Submitted Successfully!
To reward your contribution, here is a gift for you: A free trial for our video production service.
Thank you for your contribution! You can also upload a video entry or images related to this topic.
Version Summary Created by Modification Content Size Created at Operation
1 handwiki -- 1080 2022-11-03 01:34:46

Video Upload Options

Do you have a full video?


Are you sure to Delete?
If you have any further questions, please contact Encyclopedia Editorial Office.
HandWiki. Freshwater Inflow. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 14 June 2024).
HandWiki. Freshwater Inflow. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed June 14, 2024.
HandWiki. "Freshwater Inflow" Encyclopedia, (accessed June 14, 2024).
HandWiki. (2022, November 03). Freshwater Inflow. In Encyclopedia.
HandWiki. "Freshwater Inflow." Encyclopedia. Web. 03 November, 2022.
Freshwater Inflow

Environmental flows can be broken down into instream flow, freshwater inflow, and outflow, as shown in the depiction below. Instream flow is the freshwater water flowing in rivers or streams. Freshwater inflow is the freshwater that flows into an estuary. Outflow is the flow from an estuary to the ocean. This article's focus is upon freshwater inflow.

outflow inflow environmental

1. Estuaries

Freshwater inflow: Freshwater flows into an estuary and mixes with the marine water of the estuarine ecosystem. The mixing of freshwater inflow and the marine water of the estuarine ecosystem occurs spatially and temporally from climatic influences including tidal action, seasonal variability and storms.[1] Mixing is affected by the amount of estuarine system. The tides and the volume of the receiving estuary govern the volume of seawater. Tides are defined as the periodic rise and fall of the surface of the sea along the coast that are driven by the gravitational pull of the moon and of the sun.[2] Although estuaries are influenced by the tides, they are often somewhat protected from storms and tidal action by buffers further offshore including barrier islands and peninsulas.[1]

The low-salinity conditions of the marine water are created when freshwater mixes with the saltwater of the estuarine system. Average for freshwater is around 0.5 parts per thousand (ppt) whereas average salinity of the ocean is 35 ppt.[3] The salinity will not be consistent throughout a particular estuary and will be differ from one estuary to the next but its level will range from 0.5 ppt to 35 ppt.[3] In estuaries, primary producers take up nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus.[4] Freshwater inflows carry estuaries, replenishing the stock for phytoplankton use.[4] Sediments settling out and form banks, offshore peninsulas, and barrier islands that protect the estuary from strong tidal action and currents. The sediment also supports beaches and provision the inter-tidal wetlands. Organic material delivered to estuaries by freshwater inflows the primary energy source for organisms living in the estuary.[5] Estuarine ecosystems need freshwater inflow to maintain their productivity, or to continue to produce biomass.

Estuarine ecosystems are fundamentally important and necessary to protect through the management of freshwater inflow because of the many ecosystem services they produce. An ecosystem service is something provided by nature that is of value to humans. Estuarine ecosystems are among the most productive ecosystems on the planet. Estuaries house such species as the blue crab, red fish, flounder, spotted seatrout, and many others for some point of the species’ life cycle. Marine habitats, such as those found in estuarine ecosystems, are valued at providing an estimated US14$ trillion worth of ecosystem goods and services annually, or 43% of the global total. Some economically important estuarine habitats include tidal flats, salt marshes, sea grass beds, oyster reefs, and mangroves. This is why estuaries are important to protect and conserve.

2. Global Change

Global changes caused largely by anthropogenic influences, or human impacts, are altering the amount of freshwater inflows to estuaries.[6] Humans are diverting water from rivers and streams, decreasing the amount of flows making it to estuarine ecosystems. Since the 1960s dewatering, or removal of water from streams and rivers, has doubled and around 60% of the Earth’s runoff is captured.[7] The removal of freshwater from rivers and streams for anthropogenic use before it reaches the coast is having a negative impact on many estuaries. Half of the world’s major cities are within 50 km of the coast, and coastal populations are 2.6 times denser than those further inland.[8] Technological advances in the collection of freshwater is continually improving, further straining available freshwater resources. As the human population grows and the strain on water resources continues, the ability to effectively manage freshwater inflows into estuaries is becoming a priority worldwide.[1]

2.1. Dewatering

Changes in freshwater inflow have resulted in losses of habitat, biodiversity, and productivity.[9] Studies also found changes in bioindicator species community’s biomass correlated with changing freshwater inflows, which indicates secondary production changes with altered inflows.[10] These studies suggest the health of the estuary depends on freshwater inflow.

Below is an example of how an upstream human diversion creates cascading effects downstream.

3. Freshwater Inflow Management

Many different methodologies aimed at freshwater inflow management to maintain an estuary have been implemented throughout the world. Studies are aimed at determining the freshwater inflow amount necessary to maintain an estuarine ecosystem. One common methodology implemented in studies in several U.S. states including Texas, Florida, and California is to indirectly link estuarine resources (i.e. integrity- species composition, biomass, diversity; function- primary production, secondary production, nutrient recycling; sustainability- habitats, valued resources, ecosystem services) to freshwater inflow (i.e. quantity- timing, frequency, duration, extent; quality; tidal connections) through estuarine conditions (i.e. salinity; sediment; dissolved material; particulate material).[1][11] In the Mtata Estuary of South Africa, an Estuarine Health Index is used to compare the current state of the estuary to a predicted reference state.[12] In the Caloosahatchee Estuary in Florida, the range of inflow that protects key biota, or the animal and plant life of a region, determines the necessary amount of freshwater inflow.[13] The methodologies for managing freshwater inflow differ slightly but the main goal is to ultimately create or maintain a sustainable estuary.

