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Study Explores Impacts of Drought and Water Withdrawals on Downstream Ecosystems


Increases in the frequency, duration, and severity of regional drought pose major threats to the health and integrity of downstream ecosystems. During 2007-2008, the U.S. Southeast experienced one of the region’s most severe droughts on record. Drought and water withdrawals in the upstream watershed led to decreased freshwater input to Apalachicola Bay, Florida, an estuary that is home to a diversity of commercially and ecologically important organisms.
Laura Petes of NOAA’s Climate Program Office, along with her co-authors, published a study in the July 2012 issue of Ecology and Evolution on the impacts of reduced freshwater input on downstream estuarine oyster populations. The researchers found that oysters suffered significant disease-related mortality under high-salinity conditions associated with drought, particularly during the warm summer months. The study was conducted in the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve, at the downstream end of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River Basin in the U.S. Southeast.
The National Integrated Drought Information System is currently developing a regional drought early-warning system for the ACF Basin. The study’s findings have important implications for this effort, as well as for sustainable watershed management in general.
The paper is available online.

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