002). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02692222

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Keywords

  • Conceptual Model
  • Particulate Material
  • Management Measure
  • Freshwater Input
  • Freshwater Inflow