Effects of Drought and Water Resource Management on Biophysical and Sociocultural Ecosystem Services in South-Central United States
Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 11:20 AM
South-Central United States is one of the fastest growing regions in the nation; however, it is experiencing water supply limitations. In response, multiple interests have focused on the Kiamichi River watershed in southeast Oklahoma as a future inter-basin water supply. The Kiamichi River provides many ecosystem services, including freshwater provision to 19 cities/towns, outdoor recreation hub for the South-Central U.S., cultural capital of the Choctaw Indian Nation, and a national biodiversity hotspot. With multiple recent stressors, these ecosystem services are highly threatened. Here we present how drought and water management have impacted these benefits over the past 20 years. First, we assessed the river’s sensitivity to drought (which is cyclical) and water regulation (which has increased over the past three decades). Second, we analyzed how these hydrologic changes have impacted freshwater habitat, focusing on mussels because of their sensitivity to flow alterations and because they provide additional ecosystem services such as biofiltration, nutrient recycling/storage, and cultural resources. Third, we performed a sociocultural valuation for a suite of ecosystem services provided by the Kiamichi River watershed, including 505 interviews of five different ecosystem services beneficiary (ESB) groups. We obtained ESB perceptions on how ecosystem services changed with different flow conditions and water management strategies. Analyses revealed that increased regulation (fewer dam releases) has caused the Kiamichi River to have long no flow periods during droughts (e.g. 176 days with no flow in 2006). These long dry periods have been the main culprit for a 60% decline in mussel biomass over the past 20 years, and subsequent large losses in biofiltration and nutrient recycling. Interestingly, ESBs perceived similar losses of ecosystem services. Without being provided any information on flow, more than half of the ESBs believed that water supply, freshwater habitat, and water quality had all declined over the past decade. Overall, we found strong relationships among river flow, mussel abundance, and social perception of watershed services, suggesting that water management is key in maximizing the product of ecosystem services for all stakeholders.