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Freshwater Ecosystems: Revitalizing Educational Programs in Limnology 3 Contemporary Water Management: Role of Limnology Understanding how aquatic systems function is complex because of the interdependencies among chemicals in the water and sediments, populations of aquatic organisms, water temperature, the shape of the water body, and the nature of the surrounding landscape. When one considers humans as a part of aquatic ecosystems, the dynamics of these systems becomes even more difficult to comprehend. Nearly every human activity—from farming and gardening to road building, shipping, fishing, and fuel combustion—affects rivers, lakes, and wetlands in some way. Limnology provides the tools necessary for understanding how water bodies behave in environments without significant human influence and how they are affected by the full range of human activities. This chapter highlights risks to North American surface waters and describes the role of limnologists and scientists in closely allied disciplines in improving understanding and stewardship of these waters. The contributions of limnologists range from establishing a detailed understanding of the extent and causes of an environmental problem to developing techniques to solve the problem or minimize its impact. Although limnologists, often drawing on the work of water scientists in fields such as environmental engineering and hydrology, have made major contributions toward understanding and solving the major problems of freshwater ecosystems during the past few decades, much remains to be learned. Consequently, the chapter also describes how additional limnological research would be helpful in defining and solving problems. The chapter divides problems in aquatic ecosystems according to whether they originate from modifications in the watershed or physical characteristics of the water body; from changes in the water's chemical composition; or from alterations in the ecosystem's biological communities.
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Freshwater Ecosystems: Revitalizing Educational Programs in Limnology It is critical to realize, however, that the physics, chemistry, and biology of a water body are interrelated. Changes in the physical landscape surrounding water bodies can affect the chemical inputs to them, which in turn can affect aquatic biota. Similarly, changes in the chemical composition and biota of an aquatic ecosystem can affect the physical landscape. Much of the research described in this chapter has been conducted in response to problems caused by human activities. In a general sense, this research could be considered goal oriented (or directed research) rather than basic research conducted for the pursuit of knowledge itself. Nonetheless, much of this work has contributed to the understanding and solution of aquatic ecosystem problems because it advanced understanding of the fundamental behavior of these ecosystems. Similarly, many of the research needs identified in this chapter address basic limnological questions even though the results could be applied toward the solution of practical problems. (For more detailed information about research needs in limnology, see Naiman et al., 1995, and background papers at the end of this report.) PHYSICAL CHANGES IN WATERSHEDS AND WATER BODIES In many locations, the most serious causes of water quality decline are not direct inputs of pollutants but indirect effects resulting from changes in the landscape and atmosphere surrounding the water body and alteration of the water's natural flow path. Countless freshwater systems also have been affected by direct physical alterations to the shoreline or shape of the water body. For example, vegetation along lake and stream banks often is cleared to allow recreational or commercial access. Outlets to lakes often are dammed to provide downstream flow controls and allow water-level regulation in the lake. Channels are constructed between lakes and rivers, and littoral areas of lakes are dredged to allow ship and boat traffic. In addition, wetlands often are drained for agriculture and forestry. These physical changes can have subtle or dramatic impacts on the structure and functions of aquatic ecosystems, depending on the severity of the change. In many cases, the impacts are caused by excessive diversion of water from a stream for crop irrigation or other water supply purposes to the extent that so-called in-stream uses of the water (for example, maintenance of fish populations) may be impaired. Limnologists have made and continue to make critical contributions toward understanding how water bodies are disrupted by physical changes to the water bodies themselves or to their watersheds. Dam and Impoundment Building More than 80,000 dams exist in the United States (Frederick, 1991), creating impoundments that range in size from small millponds to large
