Drought and ecosystems: The "usable science" of early warning
As noted by the Director of California Fish and Wildlife, at a recent briefing on Capitol Hill, “drought is very painful” for the natural system. Reduced streamflows, declining surface water and groundwater, declining soil moisture, and saltwater intrusion threaten healthy ecosystems and biological diversity. This past year in California waters have been closed to fishing for the first time ever, salmon smelt have been trucked into San Francisco Bay, and there is an increased risk of avian flu. Impacts to ecosystems and the services and resources they support are increasingly visible.
Drought is a creeping phenomenon and a cumulative hazard in both the built and natural environment. Effective mitigation to reduce impacts requires comprehensive monitoring, and understanding of vulnerabilities and how they unfold during a drought, and the resources and authorities to develop, trust and implement a plan.
Effective planning and preparation offers a high potential pay off not only for ecosystems and improved management of natural resources, but possibly for attaining the kind of coordination around valued outcomes that can inspire institutionalized resilience planning capable of addressing multiple hazards.
We will explore the “usable science” of early warning information systems as an ongoing scientific and social practice that supports reflection on the role that healthy ecosystems play in buffering the impacts of drought on society. The process of organizing and supporting information collection and analysis in partnership with key stakeholder communities, which is central to the creation of reliable early warning, serves also as a process that, over time, reveals public values important to improved management of critical ecosystems.
In instances in which drought early warning activities are connecting to planning and preparation for risks (eg coastal zone water quality and species health, wildfire and land and resource management), do they offer opportunities for innovation in adaptation and resilience efforts (or, even more appreciation for the adaptation imperative) Does the early warning approach contribute effectively to awareness raising and transparency in ways that contribute effectively to improvements in decision making when drought becomes “painful” and maybe long term?