Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2016AL178B

Science and Policy of Environmental Instream Flows in the Tombigbee River Basin, Alabama and Mississippi: An Interstate Comparison

Institute: Alabama
Year Established: 2016 Start Date: 2016-03-01 End Date: 2017-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $21,915 Total Non-Federal Funds: $43,830

Principal Investigators: Sarah Praskievicz, Bennett Bearden

Abstract: Resources Council identifies environmental instream flows as one of its five major categories of water-resource problems in Alabama. Providing adequate instream flows is vital for maintaining habitat for the freshwater species and ecosystems that contribute to Alabamas natural heritage. Because of increasing demand for water for power generation, agriculture, domestic supply, and other off-stream uses, as well as uncertainty in future water supply, the states water resources are likely to become increasingly stressed over the coming decades. This ever-increasing demand for limited water necessitates the development of a framework for allocating water in Alabamas rivers to meet human needs while at the same time avoiding harm to aquatic species and ecosystems. The importance of environmental instream flows is emphasized by the fact that most of Alabamas major river basins cross state boundaries, with Tennessee (Tennessee River), Georgia (Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa system, Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint system), Florida (Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint system, Choctawhatchee-Pea-Yellow system), and Mississippi (Tombigbee River Basin). Many states, including the neighboring state of Mississippi, have adopted a minimum flow standard such as seven-day low flow with a recurrence interval of ten years (7Q10). No such legal standard currently exists for instream flows for rivers in Alabama, which is a disadvantage for Alabama in current and potential future water conflicts with neighboring states. The science and policy of environmental instream flows in Alabamas neighboring states should therefore be examined, as a foundation for the development of instream flow standards within Alabama. Because of the cultural and political similarity of Mississippi and Alabama, and the significance of the Tombigbee River Basin as a major interstate basin that encompasses much of the Gulf Coastal Plain of both states, we propose to start this interstate comparison with Mississippi and Alabama with a focus on the Tombigbee. In this research, we will conduct a comparison of the science and policy of environmental instream flows in Alabama and Mississippi and develop a framework that can be used as guidance in the development of an environmental instream flow standard for Alabamas rivers, using the Tombigbee River Basin as a case study. This framework will consist of three components: 1) We will systematically review the legal and policy frameworks for environmental instream flows in Alabama and Mississippi. 2) We will compile a geodatabase of the Tombigbee River Basin, including designated beneficial uses under the Clean Water Act and available hydrological and biological data that could be used to determine the instream flows necessary to preserve ecological function. 3) We will conduct an analysis of existing hydrological and biological data to determine whether the implementation of a 7Q10 standard in Mississippi was effective in maintaining ecologically relevant hydrological parameters, and what the effects