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Freshwater Ecosystems: Revitalizing Educational Programs in Limnology multipurpose reservoirs. Until recently, dams were viewed as good, clean ways to generate hydroelectric power (Abelson, 1985; Bourassa, 1985), control floods, and provide storage for water supplies. Hence, their environmental impacts were not understood, evaluated, or monitored. Recently, society has become more aware of these impacts and the economic value of resources, such as fisheries, that have been damaged by dam construction. Limnologists, along with hydrologists and fisheries biologists, have been involved in documenting how dam building affects river ecosystems in several ways (National Research Council, 1987): Temperature alterations: Because the water passing through reservoirs often originates from points near the middle or bottom of the water column, it may be much colder during the summer months than natural flows would have been. Sustained low temperatures during the warm months may support cold-water fisheries for species such as trout in streams and rivers that otherwise would not provide appropriate temperature regimes for these fish. At the same time, however, temperature alteration may suppress important native fish (Minckley, 1991) and other aquatic animals (Ward and Stanford, 1979). Changes in dissolved oxygen, nutrient, and suspended solids concentrations: Dams may affect the amounts of oxygen, suspended solids, and nutrients in water flowing downstream (Gordon et al., 1992). The concentrations of dissolved oxygen in the lower water column of reservoirs may be low or zero in some instances, hampering the development of fisheries or altering the native fauna below dams (Petts, 1984). Further, water released from dams is likely to have a lower sediment content than water entering a reservoir (Andrews, 1991), causing substantial biotic changes such as enhanced growth of algae (Blinn and Cole, 1991) as well as physical changes in the downstream sediment balance (Simons, 1979). Hydraulic modifications: Dams may stabilize the natural variation in the flow of rivers, alter seasonal extremes, or induce entirely new patterns. In addition, hydropower production facilities associated with some dams may establish a regular daily pulse in stream discharge and mean depth. These hydraulic peculiarities in turn can have significant biological effects. For example, decreased variability in streamflow below dams may cause habitat losses for fish and other aquatic organisms (Kellerhals and Church, 1989). In addition, wetland areas can suffer massive losses of important habitats (Baumann et al., 1984). The Atchafalaya Delta of the Mississippi River and the Peace-Athabasca Delta in northern Alberta are important examples. Aquatic scientists have estimated that the latter delta, which supports many unique species of wildlife and several hundred indigenous people, will disappear in fewer than 50 years unless Bennett Dam is decommissioned (see Box 3-1).
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Freshwater Ecosystems: Revitalizing Educational Programs in Limnology Increase in mercury levels: In some cases, the construction of reservoirs has caused the mercury content of fish to increase rapidly to values that exceed guidelines for human consumption, as shown in the example in Figure 3-1 (Bodaly et al., 1984; Rosenberg et al., 1995). Increased mercury levels have led to losses of commercial, recreational, and subsistence fisheries. The increase appears to be largely the result of low oxygen concentrations caused by the decay of flooded vegetation. Such conditions promote the increased activity of bacterial species that transform inorganic mercury into the methylated form, which is greatly biomagnified (Rudd, 1995). Release of greenhouse gases: The release of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) following the flooding of forests and peatlands is another major concern identified by limnologists and other environmental scientists. The total area of reservoir surface in North BOX 3-1 BENNETT DAM AND THE DISAPPEARANCE OF THE PEACE-ATHABASCA DELTA In the past, most dams and reservoirs were constructed without adequate study of their consequences for aquatic ecosystems, which has lead to irreparable or costly damage. One example is the installation of Bennett Dam on the Peace River. The Peace River flows from headwaters in northern British Columbia across Alberta to Lake Athabasca. Historically, the spring melt flood of the Peace backed up water into the lake and delta of the Athabasca River, flooding small, perched lakes and wetlands along the dendritic channels in the delta. The area was rich in wildlife and was home to more than 1,500 indigenous people. Except in 1974, when an ice jam caused flooding, there has been no flooding of the Peace-Athabasca Delta since 1969, when Bennett Dam was constructed on the Peace River near the British Columbia-Alberta border. Muskrat, the staple of a thriving trapping industry, disappeared within a few years. Rich fisheries declined. Waterfowl numbers decreased dramatically as marshlands were invaded by willows and other trees. Many of the dendritic channels filled in, making boat travel impossible. Grazing lands for wood bison declined as range quality deteriorated after the annual deposition of rich sediments ceased (Carbyn et al., 1993). Few indigenous people now live on the land. Most remain in the community of Fort Chipeweyan, where their use of natural foods is being replaced by less-nutritious alternatives (Wein et al., 1991). Damming of the river has resulted in the end of a traditional way of life for people in the area. Studies done to document the deleterious downstream impacts of the Bennett Dam provide resource managers and water resource planners with knowledge about the consequences of dam building so that these problems can be avoided in the future.
