This article was originally published in American Water Resources Association magazine "Water Resources Impact" and written by Audubon's Director of Migration Science Nat Seavy, and Karyn Stockdale, Audubon's Senior Director of Western Water.
As water managers know all too well, one of the fundamental challenges is that water is one element of a complex and connected system. Water that falls as snow in the mountains moves downslope to rivers, wetlands, lakes, underground aquifers, and coastal estuaries. These hydrological connections provide foundational resources for an incredible system that supports people, fish, birds, and other biodiversity across the planet.
But today’s hydrologic cycle is vastly different than 50 years ago, with evidence of climate disruption throughout the water cycle—including long-term drought, heat waves, flooding, wildfire, and more. One challenge of understanding and managing these water-based systems is that many impacts, such as long-term drought, do not affect just one location. They ripple out across larger areas. In the case of migratory birds that depend on rivers, wetlands, estuaries, and lakes, these ripples can extend from the Arctic all the way to the southern reaches of South America. As an integral part of broader drought resilience work in the American West, efforts to support migratory bird populations can also make waves, sending ripples well beyond the habitats where wildlife managers and water managers focus their efforts.
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