School of Earth and Environment

Going with the flow: Tackling the environmental management of river flow

09.06.2017 - 11:25

Ensuring the economic, cultural and ecological value of rivers through more effective water flow management is the focus of a new research project led by the University of Leeds.

The new project, which involves researchers from the Schools of Geography and Earth and Environment, is a ‘European training and research network for environmental flow management in river basins (Euro-flow)’, which will look beyond localised experiments and solutions and instead work collaboratively across disciplines, institutes and international boundaries.

Wildlife and human needs, such as water supplies and hydropower, depend on the healthy flow of rivers. Attempts to regulate the flow of rivers, either through dams, reservoirs or flood prevention, can often cause a major stress on ecosystems and water users.

The Euro-flow project is an international network of universities and businesses which will develop new insights into river management through experiments, large scale surveys and cutting-edge models. There will be strong emphasis on training a new cohort of researchers to be the science, business and policy leaders in the field of river and stream management.

Project leader Dr Lee Brown, from the School of Geography at Leeds, said: “Modifying and managing river flow causes ripple effects in ecosystems and human society which are still not well understood. We need to find ways of managing these flows to maintain important services such as flood prevention and hydropower while protecting and in some cases rejuvenating the aquatic environment

“River managers and scientists need to work together to develop this fundamental understanding to provide the best possible assistance with decision-making in the light of climate and environmental change.”

The £3 million Euro-flow project currently incorporates 10 universities and 12 business partners, including local business partner Yorkshire Water.

Lead Environmental Advisor for Ecology at Yorkshire Water, Dr Ben Gillespie said: “Bringing the best river flow research together with the practical experience of managing waterways means we can ensure these important natural resources are maintained in the best way possible.

"By drawing on a wide range of experiences worldwide, we will be able to apply the most successful innovations to our operations, to benefit the users of our rivers, as well as looking after them for future generations.”

Doctoral researchers from participating universities will be given the opportunity to carry out long term collaborative projects, including exchange visits to partner institutions and training with world-leading river ecosystem data and experiments.

A key aspect of the Euro-flow project is the cultivation of transferable skills for all of the project stakeholders. In addition to generating scientific, industrial and policy relevant outputs the Euro-flow network aims to establish its participants as effective communicators, disseminators and entrepreneurs in the field of river flow management to create a real world impact.