California Environmental Flows Workgroup

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Framework Overview

The California Environmental Flows Framework (hereafter the Framework) is a management approach that provides technical guidance to help managers efficiently develop scientifically defensible environmental flow recommendations. Environmental flow recommendations consist of instream flow criteria that balance human and ecological needs for water. The Framework was developed to help managers improve the speed, consistency, standardization, and technical rigor in establishing environmental flow recommendations statewide. There are 12 steps in the Framework, which are divided into three main sections and encompass multiple tools and standardized methodologies. The key objectives of the Framework are to:

  • Standardize, streamline and improve transparency of environmental flow assessments
  • Provide flexibility to accommodate diverse management goals and priorities
  • Improve coordination and data sharing among management agencies

The first two Sections of the Framework support development of consistent, scientifically-supported ecological flow criteria – i.e., quantifiable metrics that describe ranges of flows that must be maintained within a stream and its margins to support the natural functions of healthy ecosystems. Upon this scientific foundation, users are then able to develop environmental flow recommendations that take human uses and other water management objectives into consideration. These environmental flow recommendations are expressed as a “rule set” of flow requirements that are informed by ecological flow criteria that satisfy ecosystem water needs, but also other water management objectives.

The expected user of the Framework is an individual or organization tasked with defining ecological flow criteria to inform environmental flow recommendations for a stream, watershed, or region. Thus, this Framework is intended to be used by scientists, agency personnel, non-governmental organizations and local stakeholders working to develop environmental flow recommendations for streams in California. It may also be helpful in planning and prioritizing stream flow enhancement projects and environmental flow recovery efforts.

Please visit UC Davis eFlows to:

  • Explore and visualize California's unimpaired streamflow patterns, including natural stream classes and functional flow metrics
  • Explore distinct geomorphic settings across California's complex hydroscape, including dominant attributes and physical processes
  • Assess performance of ecosystem functions - related to aquatic species habitat, riparian species habitat, and natural hydrogeomorphic processes - under alternative hydrologic and geomorphic scenarios
Environmental Flows Framework
An overview of three sections and 12 steps of the California Environmental Flows Framework, with the
key questions that get answered by the end of each section

Glossary of Terms

CEFF Frequently Asked Questions

More Information

For additional information on the California Environmental Flows Workgroup, please email:
Dan Schultz at or
Robert Holmes at

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