Photo: Photo: Cody Wagner/Audubon.
The conflicting nature of climate change threatens the Great Plains in opposing ways. In the West, decreases in precipitation – especially snow in the Rocky Mountains – will decrease the amount of water available to the Central Platte Valley. Less water will also mean a higher concentration of pollutants that hurt both the plants and animals. But in the North, greater rains and rainstorms increase the risk of floods, which can pull pollutants from urban areas and push them further into protected areas. The human cost of flooding is increasing every year, especially in rural communities that depend on volunteer emergency services and lack the waste-water management infrastructure of cities.
The Platte River is at a critical juncture where extreme variability in wet and dry conditions are becoming the new normal. We must remember to use a whole ecosystem lens when thinking about how our actions might impact the entire watershed and the species it supports, today and tomorrow.
Importantly, science-based research on how climate change will impact availability of Platte River water supplies, drought and flooding risks, and habitat must be better incorporated into water management policies. These challenges will have important implications both upstream and downstream, and will require partners to reach across the political and cultural boundaries that artificially disconnect the watershed. Across the entire riverscape, Audubon’s Platte River Initiative will demonstrate how holistic, cooperative, watershed-based conservation can broaden the benefits offered to human and wildlife communities.