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An often under-valued aspect of water resources management is maintaining the ecological goods and services which rivers provide for people, including income, food, health and recreation. The term 'Environmental
Flows' is used to refer to a modified flow regime to maintain a river in some agreed ecological condition. However, maintaining the full spectrum of naturally occurring flows in a river is nowadays hardly possible due to economic developments which have modified the natural flow regime. Environmental Flows can therefore be seen as finding a balance between river basin development on one hand and maintenance of river ecology on the other.

This online course introduces the concept of environmental flows, explains why they are necessary, how to assess and implement them and what they can achieve and what they cannot. The topic of environmental flows
requires input from a wide variety of disciplines: Hydrology, Hydraulics, Water chemistry and Geomorphology provide the baseline physical processes which govern environmental conditions in freshwater ecosystems as well as the coastal zone. Governance, policy, economics and social conditions provide the framework for managing natural resources.

  1. To understand the importance of balancing the use and protection of the natural water resources
  2. To be able to describe the key hydrological, hydraulic, geomorphological, biological and ecological processes, their interactions and importance to sustaining fresh water ecosystems
  3. To have a good overview of the available methods used for assessing environmental flow for rivers, wetlands and/or coastal zones
  4. To be able to describe social, economic and environmental impacts of an environmental flow on the different water users and uses
  5. To provide the participants with the knowledge and skills necessary to manage an environmental flow process

The online course is designed for professionals active in water resources management, environmental conservation and/or research. Typically they will belong to government institutions such as ministries of water affairs, environmental affairs, agriculture or river basin organisations.

Such people will be in a position to introduce and promote the concept of Environmental Flows in water policy, planning and management. Others will be employed in research institutions, or in engineering or environmental consultancies.


The online course Environmental Flows is offered in full distance learning mode offering participants to study in his or her own time. Participants complete the course in a part-time, online learning mode over a period of 16 weeks with a total workload of 140 hours (equivalent to a course of 3 weeks full-time). It is expected that a participant spends about 8 hours per week in the course by reading, listening and watching videos, participating in discussions and working on assignments.

The web-based eCampus (based on Moodle) is used for downloading training material and communication. Interaction with other participants and the course instructors is organised through eg forums and discussions in Moodle.


Ir. S. Graas (s.graas@unesco-ihe.org)


During the online course the following subjects will be discussed:

Fundamental concepts (2 weeks)

  • To understand the key river functions and their relations to different natural and altered flows
  • To understand the importance of seasonal cycles to the functioning of the river ecosystem
  • To be able to explain the purpose, costs and benefits of environmental flows

Situation analysis (2 weeks)

  • To evaluate the different situations that exist globally (in terms of natural resources and socio-economic issues) and to understand how these influence the context of the area of interest
  • Have knowledge of the different international and national laws, policies and institutional set-ups related to environmental flows
  • Understand the different types of services ecosystems provide for society

Science of Environmental Flows (2 weeks)

  • Knowledge of the key physical, chemical and biological processes of a river system and their interactions
  • Understanding how riverine organisms and their habitats are influenced by flow and flow variation

Assessment Methodologies (4 weeks)

  • Be able to define the main types of EFA methodologies, and to describe the information and tasks required for the assessment
  • Understand and be able to explain the advantages and disadvantages of the different EFA methodologies
  • Be able to recommend a particular EFA methodology for a river known to him/her, given a particular level of resources and time-scale

Implementation (2 weeks)

  • To be able to list different options for implementing EFs and describe the advantages and disadvantages
  • Name factors of success and impediments for environmental flow implementation (technical, social, institutional, political)

Case studies - Lessons learnt (1 week)

  • Recognize and appreciate the endless variety of river types, bio-physical conditions, social and environmental priorities which need to be acknowledged for effective implementation of environmental flows
  • Understand the consequences of different levels of exploitation for the sustainable management of rivers

Group project (3 weeks)

  • Apply understanding, insight and skills gained in the course to come up with a realistic environmental flow recommendation, strategic plan and practical solutions

Each subject ends with a tutor or discussion assignment for which participants have to use their newly acquired knowledge and interact with the teacher and the other participants using the discussion platform of the Moodle platform.

The final mark for the course is based on individual assignments, contribution to discussions and the final group project. Upon successful completion of the course, participants will receive a Course Certificate issued by UNESCO-IHE.


This course has been jointly developed by UNESCO-IHE, World Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy, IUCN and Deltares.

For more
information, please visit the website.
In This Section
-Riversymposium Earlybird extended until 25 July
-Call for Abstracts
-IHA en espaƱol!
-Launch of East Africa Environmental Flow Network
-New technical guidance note on environmental flows and hydropower
-Two new reports on eflow policy, plans and projects are now available
-Ecological Limits of Hydrologic Alteration (ELOHA) Toolbox
-Seeking ways forward to balancing competing water needs
-Call for expression of interest: National IWRM planning status for Southern Africa

-HydroEco2009 - 2nd Int'l Multidisciplinary Conference on Hydrology and Ecology
-Pre-Conference Workshop : The Nuts & Bolts Of Flow Re-Allocation
-Iceland to host world congress on advancing sustainable hydropower
-6th World Water Forum Target on flows
-Interested by the challenge of mainstreaming eflows in water resources management?

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