First Survey of Water Resources on Refuges
|Water resources, such as this lake at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, will be included in a comprehensive national inventory that the Refuge System is beginning in 2011.|
|Credit: Alan Cressler|
The first comprehensive national inventorying of the Refuge System's lakes, rivers, wetlands and streams begins its first full year in 2011, as population growth and climate change increase competition for water resources.
"We will look at the quantity and quality of water available to wildlife habitats and species through the System," says Mike Higgins, water resources coordinator for Refuge System. "That will help us prioritize our efforts in a strategic way, so that if it looks like a refuge is not going to have enough water in 10 years to meets its conservation needs, we can explore what we can do to assure that refuge gets additional resources."
The inventory of water resources is expected to take at least five years. By mid-2011, system experts hope to start entering data on water quantity, quality, legal rights and infrastructure (such as culverts and wells) into a new national database; survey data will also identify water-related needs, trends and threats for each of the 553 refuges.
One challenge will be the immense scale of the project. "There's no way we can inventory every small stream and wetland in Alaska's millions of acres of refuge lands; we've accepted that," says Higgins. Seasonal variations present another challenge; some wetlands, for example, hold water only three months of the year; others have been dried up for years by drought.
"How do we capture threats imposed by climate change?" asks Higgins. "One way we've chosen is to look at long-term trends, long-term data for stream flow, for example. Is it decreasing or increasing? Are water temperatures decreasing or increasing? In addition, where we have appropriate data from climate change models, we'll incorporate those into our assessments.
"There's a huge data gap there that needs to be filled," says Higgins.