by The Nature Conservancy
April 7, 2016

Have you ever tried to plan a restoration project and didn’t have enough information available to properly assess how the project will function? Have you ever been to a public meeting about a proposed infrastructure project, like a dam, and realized that the project has not been properly scientifically vetted?

Despite best intentions, these types of things happen a lot. When science lags behind project implementation, it generally is not incorporated into our decisions as much as it should be.

The Mississippi Freshwater Assessment is The Nature Conservancy’s answer to this problem. Working with partners we provide an online system that provides a warehouse of scientific information about Mississippi’s freshwater resources all under one virtual “roof.” This system also provides web tools, or apps, to help you make use of all that information and make decisions regarding water resources.

For example, you can compare the status of your watershed or county to neighboring watersheds or counties anywhere in the state. Or you can draw your own area of interest and understand what’s happening around you.

With RTI International, TNC also built a statewide water flow model and tools that provide a wealth of information on the amount of water currently flowing down Mississippi’s bayous rivers and streams and the potential effects of future changes in climate and water use on that water flow. These tools are not only useful for understanding Mississippi’s water resources, but the foundational model that drives the tools can also be used to provide answers to customized questions regarding infrastructure proposals, like dams, and restoration planning.

For example, TNC is working on restoring natural water levels on part of Mathews Brake National Wildlife Refuge near Sidon. Established in 1980, Mathews Brake, which supports over 30,000 waterfowl during the wintering season and more than 35,000 visitors annually, is a wildlife hotspot and a substantial economic driver for local businesses in the area. However, the ability of Matthews Brake to provide these services is being threatened due to insufficient water levels, which were historically regulated by beavers for free. With abandonment of the beaver dam, water is allowed to rapidly drain from the Brake, and this makes it tough for waterfowl to find flooded wintering habitat. The once thriving sports fishery of largemouth bass, bluegill, and crappie has degraded due to low summer water levels, as well.

Something needs to be done, and the water flow model developed for the Mississippi Freshwater Assessment can help. We can run custom flow scenarios to test the effect of different water control structures on water levels in the Brake. By inputting the height of proposed structures and estimating rainfall and runoff, our “dam simulation” will tell us what we need to know to design the best restoration project possible to benefit the fish and wildlife of Mathews Brake and the thousands of people who come to see them.