4. Using Ecosystem-based Management (EBM) Strategies for Freshwater Inflow Oversight

Freshwater inflow management strategies require an all-encompassing approach that incorporates a large amount of data on multiple levels. This type of approach is called an ecosystem-based management strategy. Ecosystem-based management (EBM) strategies require a comprehensive approach to incorporate land, energy, and natural resource use and allocation, involving species management, natural commodities, and humans as components.[14] EBM also incorporates data analysis of various interactions over different amounts of time and space. This may be directed at the maintenance or enhancement of the entire riverine ecosystem, including its various aquatic and riparian biota and components from source to sea.[15] Below are some examples of current ecosystem-based management freshwater inflow resources from Texas.

Ecosystem-Based Management Freshwater Inflow Resources from Texas

Resources Organization Overview
Freshwater Inflow Tool HRI Provides information for understanding and managing freshwater inflow
TX Environmental Flow Program (SB3) TCEQ Provides links to all existing reports regarding freshwater inflow
Senate Bill 3 Nueces BBASC BBASC Explains SB3 process and provides specific Nueces applications (BBEST and BBASC reports)
NERR Science Collaborative MANERR Project to address climate change by helping to establish freshwater inflow requirements
Freshwater Inflows and Estuaries TPWD Case studies of methodologies to estimate changes, impacts, and needs of freshwater inflows
Environmental Flows Information System for Texas CRWR Data models and database to determine environmental flow needs


  1. Montagna, P.A.; Palmer, T.; Pollack, J. (2013). Hydrological Changes and Estuarine Dynamics. 8. 94. doi:10.1007/978-1-4614-5833-3. ISBN 978-1-4614-5832-6. 
  2. Sumich, J.L. (2004). An Introduction to the Biology of Marine Life, Sixth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning. p. 449. ISBN 9780763733131. 
  3. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). "Estuaries". NOAA. 
  4. D'Elia, C.F.; Sanders, J.G.; Boynton, W.R. (1986). "Nutrient Enrichment Studies in a Coastal Plain Estuary: Phytoplankton Growth in Large-Scale, Continuous Cultures". Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 43 (2): 397–406. doi:10.1139/f86-050.
  5. Keith R. Dyer & Robert Joseph Orth (1994). The influence of Atchafalaya River discharge on Fourleague Bay, Louisiana (USA) found in:Changes in Fluxes in Estuaries. Fredensborg, Denmark: Olsen and Olsen. pp. 151–160. ISBN 9788785215222. 
  6. "Comparative Analysis of Marine Ecosystems Organization (CAMEO)". CAMEO. 
  7. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005). "Ecosystems and Human Well Being: Current State and Trends". Island Press 1: 47. 
  8. Crossland, C.J. (2005). Coastal Fluxes in the Anthropocene. Global Change - the IGBP Series. Berlin, Germany: Springer-Verlag. p. 232. ISBN 978-3-540-27851-1. 
  9. Montagna, P.A.; Kalke, R. D.; Ritter, C. (2002). "Effect of Restored Freshwater Inflow on Macrofauna and Meiofauna in Upper Rincon Bayou, Texas, USA". Estuaries 25 (6): 1436–1447. doi:10.1007/bf02692237.
  10. Kim, H. C.; Montagna, P. A. (2009). "Implications of Colorado River Freshwater Inflow to Benthic Ecosystem Dynamics: A Modeling Study". Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 83 (4): 491–504. doi:10.1016/j.ecss.2009.04.033.
  11. Alber, Merryl (December 2002). "A Conceptual Model of Estuarine Freshwater Inflow Management". Estuaries 25 (6B): 1246–1261. doi:10.1007/bf02692222. 
  12. Adams, J.B.; Bate, C. G.; Harrison, T.D.; Huizinga, P.; Taljaard, S.; Niekerk, L. V.; Plumstead, E. E.; Whitfield, A.K. et al. (December 2002). "Estuaries and Application to the Mtata Estuary, South Africa". Estuaries 25 (6B): 1382–1393. doi:10.1007/bf02692232.
  13. Chamberlain, R.H.; Doering, P.H. (1998). "Preliminary Estimate of Optimum Freshwater Inflow to the Caloosahatchee Estuary: A Resource Based Approach. In S. F. Treat (ed.), Proceedings of the 1997 Charlotte Harbor Public Conference and Technical Symposium". South Florida Water Management District and Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program Technical Report No. 98-02: 121–130. Archived from the original on 2010-06-17. 
  14. Arkema, K.K.; Abramson, S.C.; Dewsbury, B.M. (2006). "Marine Ecosystem-Based Management: From Characterization to Implementation". Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 4 (10): 525–532. doi:10.1890/1540-9295(2006)4[;2]. 
  15. Tharme, R.E. (2003). "A Global Perspective on Environmental Flow Assessment: Emerging Trends in the Development and Application of Environmental Flow Methodologies for Rivers". River Research and Applications 19 (5–6): 397–441. doi:10.1002/rra.736.
Subjects: Others
Contributor MDPI registered users' name will be linked to their SciProfiles pages. To register with us, please refer to :
View Times: 429
Entry Collection: HandWiki
Revision: 1 time (View History)
Update Date: 03 Nov 2022
Video Production Service