FREE FLOWING RIVERS

© WWF-US / Catherine Blancard

FREE FLOWING RIVERS

About This Project

Rivers are the world's lifeblood

With representatives from conservation and academic institutions from around the world, WWF and McGill University have led an effort to establish a common definition of a free-flowing river and develop a universal methodology for measuring river connectivity and identifying free-flowing rivers. An up-to-date global inventory that identifies rivers that remain free-flowing is in progress. The methodology for identifying free-flowing rivers globally can also be downscaled to support local needs.

Ultimately, this work is intended to inform further research and planning, and inspire the information, tools, and guidance needed to make more sustainable choices about infrastructure that impacts freshwater ecosystems.

Values of Free Flowing Rivers

Fish Stocks

Tens of millions of people depend on freshwater fish populations, many of which require certain natural conditions - such as seasonal flows and temperature changes - in order to breed and thrive.

Biodiversity

Rivers with high connectivity are among the most ecologically important freshwater habitats, places where vulnerable species can thrive and adapt to climate change.

Healthy Floodplains

Connected rivers support healthy floodplains, which help reduce risks from floods and droughts.

Sediment Transfer

Connected, free-flowing rivers balance nutrients in soil and carry sediment downstream, including to deltas challenged by rising sea levels.

Floodplain Agriculture

An important livelihood and food source in parts of the world, this kind of farming requires a connected, naturally flowing river to seasonally bring nutrients, sediment, and water.

Spiritual

In places around the world, free-flowing rivers hold cultural and spiritual importance.

Recreation

Pristine scenery and natural flows often offer recreational and business opportunities, including rafting, fly-fishing and wildlife watching.

Freshwater Species

Free-flowing rivers are the freshwater equivalent of wilderness areas.

There is no road map to help governments and international institutions balance connectivity with economic growth. Until recently, there wasn’t even a global consensus on the definition of free-flowing rivers, nor any scientifically backed method to identify where these rivers remain.

-38%

The terrestrial LPI shows that populations have declined by thirty-eight percent overall between 1970 and 2012.

-81%

The freshwater LPI shows that on average the abundance of populations monitored in the freshwater system has declined by eighty-one percent between 1970 and 2012.

-36%

The marine LPI shows a thirty-six percent overall decline between 1970 and 2012.

Free Flowing Rivers Around the World

Yukon

3,207 Km

Back

1,236 Km

Liard

1,245 Km

Dubawnt

1,234 Km

Rio negro

2,375 Km

Amazon

5,990 Km

Yurua

2,604 Km

Purus

3,229 Km

Ubongui

2,641 Km

Kasai

2,145 Km

Okavango

2,090 Km

Congo

4,960 Km

Chari

2,278 Km

Vyatka

1,193 Km

Northern
Dvina

1,607 Km

Pechora

1,626 Km

Uil

801 Km

Salween

3,244 Km

Nihnyaya

3,150 Km

Lena

5,123 Km

Olenek

2,229 Km

Aldan

2,363 Km

Kapuas

1,041 Km

Sepik

992 Km

Finke

990 Km

Copper creek

1,893 Km

Warburton

2,010 Km

  • 01

    Yukon

    3,207 Km

  • 02

    Liard

    1,245 Km

  • 03

    Back

    1,236 Km

  • 04

    Dubawnt

    1,234 Km

  • 05

    Rio negro

    2,375 Km

    Yurua

    2,604 Km

    Amazon

    5,990 Km

    Purus

    3,229 Km

  • 06

    Chari

    2,278 Km

  • 07

    Congo

    4,960 Km

    Ubongui

    2,641 Km

    Kasai

    2,145 Km

  • 08

    Okavango

    2,090 Km

  • 09

    Northern Dvina

    1,607 Km

  • 10

    Vyatka

    1,193 Km

  • 11

    Pechora

    1,626 Km

  • 12

    Uil

    801 Km

  • 13

    Salween

    3,244 Km

  • 14

    Nihnyaya

    3,150 Km

  • 15

    Lena

    5,123 Km

  • 16

    Aldan

    2,363 Km

  • 17

    Olenek

    2,229 Km

  • 18

    Kapuas

    1,041 Km

    Sepik

    992 Km

  • 19

    Finke

    990 Km

    Copper creek

    1,893 Km

    Warburton

    2,010 Km

Our partners

With representatives from conservation and academic institutions from around the world, WWF and McGill University have led an effort to establish a common definition of a free-flowing river and develop a universal methodology for measuring river connectivity and identifying free-flowing rivers. An updated global inventory to identify rivers that remain free-flowing is in progress and will be available here upon completion. Members of each institution contributed their expertise.