Paul Angermeier, associate professor of fisheries and wildlife sciences in Virginia Tech's College of Natural Resources, helped develop the 2002 Ecological Society of America (ESA) report on meeting the future needs for freshwater sustainability. Freshwater is vital to human life and the well-being of society because it provides commodities and services in consumption, irrigation, and transportation.
The report explains the requirements scientists use to assess the current status of freshwater ecosystems. The information will help policy makers, water managers, and communities to more wisely allocate water resources. "We also recommend ways in which freshwater ecosystems can be protected, maintained, and restored," explains Angermeier.
"Western rivers in the U.S. are prime examples of how flow manipulation can lead to multiple damages to rivers and communities," says Angermeier. The lack of freshwater flows have contributed to the widespread loss of native fish species in the Colorado River, Glen Canyon Dam, and at the mouth of the Gulf of California, where the bivalve mollusk muscles population has dropped by 94 percent from 1950. In other areas of concern freshwater temperatures have dropped dramatically. "This has resulted in the development of a nonnative trout population and an unusual food web more commonly found in the Arctic regions," explains Angermeier.
The South Florida ecosystem is home to over six million people. Efforts began in the early 1900s to drain the Everglades wetlands, which were viewed as wastelands and useless swamps. The water projects were not designed with environmental protection or enhancement in mind. According to the report, although it's not possible to restore the region to its pristine condition, efforts are underway to make it more compatible with the way the system used to function.
Approximately 50 percent of the historic Everglades has been converted to agricultural or urban use. Populations of wading birds have been reduced by 85-90 percent. Invasive species are threatening native habitat and species, and 68 species of plants and animals in South Florida are threatened and endangered, the ESA report points out.
Scientific definitions of the requirements to protect and maintain aquatic ecosystems are necessary but currently insufficient for establishing how best to allocate water for human use and ecosystem needs. "A multi-faceted approach has been proposed that may take 25 years or more to implement," Angermeier says. The ESA task group recommended six plans as a beginning to redress how water is viewed and managed in the U.S.
The ESA report proposes to empower local groups and communities to implement sustainable water polices, define water resources to include watersheds, so that freshwaters are viewed within the Clean Water Act, and increase communication and education across disciplines, especially among engineers, hydrologists, economists, and ecologists to facilitate an integrated view of freshwater resources.
Angermeier adds, "ESA also hopes the report will increase restoration efforts for wetland, lake, and river ecosystems, protect minimally impaired freshwater ecosystems, and create awareness of how crucial healthy ecosystems are to our everyday living." A synopsis of the report will eventually be available online at ESA.org. In the meantime, interested persons may contact Angermeier at firstname.lastname@example.org for further information, or order a copy for $2.25 from the Ecological Society of America, Reprint Department, 1707 H St. NW, Suite 400, Washington, DC 20006.
Written by Sarah Kayser, Intern in the Office of University Relations