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WSU/Pend Oreille Extension introduced the Sense of Place series in 1999, with a focus on place-based stewardship education. Since 2001, a partnership with the Kalispel Tribe of Indians Natural Resources Department (KNRD) has supported this newsletter and allowed us to expand class offerings through EPA funding. Further staff support comes through Renewable Resources Extension Act (RREA). Many thanks to our partners and to you, our readers, for your continued enthusiasm for "digging" into the natural history and culture of this part of the world.

Protecting our Stream Flows


Printed with permission from the Washington State Dept. of Ecology
Publication 02-11-021; Revised July 2007; http://www.ecy.wa.gov/pubs/0211021.pdf

"The water flowing through our streams and rivers has many uses – and many demands on it. But how much water do we need for a particular use?  And if we take that water, what happens to the stream itself and the life in it?”
John Bartholow, U.S. Geological Survey

Historically, Washington residents have enjoyed an abundance of clean, accessible water in a water-rich state. However, residents find they can no longer take water availability for granted.  Washington increasingly lacks water when and where it is needed for communities and the environment. Many factors affect water availability. Global warming is resulting in reduced snowpack and higher temperatures.  Rapid population growth means more water is being used. Ongoing development increases the land covered with buildings and pavement.  This causes less water to be absorbed through the ground to feed wells and summer stream flows.

Why should we worry about low stream flows?

Sufficient water in streams is necessary to sustain both the natural environment and our community water supplies. Washington state is known for its natural beauty and quality of life, both of which are affected by limited water. Fish and wildlife depend on adequate water, as do many recreational activities.  Flows affect water levels in wetlands, lakes and ponds, and are an important aspect of water quality.  “Out-of-stream” water uses, including farming, irrigation, domestic water supplies, and hydroelectric power can also be affected by low stream flows.

How can we protect stream flows?

Washington State is known for its natural beauty and quality of life. Both the natural environment and our community water supplies rely on healthy stream flows. Yet many streams around the state are often below critical flow levels. Some streams have even dropped to new historical lows. Low stream flows put fish and other resources at risk. In many watersheds, low flows have contributed to the decline of threatened fish populations, including:

• Chinook, coho, and chum salmon.
• Cutthroat, steelhead, and bull trout.

Wildlife, hydropower, and many recreational activities also depend on adequate water in streams. Flows affect water levels in wetlands, lakes, and ponds; and are a key aspect of water quality. “Out of stream” water uses, including farming, industry, and domestic water supplies can also be impaired by lw stream flows.

Why regulate stream flows?

It is important to maintain and effectively manage our water resources and habitats for both the natural environment and human uses.

For water management:

When making decisions about how to distribute water, it is necessary to know how much is needed and how much is available.  Whether and under what conditions new water uses can occur depend on if  there is sufficient water to meet the instream flow levels.  As a result, instream flow rules help water managers plan for future water needs.

For salmon and healthy habitats:

Some streams and rivers have had so much water withdrawn that existing flows cannot support healthy fish and wildlife populations. Salmon and other fish are markers for the vitality of river ecosystems, and require adequate stream flows at key life stages as an important part of their habitat. Salmon and related fisheries also are important to our state’s economic base and cultural identity, and they hold particular significance to local Native American tribes.

Who determines instream flows?

While the authority to adopt instream flows by rule rests with Ecology, local planning groups are evaluating water quantity and other water issues, and many may recommend instream flows.  These groups are developing plans to protect and restore stream flows, while also making water available for use by people.

How can I find out what is happening in my watershed?

Watershed planning groups are active in most areas of the state. (A watershed is an area that drains to a common waterway.)  These groups include local governments, many affected tribes, public water representatives, citizen groups, businesses, and individuals interested in local water issues.

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