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A EUROpean training and research network for environmental FLOW management in river basins

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - EUROFLOW (A EUROpean training and research network for environmental FLOW management in river basins)

Reporting period: 2019-09-01 to 2022-02-28

The regulation of river flows is one of the biggest stressors affecting river ecosystems across the world. In many westernised countries, major legislative efforts are therefore underpinning the development of new approaches to mitigate the impacts of river flow regulation. These approaches are based on optimising the management of river flows to maintain services to humans (e.g. water supply, hydropower) whilst protecting and/or rejuvenating the aquatic environment with water of adequate quantity and quality in space and time (i.e. environmental flows, aka e-flows). In this context, a field of applied aquatic science has developed to generate an evidence base for the best ways to manage the quantity, quality and patterns of e-flows to sustain river ecosystems. Euro-FLOW is training researchers to be future leaders in the science, business and policy of this field.

The objectives of Euro-FLOW were:
- to develop new theoretical and empirical insights to inform the management of water flows and aquatic ecosystems in river basins.
- develop future research leaders through advanced training in: (i) river ecosystem science, (ii) transferable scientific and life skills, and (iii) collaborative working with international and inter-sectoral networking.
- progress the field of e-flow science and management intellectually by establishing work on 15 linked projects, catalysing communications amongst 23 institutions (and beyond to their wider networks), and enabling intellectual cross-fertilisation both during the project and into the future.
15 ESRs were recruited between Q1-3, 2018. All scientific deliverables have been submitted and all expected milestones completed to date. ESRs have developed novel scientific understanding for the e-flows field via four inter-related scientific work-packages: (i) abiotic environment dynamics, (ii) aquatic biodiversity, (iii) ecosystem processes and (iv) developing models to underpin socio-economic and policy decision making, integrating information from i-iii.

ESRs participated in six advanced training courses in IT, UK, CH and DE. Two further events planned for 2020 were conducted online. These innovative bespoke training sessions strongly complemented project specific training plans.

Key achievements from the project:
- A new meta-data compilation for environmental flow science brings together >160 datasets, with details of their constituent variables, space/time-scales, and ownership details, to underpin the development of new comparative studies that build on substantial prior investments by the beneficiaries, project partners and external groups.
- Multiple major new field datasets were collected, including new remotely sensed geomorphological data from drones, high-resolution in-situ dataloggers, and biodiversity samples to enhance knowledge of organisms at every level of aquatic food webs.
- Collaborative field experiments were undertaken twice in CH (2018/2019), several ESRs collaborated at the BHAM experimental facility, and all students identified linkages between their projects to underpin future collaborative outputs.
- Initiation of a whole consortium, Europe-wide modelling study to better understand the potential for using e-flows as a tool to improve river water quality. This has also allowed Euro-FLOW members to also build new linkages with scientists from three institutes outside of the formal Euro-FLOW partners network. New models have been developed linking water flows with nutrient transformations in reservoirs and major river systems across Europe. The model has then been used to evaluate the effects of 11 environmental flow scenarios.
- We utilised new modelling advances (Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT+) in collaboration between ESR14 (Wittekind), UFZ and the developers, to simulate the impact of climate change and land management on e-flow.
- We have attracted three new project partners to the network. The Ben Gurion University and the University of Venice joined to host secondments, and Innsbruck University joined as a partner organisation to supervise ESR5.
- ESR projects have informed national level regulatory processes in the UK and Spain
- Brown and Klaar (UNIVLEEDS) were commissioned in 2021 by project partner Yorkshire Water to review the current scientific knowledge relevant to environmental flows from reservoirs, and to identify the most pressing needs to advance a reservoir management strategy in their next 5 year research and development cycle (2022-2027). The successful bid for this impactful work has enabled UNIVLEEDS to develop new collaborations with a large engineering consultancy (Ricardo Energy & Environment), and two SMEs (JBA Consulting, Hydro-Logic Consulting) who co-authored the bid and final report.
- Multiple scientific papers led by ESRs have been published in international, peer-reviewed journals
i. the identification of generalities in flow experiment-biodiversity responses. Our global meta-analyses of e-flow experiments have shown a clear need for research on components of flow other than magnitude, more studies on groups other than fish and invertebrates, and standardisation of study designs, monitoring methods and data analysis.
ii. led studies that significantly enhanced understanding of food web responses to extreme high and low flow situations, including the use of experimental flow manipulation in mesocosms. These will be used to understand broad implications of managing e-flows for whole river ecosystems.
iii. developing models to improve the simulation of groundwater and river flow exchanges, as well as geomorphology systems to characterize hydromorphology and natural sediment regimes alongside flows.
iv. members have led efforts to quantify water-related ecosystem services and identify trade-offs among water use, ecosystems, human welfare and economics. For regions dominated by agriculture and water abstraction, land-use strategies that support different landscape functions and services need to be explored.
v. members represent a wide range of academic backgrounds using different approaches and methods and career stages. This exposes ESRs to interdisciplinary skill sets, knowledge and experience.

Specific examples of societal benefits:
Work by ESRs 1 (Hashemi) & 2 (Consoli) on the Spöl River in Switzerland, identifying multi-faceted ways in which flood-flow releases influence river ecosystems downstream from the Ova Spin reservoir, part of the Engadiner Kraftwerk hydropower generation network.

In the UK ESR14 (Wittekind) has collaborated closely with the UK government’s Environment Agency as part of her PhD research, to produce climate change and water availability scenarios for the River Idle catchment in the Humber district, and for the River Rother in the southeast District, in the Water Framework Directive plans (Anon, 2021). Results have enabled Catchment Based Approach (CaBa) groups (civil society-led groups working in partnership with national and local government, water companies, other businesses) and Environment Agency project teams to help plan for the future to maximise the natural value of the environment.

Regulatory impact has been advanced with the development of “Best practice guidelines for improved reservoir operation to accommodate environmental flows and meet WFD objectives” (Deliverable 6.5) included collaboration with project partners from across Europe: (ISPRA, EA, TUDELFT, DRSV.
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