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Freshwater Ecosystems: Revitalizing Educational Programs in Limnology FIGURE 3-1 Mercury concentrations in pike and walleye flesh from two Canadian reservoirs after impoundment. LG2 is part of the James Bay Phase 1 development in Quebec. SIL is Southern Indian Lake on the Churchill River in northern Manitoba. SOURCE: Reprinted, with permission, from Rosenberg et al. (1995). © 1995 by Global Environmental Change.
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Freshwater Ecosystems: Revitalizing Educational Programs in Limnology America is substantial, roughly equivalent to that of Lake Ontario (Rudd et al., 1993). Under natural conditions, wetlands are significant sinks for CO2 and major sources of CH4, while forests are minor sinks for CH4 and about in equilibrium with atmospheric CO2 (Rudd et al., 1993; Gorham, 1995). Following flooding, these areas become strong net sources of greenhouse gases for several years. The rate of greenhouse gas emission per unit of hydropower production may be comparable to emissions from a fossil fuel plant producing an equivalent amount of power, depending on the area of land that is flooded to create the hydroelectric facility (Rudd et al., 1993). The broad range of effects of dams on water quality, physical habitat, and biotic communities presents numerous research opportunities relevant to resource management that are now being actively explored with the involvement of limnologists (National Research Council, 1987; Cheslak and Carpenter, 1990). For example, multiple-level outlet structures can be used to manipulate water temperature (Larson et al., 1980) or to mix waters of various oxygen or nutrient contents at the dam. Input from limnologists and other aquatic scientists can help to ensure that management of existing dams is optimized. As dams age and fill with sediment, their utility decreases and so does the economic incentive to maintain them. However, removing dams can create severe problems from remobilization of upstream sediment, which is likely to be rich in nutrients and oxygen-consuming organic matter deposits and may contain hazardous chemicals. Limnologists can help assess and avoid such problems when dams are removed. Wetlands Destruction Wetlands were long regarded by many as wastelands fit for nothing until ''reclaimed" by human manipulation. In recent times, however, human societies have begun to recognize the broad array of values that wetlands can provide (Greeson et al., 1979; Richardson, 1989, 1994; National Research Council, 1992, 1995). Among the physical values of wetlands are such properties as shoreline stabilization, flood-peak reduction, and ground water recharge. Wetlands also function as filters, transformers, and sinks for materials delivered to them by human activities, thus improving water quality. For instance, they can filter 60 to 90 percent of suspended solids from wastewater and as much as 80 percent of sediment in runoff from agricultural fields (Richardson, 1989). In addition to these important physical and chemical functions, wetlands provide a great variety of biological benefits. Riparian wetlands serve as protective
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Freshwater Ecosystems: Revitalizing Educational Programs in Limnology nurseries and food sources for young fish before they move out into open water. The microorganisms and vegetation in wetlands are essential on both local and global scales in cycling carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur between the earth and the atmosphere. In addition, wetlands provide commercial products such as lumber, cranberries, marsh hay, wild rice, waterfowl, muskrat, beaver, and mink. Despite their benefits, wetlands in many parts of the world are disappearing at an alarming rate due to human activity. In the contiguous United States, more than 50 percent of the original wetlands had been destroyed by the 1970s, and an additional 2.6 percent were lost through the 1980s (Frayer, 1991). In some states—such as California, Ohio, and Iowa—less than 10 percent of the original wetlands remain, with consequent losses of waterfowl, furbearing animals, and fish. The largest human uses of wetlands are for forestry and agriculture (Kivinen, 1980). Across large sections of the Midwest, for example, drainage tiles have been installed beneath wetlands to allow use of their fertile soils for crop production. Urban development also has led to the dredging and filling of many wetlands. Others have been flooded or drained by Example of a wetland: a patterned peatland in the Hudson Bay Lowlands in Canada. Because of upwelling ground water, large peatlands such as this often develop intricate landscape patterns, which represent perhaps the most delicate mutual interaction between hydrology and vegetation on the earth's surface (Sjörs, 1961; Heinselman, 1963; Wright et al., 1992). SOURCE: Paul H. Glaser, Limnological Research Center, University of Minnesota.
