US Long-Term Ecological Research Network

The cycling of water between the atmosphere, ecosystems, and humans is a growing concern in urbanizing agricultural watersheds where changing climate, human demands, agricultural practices, land use and other policies interact. How will the benefits we receive from our diverse landscapes be sustained as climate, land use, cities, and human demands change? We will address this question using integrated scenarios, model experiments to assess effects of changing drivers on human benefits derived from ecosystems, evaluations of governance, public engagement, and information management. Our focus is the Yahara Watershed of Wisconsin, which is an exemplar of water-related issues in the Upper Midwest. We will address three specific questions.

(1) How do different patterns of land cover, land management, and water resource engineering practices affect the resilience of freshwater ecosystems under a changing climate? Numerical models will evaluate changes in key benefits humans receive from sustainable management of freshwater resources (flood regulation, groundwater recharge, water quality, and lake recreation) as well as benefits related to terrestrial landscapes (food, bioenergy, carbon sequestration, climate regulation, and recreation).

(2) How can governance systems for water and land use be made more responsive to drivers of change to meet diverse human needs? Integrated analyses and interviews with decision-makers will evaluate governance of water and land use to identify leverage points for managing ecosystems in relation to changes in land use, agricultural practices, cities, water resource engineering practices and climate.

(3) In what ways are human-environment systems able to cope with change and in what ways are they vulnerable to potential changes in climate and freshwaters? Our work will synthesize decision-maker perspectives, alternative approaches to resource governance, plausible trends in demographic and economic drivers, and model projections under alternate climate regimes to assess future conditions of the watershed.

An innovative set of outreach and education activities will reach stakeholders, including residents of the Yahara Watershed and beyond; undergraduate and graduate students at UWMadison and Edgewood College; postdoctoral trainees; business leaders; and policy makers at local, state, national and international levels. The integrated scenario process not only links the components of the research, but also provides a focus for outreach, education and discussions that explore diverse viewpoints about future development in the context of climate change. Training future leaders in the natural and social sciences is a central goal of our study. Undergraduate students will gain research experience by participating in our field studies as well as mentored research opportunities within our laboratories.

We will train approximately six doctoral students, and five postdoctoral researchers and they will participate in the DELTA certificate program on Research, Teaching, and Learning. We will reach a larger audience of students by offering a new graduate course at UW-Madison focused on ecosystem modeling and scenario development related to the sustainability of water resources in the context of climate and land-use change. We will help broaden the new Sustainability Leadership Graduate Certificate Program at Edgewood College by developing new educational materials and exposing students to “hands on” research opportunities. We will further engage citizens through workshops, environmental forums, an informative Water Walk along the Lake Mendota lakeshore, a feature show on Wisconsin Public Television called In Wisconsin, and a dynamic website. The dedicated website will offer (1) descriptions of the scenarios as they evolve, and summary and visualization of the outcomes, (2) visualization and access to observational data collected in the watershed, (3) a virtual online version and podcasts of the Water Walk, and (4) organization of feedback through blogs and discussions surrounding public meetings, forums, and annual meetings of project participants.



Water Sustainability and Climate

LTER Keyword