Securing instream flows for aquatic ecosystems is
critical for sustainable water management and the promotion of
human and environmental health. Using a case study from the semiarid
region of southern Alberta (Canada) this paper considers how
the determination of instream flow standards requires judgments with
respect to: (1) The relationship between instream flow indicators and
assessments of overall environmental health; (2) The indicators used
to determine adequate instream flows, and; (3) The assumptions
underlying efforts to model instream flows given data constraints. It
argues that judgments in each of these areas have an inherently
ethical component because instream flows have direct effects on the
water(s) available to meet obligations to humans and non-humans.
The conclusion expands from the case study to generic issues
regarding instream flows, the growing water ethics literature and
prospects for linking science to policy.