|Abstract||1. In Mediterranean and other water-stressed climates, water management is critical to the conservation of freshwater ecosystems. To secure and maintain water allocations for the environment, integrated water management approaches are needed that consider ecosystem flow requirements, patterns of human water demands, and the temporal and spatial dynamics of water availability.
2. Human settlements in Mediterranean climates have constructed water storage and conveyance projects at a scale and level of complexity far exceeding those in other, less seasonal climates. As a result, multiple ecological stressors associated with natural periods of flooding and drying are compounded by anthropogenic impacts resulting from water infrastructure development.
3. Despite substantial investments in freshwater ecosystem conservation, particularly in California, USA, success has been limited because the scales at which river management and restoration are implemented are often discordant with the temporal and spatial scales at which ecosystem processes operate. Often, there is also strong social and political resistance to restricting water allocation to existing consumptive uses for environmental protection purposes. Furthermore, institutions rarely have the capacity to develop and implement integrated management programs needed for freshwater ecosystem conservation.
4. We propose an integrated framework for streamflow management that explicitly considers the temporal and spatial dynamics of water supply and needs of both human and natural systems. This approach makes it possible to assess the effects of alternative management strategies to human water security and ecosystem conditions and facilitates integrated decision making by water management institutions.
5. We illustrate the approach by applying a GIS-based hydrologic model in a Mediterranean-climate watershed in Sonoma County, California, USA. The model is designed to assess the hydrologic impacts of multiple water users distributed throughout a stream network. We analyze the effects of vineyard water management on environmental flows to (i) evaluate streamflow impacts from small storage ponds designed to meet human water demands and reduce summer diversions, (ii) prioritize the placement of storage ponds to meet human water needs while optimizing environmental flow benefits, and (iii) examine the environmental and social consequences of flow management policies designed to regulate the timing of diversions to protect ecosystem functions.
6. Thematic implications. Spatially explicit models that represent anthropogenic stressors (e.g. water diversions) and environmental flow needs are required to address persistent and growing threats to freshwater biodiversity. A coupled human-natural system approach to water management is particularly useful in Mediterranean climates, characterized by severe competition for water resources and high spatial and temporal variability in flow regimes. However, lessons learned from our analyses are applicable to other highly seasonal systems and those that are expected to have increased climate variability resulting from climate change.