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Freshwater Ecosystems: Revitalizing Educational Programs in Limnology highway construction. Stormwater and wastewater diversion to wetlands has added both nutrients and toxic materials (Environmental Protection Agency, 1994), leading to major alterations of flora and fauna. The United States currently has a policy of "no net loss" of wetlands, which has spawned work in restoring damaged wetlands and attempting to construct artificial wetlands to replace natural ones that have been destroyed. As presently practiced, however, wetland restoration is a very imperfect science (Mitsch and Gosselink, 1993). The best candidates for restoration are early successional wetlands such as cattail marshes. Restoration of natural prairie wetlands also may be possible in some cases. Restoration of forested wetlands is difficult, given the long lives of trees, and restoration of the large patterned peatlands of the boreal zone—developed over millennia by interactions of local and regional hydrology—must be regarded as essentially impossible once they are seriously degraded. Replacing mature wetlands that have taken centuries or millennia to develop with cattail marshes cannot be considered in compliance with the no-net-loss policy because it results in a major shift in biodiversity and ecological function. Construction of new wetlands, allowed in the United States under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (Kusler and Kentula, 1989), to replace ones that have been destroyed for development is even more difficult than restoration of damaged wetlands. There often is no record of what the destroyed wetland was like. Moreover, follow-up investigations of created wetlands are rare, so that the success of mitigation efforts is seldom evaluated (Erwin, 1991). In a rare follow-up study, Erwin reported very limited success for wetland mitigation in South Florida. According to Bedford (in press), adequate attention has been given neither to reproducing the original wetland hydrology nor to establishing specific types of plant communities. Further fundamental limnological research is essential for managing, restoring, and creating wetlands and for developing a workable no-net-loss policy. Additional scientific understanding is needed to address issues such as the following: What have been the spatial patterns of wetland development through the centuries? To what degree has wetland development been controlled by environmental factors (hydrology, in particular), and to what degree has it resulted from autogenic processes such as peat accumulation? Do environmental changes generally cause slow and steady changes in wetlands, or do threshold phenomena dictate relatively sudden responses to environmental stresses (natural or anthropogenic) that build up over time? How will global warming affect wetlands, particularly peatlands, and vice versa?
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Freshwater Ecosystems: Revitalizing Educational Programs in Limnology How are wetlands linked ecologically and biogeochemically to other aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems? Limnological research to answer such questions is critical in the quest to protect and manage the remnants of the valuable wetland resource in North America. Other Modifications to Watersheds For millennia, humans have been modifying watersheds in ways other than by building dams and draining wetlands, often with adverse consequences for aquatic biota and water quality (Solbe, 1986; Harriman et al., 1994). Forests and grassland have been transformed to agricultural fields or urban pavements as societies have established themselves around water bodies; forest ecosystems have been replaced with tree plantations designed to meet human needs for timber. Studies by limnologists and their fellow water scientists have provided valuable insights about impacts of human development on water bodies. Examples of limnological work in this area include the following: Effects of early agricultural and urban activities: Studies by limnologists have shown that even the earliest stages of agricultural and urban development caused changes in water quality. Fires built by native people significantly altered the landscape of North America (Lewis and Ferguson, 1988). Work by several limnologists has indicated that fire changes water quality, causing increases in runoff of water, nutrients, and mineral ions (Schindler et al., 1980; Bayley et al., 1992 a,b; MacDonald et al., 1993). Paleolimnological studies by Hutchinson et al. (1970) showed that construction of the Appian Way (Via Appia) by the Romans in the second century A.D. changed drainage patterns for Lago di Monterosi in Italy in such a way that the lake became eutrophic. Similarly, Frey (1955) showed that early agrarian societies in the catchment of Längsee, Austria, caused the lake to become meromictic (meaning the bottom waters no longer mix with the remainder of the lake) through land clearning and associated activities. Changes in nutrient loads caused by land use: Limnological studies have shown that land-use changes alter the yield of nutrients from watersheds to lakes. For example, Dillon and Kirchner (1975) showed that the transformation of forested land into pasture causes a considerable increase in nutrient yields from catchments to lakes. Transformation to agricultural land causes still greater increases. Sorrano et al. (in press) showed that urbanization increases nutrient inputs and that in addition to land use, the proximity of modified land to stream edges is an important factor controlling nutrient inputs to Lake Mendota, Wisconsin. Effects of forestry: Clearcut logging is well known to increase water yield and the transport of nutrients, sediments, and other substances to
