Date of Award:
Master of Science (MS)
Environment and Society
This research seeks to understand how wetlands maintain a water supply in the Bear River Basin, where water is generally scarce. Research was conducted through semi-structured interviews with wetland and water experts in the basin and archival research of historical documents and water rights.
The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages three refuges on the Bear River, and has obtained water rights portfolios for each. Holding water rights does not ensure that there will be water available for refuge wetlands. Instead, position in relation to other powerful water users is the most important factor in determining the security of a refuge's water supply and the threats faced from drought. All refuges must manage their water because the human-hydrology of the river is complex and variable; this requires a combination of infrastructure and planning. Maintaining relationships with other water users is another important adaptation to the human-hydrology of the river, because all water users along the river are interconnected. Recognizing that they face the same threats to their water supply allows wetland managers and irrigators to cooperate in order to maintain the water supply for their region of the river and increases adaptability as the region faces climate change.
The Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge is the oldest refuge on the river and has the least secure water supply, despite having the largest water rights portfolio. Because it is chronically short of water during the summer, refuge staff have developed an adaptive management strategy to effectively utilize the water they do receive. Management involves predicting water supplies each year, setting water level targets accordingly, actively diverting water to priority wetlands, and allowing non-priority wetland to dry. This is followed by extensive monitoring of habitat conditions and bird use, the results of which are shared in annual management plans. This strategy maintains the most wildlife habitat possible and offers important institutional adaptations. Most importantly, it demonstrates the refuge's water rights are being put to beneficial use. Sharing knowledge gained through management also builds trust and adaptive capacity among water users facing the complex human-hydrology at the end of the Bear River.
Downard, Rebekah, "Keeping Wetlands Wet: The Human Hydrology of Wetlands in the Bear River Basin" (2010). All Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 829.
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