Cold Water for Trout

Eastern brook trout. Drawing by Duane Raver, US Fish and Wildlife Service, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Joint research by SRS and the U.S. Geological Survey

The names of southern rivers—Roanoke, French Broad, Neuse, Apalachicola, Tar, Tennessee—are nothing if not evocative. As you read them, you may think first of the long human history of the area—or picture the lazy flow of summer water—but the rivers and streams of the southeastern United States are actually better known worldwide for the unique and diverse aquatic ecosystems they harbor.

The Southeast is also an area of rapidly expanding human population and increasing demands for sources of clean drinking water, and in the hot summers, for places to swim, fish, and boat. During severe summer droughts, human demands for water have already come into direct conflict with the habitat needs of aquatic species, pitting state against state, and states against Federal agencies.

Species in these ecosystems—especially those dependent on cold temperatures such as native eastern brook trout—are already stressed by recurring droughts and will undoubtedly be impacted further by climate change. Early predictions suggest that rising temperatures could potentially reduce habitat for highly prized native trout species to a few mountain refuges.

Resource managers in the Southeast are more and more challenged to balance human demands for water quantity and quality with the habitat needs of freshwater aquatic species. Managers have access to national databases and models from multiple sources, but lack both regional data and a framework for addressing species and site-specific questions. To develop strategies and to make decisions designed to minimize the effects of climate change on both humans and aquatic species, managers need more precise science-based tools.

In 2010, the Forest Service and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) joined forces in a multiyear project to refine and combine climate and hydrologic models to provide a better understanding of climate effects on freshwater fish and water quality and quantity in the region. The overarching goal of this collaboration is to provide managers with the tools and information they need to make informed decisions on water-related issues.

Read more about this project:

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