A perennial stream or perennial river is a stream or river (channel) that has continuous flow in parts of its stream bed all year round during years of normal rainfall. "Perennial" streams are contrasted with "intermittent" streams which normally cease flowing for weeks or months each year, and with "ephemeral" channels that flow only for hours or days following rainfall. During unusually dry years, a normally perennial stream may cease flowing, becoming intermittent for days, weeks, or months depending on severity of the drought. The boundaries between perennial, intermittent, and ephemeral channels are indefinite, and subject to a variety of identification methods adopted by local governments, academics, and others with a need to classify stream-flow permanence.
As stream flow decreases in dry weather, visible flow above the stream bed may not be readily evident, especially in streams with coarse substrate (gravel and rocks), where water is flowing beneath and between these particles (hyporheic flow). From a biological perspective, a stream may be considered flowing if sufficient water is available to support flow-dependent aquatic life, including fish and gill-breathing amphibians, benthic insects, crustaceans, and mollusks, many of which survive in shallow hyporheic flow beneath rocks or logs. This extreme low flow may not be detectable on typical USGS stream-flow gages, but is vital to stream ecology