UNLESS… Earth-friendly Chroniclers: Challenge 6~ Water- Taking the pulse of your watershed river’s heartbeat

We’re thinking about water… 

This challenge dips into another branch of the International Day of Action for Rivers mission. Specifically the effect of dams on fresh-water river eco-systems. This challenge focuses on a complex, vitally important, aspect of rivers known as environmental flow. Anyone who depends on water for life is a stakeholder in the management of environmental flow; and should know about and pay attention to this concept.

This challenge may be a bit more complex than the previous ones this month. However, I found it is worth the effort. I am becoming more aware of the story behind the water that splashes into my hands everyday when I turn on the faucet. This challenge inspires me to reflect about ways I can contribute to keeping the environmental flow in my watershed healthy, and to be better informed of issues faced by local policy-makers, industry, and citizenry as decisions are made that affect our watershed rivers and streams.


Many of Earth’s river systems are moving through stream beds with unhealthy Environmental Flows. Part of the mission for International Day of Action for Rivers is to create awareness about “destructive water development projects, (in order to inspire actions that will) reclaim the health of our watersheds, and demand the equitable and sustainable management of our rivers.”


Environmental Flow:  Background information- boldface type added for emphasis of key points-

Cut from source: “Environmental Flow Policies: Moving Beyond Good Intentions” http://www.internationalrivers.org/resources/environmental-flow-policies-moving-beyond-good-intentions-1671(03-13-15)

A river’s flow is its heartbeat. Few human influences are more deadly to freshwater ecosystems than alteration of natural hydrological rhythms. Poorly planned dams and unbalanced and unsustainable water use have brought too many of our river systems to a tipping point.

Because we have interfered with the heartbeat of so many rivers and lakes, our freshwater ecosystems are losing species and habitats faster than any other type of ecosystem. Freshwater plants and animals have evolved with, and intimately depend upon, natural patterns of hydrologic variability. Naturally high and low water levels create habitat conditions essential to reproduction and growth, and drive ecological processes required for ecosystem health. The natural rise of a river following a rainstorm may cue fish to move to spawning grounds, or enable them to move up- or downstream to access food, or freshen the water quality so it is more conducive to growth. Similarly, many wetland and floodplain plants reproduce only under certain flow conditions, such as prolonged flood recession.

Patterns of freshwater flows are crucial for a range of other services provided by river systems. For example, flood pulses move sediment that maintains the form and function of rivers. In sediment-rich rivers, such as the Yellow River in China, this movement of sediment is vital in the ongoing management of flood risk. Seasonal inundation of floodplains and wetlands supports groundwater recharge on which water supplies depend. And, the flow of freshwater to estuaries prevents saline intrusion into coastal aquifers and drinking water supplies. The patterns of river flows are therefore integral to water systems on which people depend.

Environmental flows are the seasonally and annually varying water flows and levels that support ecosystems and human livelihoods while providing for other uses such as hydropower, irrigation, and water supply. Many governments and river-management agencies around the world have developed policies to protect environmental flows, and more are doing so all the time. Yet implementation of these policies remains weak.

Want to learn more?

Click for- WWF Environmental Flow Report
Click for-
WWF Environmental Flow Report

UNLESS…Earth-friendly Chronicler’s Challenge 6-  Taking the Pulse of Your Watershed  River’s Heartbeat

This week, take the pulse of the river in your watershed to discover how the natural hydrological rhythms are affected by human influences.

UNLESS- Someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing will get better. It's not. From: The Lorax by Dr. Suess.
Please click image for UNLESS…Challenge Guidelines
  • Some questions to consider might be: 
    • What are the human-made structures (e.g. dams) in your watershed that impede or alter the flow of the main river or its tributaries?
    • What is the purpose of the structure ?
      • Economic? Social? Environmental?
    • How are changes impacting the patterns of freshwater flow or natural hydrological rhythms?
    • What consideration is given to the protection of environmental flow? 
    • What can you, or do you already do, to improve or maintain a healthy “heartbeat” in the river or streams in your watershed? 

The International Day of Action for Rivers comes at an opportune time. It motivates me to read three articles I’ve collected over the course of the last month about a dam in the Tualatin River Watershed. This eco-commerative day focuses me to learn more about the reason we have a dam in the watershed, how it affects our area’s economic, eco-environmental well-being, and social needs. I wonder if maintaining a healthy flow in the watershed is built into the dam project and part of long-range plans for the area. I’m curious to see what I discover when I “Take the pulse of my watershed river’s heartbeat.”  This week, I will share what I learn in a separate post.

