Instream Flow Toolkit: Advocacy Guide to Healthy River and Stream Flows in Washington

Executive Summary

American Rivers and the Washington Environmental Council (WEC) have developed this Instream Flow Tool Kit to assist citizens working to restore and protect river and stream flows. In the most basic sense, “instream flow” refers to the amount of water preserved in a river or stream to protect resources such as fish, water quality, wildlife and recreation.

In this decade, the state plans to amend or establish instream flows by rule in 23 of Washington’s watersheds and make recommendations in another 11.1 Additionally, millions of dollars have been appropriated by the state legislature over the past two biennia to restore and protect river and stream flows. Consequently, while very little progress has been made to advance instream flow protection over the past two decades, the political and financial commitment to not only establish – but also to actually achieve – instream flows is considerable.

To coincide with the state’s efforts, American Rivers and WEC have developed this guide with specific legal, policy, and science “tools”, that will be useful to watershed and river advocates whether the instream flow efforts occur through watershed planning or formal state rulemaking.

The Tool Kit is comprised of the following sections:

  • The Introduction provides a synopsis of the challenges associated with instream flow protection;
  • Instream Flow: An Overview describes the status of instream flow protection in Washington and summarizes recent commitments made by the state;
  • The Law and Instream Flow touches on state and federal laws that affect stream flows as well as the rights of Native American Tribes;
  • Some Basics about Instream Flow Science provides overarching concepts and key terms associated with science and instream flow;
  • Instream Flow Assessment Methods reviews historical and current approaches used to establish instream flow;
  • River Ecology 101: Fundamental River Attributes describes the most current thinking on flow regimes needed to sustain the ecological and biological functions of our waterways;
  • An Emerging Approach to Applying Science Within a Watershed provides an overview of a framework for integrating science into instream flow management;
  • Getting to Work presents restoration and protection
    strategies that can be implemented to achieve adequate river and stream flows; and,
  • The Operators Manual, Watershed Index, Glossary, Bibliography and Endnotes all provide supporting information for effective advocacy.


Achieving adequate instream flows is a complicated effort that, in many watersheds, is likely to take years. American Rivers and WEC have developed this Tool Kit with the intent of helping advocates capitalize on as many opportunities as possible to ensure that instream flows – protective of fish, wildlife and water quality – are established, achieved and protected. With your help, and the help of other citizens who care about our natural heritage, we can ensure that generations to come experience flowing, healthy rivers and streams across Washington State.