Better models for predicting climate change, hydrologists say

Coastal and marine resources are coupled. Upland precipitation that produces runoff and carries sediment and chemical contaminants often has detrimental effects on coastal marine habitats. Coral reefs, beaches, mangrove forests and seagrass beds are among the most affected and provide essential habitat for important marine species. Therefore, surveying the community of water resource users, including watershed and coastal experts, is essential to an effective assessment of research needs.  With this in mind, we carried out a discussion session on September 16, 2010 with 13 specialists in watershed and coastal hydrology from several governmental agencies (Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, Army Corp. of Engineers, US Geological Survey, San Juan Bay Estuary Program, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Environmental Protection Agency), academic and research institutions (University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez Campus (Geology Dept., Agricultural Engineering Dept., Marine Sciences Dept.), Water Resources and Environmental Research Institute), and private agencies (RMA Environmental, Corp.). Each participant has over 10 years of experience in their field of expertise.

In regard to studies that are needed for improving watershed management and understanding hydrologic processes in Puerto Rico, most of the participants agreed with the lack of historical and actual data necessary for moderating water quality, developing better models for flooding events and for predicting events due to climate change. The group also highly emphasized the need for an independent water authority that would help manage the implementation and regulation of local water resources. This entity would also be responsible for evaluating data quality and distributing this information via an online data portal, which would be freely available to managers, scientists and experts. UPR-Sea Grant hopes to continue serving as a liaison for establishing collaborations between governmental agencies and private sectors in order to improve water resource management in Puerto Rico.

Several suggestions for short- and long-term research for watershed and coastal/hydrology management included:

  • Indexes for watershed management; current data and indexes on river water quality
  • Development of sustainable management and alternative use of abandoned agricultural lands
  • Studies on the drainage patterns through the karst region of northern Puerto Rico. The areas has experienced increases of flooding events
  • Study and evaluation of “brown” fields, toxic metals and pesticides (over 70 brown fields in 8 municipalities have been identified in Puerto Rico
  • Studies on the implementation and effectiveness of risk management
  • Studies concerning upland and marine sources of sand and how river and marine transport influence this resource
  • Better bathymetric data, particularly coastline and sand sources; Dam and watershed modeling
  • Studies on sediment bedload within the watershed and its transport; characterize coarse and fine sediment transport in watersheds with and without reservoirs; no data available for the tropics
  • Studies on the effects of dredging
  • Studies on groundwater transport to the coast and interaction with the marine environment
  • Develop environmental indicators and environmental/biological standards for public health tailored for the Caribbean
  • Create a data portal for Puerto Rico – a website where all water resource data can be found (however, data must be analyzed for quality prior to submitting)

For more details, please download the full report here.

Efforts for enhancing watershed and coastal management can be difficult when obstacles hinder such improvements. The participants listed the most commonly encountered problems:

  • Need for standard formats when reporting data
  • Lack of communication and unwillingness to share critical information between agencies on projects that are presently being conducted
  • Need for teaching tools that help communicate a deeper understanding watershed and marine processes need to be developed and shared with lawmakers and resource managers
  • Lack of data availability and quality
  • Need for more water quality stations in order to obtain more data
  • Lack of implementation of regulations (mostly due to lack of funds or political will)
  • Lack of clear mandates and continuity of priorities from executive branches to the governmental agencies (mostly due to political influences)
  • Lack of looking for long-term solutions to the water resource crisis, instead of just short-term solutions
  • Difficulties in obtaining freely available information from agencies
  • Missing data (e.g., nutrient levels from water quality data, microbial content)
  • Difficulty in accessing information through websites; most agencies do not have data easily accessible from their websites
  • Few sample stations, unknown detection limits, poor data quality, insufficient sediment data or other important characteristics make many data sets useless

More information:

Puerto Rico Seismic Network

USGS – Water Resources of the Caribbean

Puerto Rico Water Resources and Environmental Research Institute (UPR – Mayaguez)

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