The Second Annual Suwannee River Basin and Estuary Integrated Science Workshop was held in Folkston, Georgia, on June 28-29, 2005. The USGS took the lead in organizing and coordinating the workshop. Additional financial support was provided by the USDA-Agricultural Research Service, the University of Georgia, the University of Florida, and the South Georgia Regional Development Center. Other sponsors included the Suwannee River Water Management District, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. More than 65 scientists representing more than 20 Federal, State, academic, and private research groups, along with other stakeholders, participated in the workshop. This large partnership demonstrates the support of national and regional agencies and groups to collaboratively pursue integration of research and management efforts in the Suwannee River Basin and Estuary.
It was generally agreed that a comprehensive inventory of existing data, accessibility of data using a web portal, and a data synthesis effort is needed and would permit development of regionalized models. Targeted priority lists and science questions were developed by breakout groups that built upon the conclusions of the 2004 workshop (Katz and Raabe, 2004). The USGS could play a significant role by helping facilitate the development of a web portal for the existing Suwannee River data, to synthesize existing data, and to develop models to characterize the ecological interactions within the different regions within the Suwannee River Basin (SRB) and Estuary. The complexity of the system will demand innovative approaches and the application of advanced technology through the combined expertise of water, geology, biology, and geography, and IT specialists.
The potential for further degradation in the SRB is very real without a clear understanding of the links between the ecosystem, hydrogeology, land-use, and climatic factors. The demand for water within the basin and for inter-basin transfer is increasing rapidly. Other concerns include the high nutrient loading and widespread contamination of ground water and springs, elevated mercury levels in fish, habitat loss for ecologically important and threatened species, and threats to natural resource-based industries such as fishing, ecotourism, and clam farming.
The main goals of the 2005 workshop were to (1) continue interstate dialogue among agencies and researchers, (2) develop an interstate science plan that identifies key issues of concern and research leads, (3) continue developing a web portal to link information resources, and (4) establish a fiscal base that includes multi-source funding. The recently published USGS White Paper on the Suwannee River Basin and Estuary (Katz and Raabe, 2005) was lauded as a significant accomplishment and generated discussions on Ecosystem Function, Water-Supply, Water-Quality, and Mapping & Modeling. The following outline describes some of the overarching topics that emerged from workshop discussions.
I. Data Access and Availability: A priority within the basin, identified by ALL SRB partners and breakout groups, is the development of a web portal and comprehensive data inventory effort. Potential funding sources include ALL interested SRB partners. An initial inventory effort has been done by the Hydrologic Observatory (HO) group.
- Web portal needs to link water quality, biology, hydrology, geology and land use/land cover. The portal should include:
- user-friendly and educational front end
- standards and protocols,
- inquiry techniques for diverse users,
- water data, biology, geology and other science data framework
- Arc/IMS for geospatial data and event-linked mapping
- Basinwide data inventory needs:
- Identify current and historical data sets in all disciplines and open discussion on naming and protocols
- Establish a nested hierarchy of sub-basins. Identify priority layers and meld coarse level data for full watershed. Identify key sub-basins or focus areas that have existing data resources and political/fiscal support
- Create electronic documents and publication list
- Develop framework for regional and sub-basin models
- Evaluate models for full watershed and sub-basin inquiries
- Investigate model sensitivity to input parameters
II. Water Quality and Carrying Capacity of the SRB and Estuary: SRB researchers have insufficient information on several topics:
- Permanent station monitoring plan and protocol for surface water and ground-water quality. Inventory existing stations and identify gaps.
- Evaluate sampling frequency. Evaluate BMP effectiveness and promote continued best management practices (BMP) development.
- Conduct chemical use inventory in SRB for agriculture and urban areas.
- Develop water quality research around Carrying Capacity concept. Assess contribution/source of all pollutants, and impact of combined contaminants.
- Identify biological indicators and develop warning thresholds.
III. Geologic Mapping and Ground to Surface Water Model Integration: The karst system in the lower half of the basin plays a key role in surface and ground-water interactions. However, there remain several unknowns regarding the flow of water through this part of the system that need to be addressed to better understand links to ecosystem function, water supply and water quality.
- Characterize hydrologic properties of aquifer and water flow through the system including recharge, discharge zones and spring basins.
- Use seismic profiles, airborne detector methods, and tracers to map conduit morphology and provide input to models.
- Develop an improved model of water movement in karst systems.
IV. Water Consumption and Natural Variability
- Assess natural variability in water levels, discharge and aquifer depth. Include impacts of drought, flood, sea level flux, climate, fire, and storms.
- Develop water consumption measurement, inventory and mapping effort that addresses both surface and ground water withdrawal, water mining and agriculture.
- Models: develop predictive capability based on natural flux and projected development/consumption in the SRB. Models must be able to incorporate simple SW/GW interactions as well as interactions in the karst formation.
V. Biological and Ecosystem Resources: One of the most pressing needs is to address habitat conditions and impending threats. Critical information needs include:
- Habitat location and status in relation to combined pressures from urban, industrial, and agricultural land uses, alterations to water supply and water quality, and invasive species
- The role of natural events and climate in community and species population dynamics should be evaluated.
- Process-oriented studies to address algal blooms, peat development, and other biogeochemical processes in the basin.
The following research questions and technical priorities can serve to guide discussions and activities by participating researchers. The list is not exhaustive. These, and similar topics, can be used to identify and develop potential funding sources.
Emerging Science Questions and Technical Priorities (in no particular order)
- Where and what type of land cover/land use changes have occurred in the basin? Where have habitats remained stable? Where are the most vulnerable habitats? Apply GAP analysis to evaluate potential conservation efforts.
- Define a set of nested, hierarchical and geospatial basin subsets with suggested scale for each level. Include whole basin, geologic regions, and sub-basins. Determine available and needed data at each level. Identify focal areas for refined models.
- Assess hydrogeologic units, subsurface morphology, and aquifer characteristics, especially in karst areas. Develop new tools and models to predict fate of both water and contaminants in these areas.
- Assess natural hazards in the SRB and their role in water quality, water supply, and ecosystem health. Evaluate human interactions with hazards that create disasters, and assess impact on economic resources and human health.
- Identify and develop invertebrate and microbial observation systems to monitor water quality and ecosystem health or vulnerability. What species are most suitable for advance warnings? What thresholds should be established? This inquiry is linked to water supply, carrying capacity, to MFLs and TMDLs. Discuss and refine definition and application of these terms in the SRB.
- Identify species of conservation interest. Assess life history, habitat, and requirements. Apply knowledge to (1) develop and run models to evaluate threats.
- Model impact of river discharge flux and water quality to estuary. Can the clam industry productivity be used as a barometer? Identify threats, natural and anthropogenic, including storm impacts, bacterial and fungal infections. Model surface-water and ground-water withdrawals and evaluate impact on estuary health.
- Disseminate information: Develop an outreach effort that translates science information to a format and medium accessible to and understandable by the general public.
- Katz, B.G., and Raabe, E.A., 2005, Suwannee River Basin and Estuary: An integrated science program—White paper: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2005-1210 (Will open as a PDF), 19 p.
- Katz, B.G., and Raabe, E.A., 2004. Proceedings of Suwannee River Basin and Estuary Integrated Science Workshop: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2004-1380 (Will open as a PDF), CDROM