Water Research Commission Project K5/2340: Developing methods for Ecological Reserve Complience Monitoring in Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Areas (FEPAs): a case study of the Kouebokkeveld, Western Cape

Project leader: Dr Bruce Paxton (

Project Duration: April 2014 to March 2016 

Project team: Ms Louise Dobinson (Aurecon Engineering), Mr Martin Kleynhans (Aurecon Engineering), Mr Karl Reinecke (Southern Waters Ecological Research and Consulting), Dr Helen Dallas (FRC)

WRC Report: Paxton BR, Dobinson L, Kleynhans, M and Howard G. 2016. Developing an elementary tool for Ecological Reserve monitoring in South Africa’s Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Areas (FEPAs): a pilot study in the Kouebokkeveld. Water Research Commission. Pretoria, South Africa. 

Extensive research and development has gone into methodologies aimed at determining the Ecological Reserve (environmental flows) in South Africa, i.e. into quantifying the volumes, timing and frequency of flows required to support ecosystem processes in local rivers.  Considerably less attention has been accorded its implementation and operationalisation; with some managers alleging that Reserve determination methodologies have been developed in a vacuum without any serious consideration for their practicability.  This study was undertaken in response to the need to develop simple tools to monitor the Reserve that can be broadly applied in rural catchments with limited water resource management capacity and monitoring, a de-centralised water storage and transfer infrastructure, but which have a high conservation and biodiversity value, i.e. Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Areas (FEPAs). 

During the course of the study we developed an elementary method – the STandardised REserve Analysis and Monitoring tool (STREAM) – for monitoring the Reserve in catchments characterised by run-of-river abstractions, limited flow monitoring infrastructure decentralised water resource infrastructure (i.e. rural catchments without large dams with release mechanisms and that control water by means of extensive reticulation systems).  STREAM assesses deviations from Reserve requirements at coarse spatial and temporal resolutions and does so retrospectively.  It has been developed with the budget and skills limitations in mind of managers in smaller catchments that have high conservation value. 


Advantages and opportunities of STREAM

  • STREAM is an attempt to address the fact that while water resource modelling is widely used for planning, it is less often used in an operational context.
  • The model can be set up by technical staff with limited expertise in hydrological modelling, but who has a good knowledge of the basic principles of environmental flow science.
  • Once the model is set up for a certain catchment, it requires regular updating on an annual or quarterly basis when new rainfall and flow data become available. This task can be undertaken by personnel with moderate skills levels within Water User Associations (WUAs), Catchment Management Agencies (CMAs), regional Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) offices, conservation authorities or NGOs.
  • STREAM is capable of supporting water allocations in the catchment which can be issued with greater confidence in the sustainability of outcomes.  The consequences of the directives – or contraventions of them such as illegal dams, water abstractions or transfers within the catchments – can be monitored and remedied more readily.
  • With repeated use, confidence with respect to the response of aquatic ecosystems to flow change would be significantly improved and would provide valuable benchmark against which Resource Quality Objectives, monitoring protocols and Ecostatus models could be calibrated.
  • Although there is a significant amount of uncertainty in STREAM with regards to natural flow estimations, the advantage of STREAM, or similar models, is that it is objective, repeatable and its outputs can be interrogated and reviewed when more accurate data become available.  This means that the identification of year-on-year trends is possible and that uncertainties will reduce over time and with increased use and review.