Freshwater is vital for both humans and fish and wildlife, but humans are using freshwater more rapidly than it can be replenished. The Kiamichi River watershed in southeastern Oklahoma is at the center of intense conflict over water ownership and use. Missing from these disputes are the needs of the watershed’s rich animal and plant life, including three federally endangered freshwater mussels. Ecosystem services (i.e. benefits that humans obtain from ecosystems) have received increasing attention by both scientists and policy makers as a means to incorporate the multiple benefits that humans receive from natural ecosystems into land management policy and decisions. Rivers and the organisms that inhabit them provide many essential ecosystem services to people such as provisioning services (e.g. water for consumption and agriculture), regulating services (e.g. nutrient processing and water purification), and cultural services (e.g. recreation and spiritual values). This project uses an ecosystem services framework to examine how different water management/environmental flow scenarios in the Kiamichi River watershed affect the delivery of ecosystem services, and thus contribute to the wellbeing of people living both in and outside the watershed. Our approach involves mapping the spatial delivery of a selection of watershed services, and then exploring the tradeoffs between their biophysical, sociocultural and economic values. Once these tasks are completed we can then examine the tradeoffs between different water management strategies and share our results with policy makers and managers.
The South Central U.S. encompasses a wide range of ecosystem types and precipitation patterns. Average annual precipitation is less than 10 inches in northwest New Mexico but can exceed 60 inches further east in Louisiana. Much of the region relies on warm-season convective precipitation – that is, highly localized brief but intense periods of rainfall that are common in the summer. This type of precipitation is a significant driver of climate and ecosystem function in the region, but it is also notoriously difficult to predict since it occurs at such small spatial and temporal scales. While global climate models are helpful for understanding and predicting large-scale precipitation trends, they often do not capture many of the smaller atmospheric and earth surface processes that influence local and regional precipitation trends, like convective precipitation.
To address this gap in climate modeling capabilities, researchers developed regional climate models that are better able to project small-scale precipitation patterns and localized extreme precipitation events. Researchers combined information about land surface and water conditions with weather and climate models in order to quantify the local-scale impacts of climate on water resources. This highly localized information will assist regional decision-makers in addressing the challenge of predicting precipitation in the South Central U.S., leading to a better understanding of potential future impacts on agriculture, fish and wildlife, water quality and availability, and cultural resources.