I hope you will wonder about similar eco-environmental concerns. This week, use your photographs and words to share what you discover…

Look at the Pulse of these Watersheds  – 

Australia:      Lane Cove River

Oregon:         Tualatin River Basin

CALIFORNIA: Salinas River / California Drought Situation

14 thoughts on “UNLESS… Earth-friendly Chroniclers: Challenge 6~ Water- Taking the pulse of your watershed river’s heartbeat

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  1. A very good post, Jane. You are highlighting an extremely important topic here, especially as relates to those rivers which have been harnessed for power production or diverted for one reason or another. Especially in the west, where salmon and other species of fish depend on rivers for their life cycle, we must keep them clear of obstacles, clear and free flowing.
    The rivers in our watershed aren’t impeded in any significant way. The nearest dam upriver is at Richmond, which sits on the fall line. It is the furthest western navigable point for the James River. I’ll be looking forward to your next water related topic next week to join in with this challenge again. Best wishes, WG

  2. This was a tough concept to condense. I appreciate your feedback, and look forward to seeing you join in next week. It will be the second to last in the Water series. I’ll be tying in with U.N. Water Day concepts on those two 🙂

  3. So timely, once again…and a great post, Jane. I look forward to learning more about the questions you posed (to consider), and will participate later this week. I am also paying a lot more attention to water issues related to my area, and our state, based on this month’s focus on water.

    Have a great weekend!

  4. I’m right there with you… about paying more attention to water issues. California has (unfortunately) had a longer lead on finding ways to cope with water shortages. Although that conversation hasn’t officially started up here… I don’t see how it can be avoided. Our snow pack and rain inches are below normal.

    Weird to say… but I’m looking forward to completing the challenge this week, too!

    I wonder how many folks will dive into this one… it really is a complex post idea. But how interesting will it be if there are a lot of participants?

    The International Day of Action for Rivers site has a place for people to tell about their events in celebration of International Day of Action for Rivers. I called to see if this blogging challenge qualified as an event, and was told it does. So I posted a little blurb there. 😉

  5. Ken, I can truly empathize with you regarding the process of finding the correct plan for the watershed sector you want to research. I’m in the process of skimming through the last of several plan summaries to complete my personal post for this week’s challenge. It is interesting how one report contains the “key word” for helping a person to continue with a pertinent Internet search.
    It troubled me that the Lane Cove management plan was so “old.” It looks like a new management plan is in draft form and is currently online in its draft format. That plan was written in 2012, but at a glance does look similar in regards to how pollution and run-off are managed.

    It looks like there are similar river flow issues in your watershed as there are in the urbanized portions of my watershed:degradation from natural state; although sewage release into our watershed has been addressed and largely solved over the years. I wonder how this is being addressed in the Lane Cove River watershed. The same verbiage is used in both the 1998 and 2012 plans of management.That is- the last paragraph in 4.1.2 also appears in the 2012 plan. Did anything happen over 14 years to address that issue?

    This week, I am planning to build the UNLESS challenge around the idea of Water and Urbanization. This could be an interesting topic to further pursue, how’s that for a head’s up? (no pun intended)

  6. I hope so, Kathlin. Anything we can do to help contribute to building awareness about eco-environmental issues is a step in the right direction for preserving the nature cycles upon which all life depends.

  7. This was a tough challenge, and so very complex. I’ve posted just the basics — about the dams in our Salinas River Watershed, as the other questions to consider could each be devoted to a weekly challenge continuing on this topic. Whew! I did find a strange connection to the Philippines in the process of finding out about the dams. Have a great weekend, Jane 🙂 http://lolako.com/unless-earth-friendly-friday-pulse-of-the-salinas-river-and-about-californias-severe-drought/

  8. Lola Jane-
    I wish there was a way to get this important research on the screens of more folks both in the state of California and the other 49 states. It is difficult to sift through multiple water agency’s websites, news media, and data sets to learn about the human impact manmade structures have on rivers and watersheds.You have skillfully encapsulated facts about the serious drought situation from a citizen/ resident of CA point-of-view.

    In California’s drought situation- the competition for quality water reserves takes on new meaning when water reservoir levels and snow packs are at all time lows. Your post helps me to better understand this water crisis.

    Those of us who live outside of California can not look at this as “not our problem”… it is of national and global concern. We all must reconsider our water usage habits, and conserve.

    Thank you for providing links to resources for further learning.

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