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Freshwater Ecosystems: Revitalizing Educational Programs in Limnology streams (Bosch and Hewlett, 1982; Murphy et al., 1986; Harr and Fredriksen, 1988; Harriman et al., 1994). Likens et al. (1970) demonstrated that when catchments are not revegetated, the yield of nutrients, sediments, and other substances can increase manyfold. Even managed forestland can affect aquatic ecosystems. For example, when deciduous forests in catchments are transformed into conifer plantations, soils, ground water, and runoff typically become more acidic because of the increased trapping of strong acids from the atmosphere by conifers and the acidifying effect on soils of decomposing conifer needles (Feger, 1994); the result is modification in the acid-base balance of lakes whose watersheds encompass the forestland. Even when no changes are made in species of vegetation, different stages of the growth and harvest cycle cause differences in the chemistry of streams (Harriman et al., 1994; Kreuzer, 1994). Global Warming Most atmospheric scientists agree that average global temperatures are likely to rise as a result of increasing levels of greenhouse gases, particularly CO2 and CH4, in the atmosphere (Houghton et al., 1995). Although scientists who believe that global warming is occurring or will soon occur outnumber the dissenters, there is disagreement about how much the temperature might increase and how fast (American Society of Limnology and Oceanography and North American Benthological Society, 1994; Houghton et al., 1995). Despite this disagreement, it is widely accepted that substantial changes in the temperature of the earth are likely to have significant effects on inland aquatic ecosystems (see Box 3-2). Atmospheric CO2 concentrations have been rising since the industrial revolution as the result of fossil fuel burning. Deliberate burning of forests as land is cleared is an important second source (Houghton et al., 1995). Levels of CH4 in the atmosphere also have been increasing, but for reasons that are not well understood. Although the abundance of CH4 in the atmosphere is much lower than that of CO2, it is 7.5 to 62-times more effective as a greenhouse gas, depending on the time scale under consideration (Houghton et al., 1995). Important CH4 sources include wetlands, rice paddies, termites, and domestic animals such as cows. Wetland limnologists have contributed greatly to understanding the role of wetlands in CH4 production (Bartlett and Harriss, 1993; Harriss et al., 1993), but a mechanism that fully explains the increase in the atmosphere still needs to be found (Houghton et al., 1995). Research has scarcely begun on an alternative explanation that CH4 is increasing because human activities have slowed the mechanisms removing it from the atmosphere. Refined estimates of the magnitudes and rates of global warming are problematic because of uncertainties in emissions from human activities and variabilities in different storage mechanisms for carbon. For example,
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Freshwater Ecosystems: Revitalizing Educational Programs in Limnology Unless properly designed with appropriate vegetative buffers, clearcuts can be a source of sediments and nutrients to aquatic ecosystems. SOURCE: Elizabeth Rogers, White Water Associates, Inc. seawater, organic detritus, and vegetation all tie up large amounts of carbon. Furthermore, cloud cover, aerosol haze, and oceanic circulation all affect the rate and degree of change, thereby complicating predictions. Recently, Mitchell et al. (1995) modeled the global interactions of greenhouse gases, aerosols, and ocean circulation and concluded that, overall, aerosols will reduce the warming expected from greenhouse gases by about one-third. These many uncertain factors will have to be better understood before the timing and extent of global warming can be predicted. Limnological research can help to reduce these uncertainties. Limnologists have been centrally involved in evaluating the effects of climate warming on fresh waters and have described a wide range of effects that climatic warming is likely to have on lakes and streams (Firth and Fisher, 1992; Schindler et al., in press, a,b). Increased temperature will increase evapotranspiration, so that lower soil moisture, ground water flows, and stream flows are likely to result (except where climatic warming is accompanied by large increases in rainfall). Stream temperatures track air temperatures reasonably closely; therefore, some streams may become too warm for some organisms. Periods when small streams are dry may increase dramatically. The early melting of snow will cause less pronounced spring flow pulses, which are vital to the maintenance of wetland and riparian habitats. The reduction in water flows, coupled with the
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Representative terms from entire chapter: