A Percent-of-flow Approach for Managing Reductions of Freshwater Inflows from Unimpounded Rivers to Southwest Florida Estuaries

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Phytoplankton Production, Freshwater Inflow, Grass Shrimp, Estuarine Research Federation, Natural Flow Regime

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The Southwest Florida Water Management District has implemented a management approach for unimpounded rivers that limits withdrawals to a percentage of streamflow at the time of withdrawal. The natural flow regime of the contributing river is considered to be the baseline for assessing the effects of withdrawals. Development of the percent-of-flow approach has emphasized the interaction of freshwater inflow with the overlap of stationary and dynamic habitat components in tidal river zones of larger estuarine systems. Since the responses of key estuarine characteristics (e.g., isohaline locations, residence times) to freshwater inflow are frequently nonlinear, the approach is designed to prevent impacts to estuarine resources during sensitive low-inflow periods and to allow water supplies to become gradually more uvailable as inflow increases. A high sensitivity to variation at low inflow extends to many invertebrates and fishes that move upstream and downstream in synchrony with inflow. Total numbers of estuarine-resident and estuarine-dependent organisms have been found to decrease during low-inflow periods, including mysids, grass shrimp, and juveniles of the bay anchovy and sand seatrout. The interaction of freshwater inflow with seasonal processes, such as phytoplankton production and the recruitment of fishes to the tidal-river nursery, indicates that withdrawal percentages during the springtime should be most restrictive. Ongoing efforts are oriented toward refining percentage withdrawal limits among seasons and flow ranges to account for shifts in the responsiveness of estuarine processes to reductions in freshwater inflow.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Estuaries, v. 25, p. 1318-1332