Online Course on Environmental Flows

IHE Delft Environmental Flows

Target Audience

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.


This online course introduces the concept of environmental flows and explains why maintaining environmental flows is needed for human and ecosystem well-being. It presents the methods to assess environmental flows, including their advantages and limitations. The course also covers how environmental flows can be included at project level or when planning land use and resource development at a regional scale.

Course content

During the online course the following subjects will be discussed:

1. 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

2. 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

3. 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

4. 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

5. 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)

6. 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

7. 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 IHE Delft.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion, the participant should be able to:

  • Explain what environmental flows are, and discuss their relevance for managing water and natural resources.
  • Explain the key physical, chemical and biological processes of river systems that are relevant to environmental flows.
  • Analyse legislation, policies and social dimensions that influence the implementation of environmental flows at multiple geographic scales, including the involvement of stakeholders and the societal benefits of flow-related ecosystem services.
  • Compare the main methodologies for assessing environmental flows and synthesize the knowledge acquired to propose a methodological approach to assess eflows in a river basin taken as a case study
  • Analyze the factors that support or obstruct the successful implementation of environmental flows in a river basin.