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The Ethics of Instream Flows: Science and Policy in Southern Alberta, Canada

Authors: Jeremy J. Schmidt


Securing instream flows for aquatic ecosystems is critical for sustainable water management and the promotion of human and environmental health. Using a case study from the semiarid region of southern Alberta (Canada) this paper considers how the determination of instream flow standards requires judgments with respect to: (1) The relationship between instream flow indicators and assessments of overall environmental health; (2) The indicators used to determine adequate instream flows, and; (3) The assumptions underlying efforts to model instream flows given data constraints. It argues that judgments in each of these areas have an inherently ethical component because instream flows have direct effects on the water(s) available to meet obligations to humans and non-humans. The conclusion expands from the case study to generic issues regarding instream flows, the growing water ethics literature and prospects for linking science to policy.

Keywords: ethics, instream flows, policy, science, watermanagement

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