Streams and Rivers: Texas Aquatic Science- Chapter 8

Like arteries and veins in our own bodies,
rivers and streams travel throughout Texas, carrying the very life blood — water and
nutrients — to our many different aquatic habitats upon which our plants, animals and
people depend. Scientists monitor water flowing in rivers
and streams, almost like doctors test our blood. They look at the quantity of water
flowing and quality, or what’s in the water. We need enough water flowing to feed aquatic
systems downstream, and we need good quality water with the right balance of nutrients
flowing into those systems. The amount of water flowing in streams is
called instream flow. You can see instream flow in long downhill runs, in deep areas
that form pools, and in shallow areas causing riffles. And while stream flow in some Texas rivers
is fed by springs, most of the water entering streams comes from rain runoff in a watershed.
Rainfall can easily impact the size and flow of a stream, sometimes causing large scale
flooding. But flooding, or over-bank flows, has its benefits. In fact healthy rivers and
the species that depend on them need a variety of flows during different seasons. Flow in nearly all of Texas’ major rivers
is changed or controlled by dams that form reservoirs. Dams do alter the natural flow
regime, but they help minimize destructive flooding. The reservoirs they create generate
hydroelectric power and supply water to homes, industries, and agriculture. But it’s not a simple story. There is competition
for water, and this is one of our biggest challenges in Texas. If we take too much water
out of instream flow, aquatic organisms downstream may become stressed or die. And too little
water reaching our estuaries and bays can even be harmful to our seafood. Everyone plays a role to reduce impacts on
stream flow simply by conserving water and protecting watersheds in our own neighborhoods,
because what we do upstream, ultimately impacts life downstream.

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