Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

The Compleat Wetlander: Climate Change Resiliency: Are Important Drivers of Local Climate Change Being Overlooked?

“If you want to truly understand something, try to change it.
–Kurt Lewin

On November 1, 2013, the President signed an Executive Order “Preparing the States for the Impacts of Climate Change.”  The Executive Order directs the federal agencies to take a number of actions to change policies and programs to support developing infrastructure (natural and manmade) that will be resilient to climate change.

On November 15 the Administration announced an interagency National Drought Resilience Partnership would be formed to help communities better prepare for future droughts.  The purpose of the partnership is to make it easier for communities to access drought assistance and engage in drought preparedness planning.  It also calls for the development of long term strategies for building resilience. Looking through the lists of actions in associated reports such as  the National Drought Forum National Drought Forum Summary Report and Priority Actions Drought and U.S. Preparedness in 2013 and Beyond there are many recommendations to better predict droughts and continue and improve existing programs that can assist communities and individuals when a drought occurs. But there is little attention directed to actions that might reduce the length and intensity of droughts.

In one sense droughts and floods represent opposite extremes: too little water vs. too much.  But there is evidence that indicates that changes that lead to larger floods can also lead to more intense droughts. If water is directed off the land and into streams and rivers more quickly and in larger volumes during storm events, then bigger floods will occur.  Afterwards, the land the water ran off will dry out much faster. It will not retain the soil moisture needed to grow crops if rain is scarce or nonexistent during the growing season.  I have wondered whether two centuries installing and expanding drainage in many regions in the U.S. is leading to regional changes in the frequency and size of droughts and floods.

There has been a great deal of attention directed to the relationship between greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.  But my concern is that these large scale changes may also be reinforced by other more regional changes, specifically drying out the landscape through drainage, ditching, introduction of impervious surfaces (parking lots, roads, buildings, etc.) and building roads both for transportation and for access to forests and wilderness areas.  It seems like these potentially important regional drivers of regional climate change are being overlooked.  So I was intrigued when I was forwarded a link to the Slovak Documentary Film – Climate change Causes and Countermeasures which examines the role that “drying out of soil and streams, and lowering rivers and groundwater levels” may have on intensifying droughts.  I don’t agree with a number of conclusions in this documentary, but the research and how forest roads break capillary action of soils is fascinating and clearly an area worthy of more research.   I was left wondering whether forest roads have been a contributing factor in recent forest fires.

What I also found intriguing was the potential raised by the documentary that local changes in forestry, farming, road building and other practices could encourage regional changes in weather.  This is certainly an area worthy of further research and discussion as the nation works towards developing greater resiliency in anticipation of climate change.

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