An intermountain playa wetland preserve in Colorado's San Luis Valley was studied to assess how its current hydrologic function compares to its natural hydrologic regime. Current hydrologic conditions were quantified, and on-site effects of off-site water use were assessed. A water-budget model was developed to simulate an unaltered (i.e., natural) hydrologic regime, and simulated natural conditions were compared to observed conditions. From 1998-2002, observed stream inflows accounted for ??? 80% of total annual water inputs. No ground water discharged to the wetland. Evapotranspiration (ET) accounted for ??? 69% of total annual water loss. Simulated natural conditions differed substantially from current altered conditions with respect to depth, variability, and frequency of flooding. During 1998-2002, observed monthly mean surface-water depth was 65% lower than under simulated natural conditions. Observed monthly variability in water depth range from 129% greater (May) to 100% less (September and October) than simulated. As observed, the wetland dried completely (i.e., was ephemeral) in all years; as simulated, the wetland was ephemeral in two of five years. For the period 1915-2002, the simulated wetland was inundated continuously for as long as 16 years and nine months. The large differences in observed and simulated surface-water dynamics resulted from differences between altered and simulated unaltered stream inflows. The maximum and minimum annual total stream inflows observed from 1998-2005 were 3.1 ?? 106 m3 and 0 m3, respectively, versus 15.5 ?? 106 m3 and 3.2 ?? 106 m3 under simulated natural conditions from 1915-2002. The maximum simulated inflow was 484% greater than observed. These data indicate that the current hydrologic regime of this intermountain playa differs significantly from its natural hydrologic regime, which has important implications for planning and assessing conservation success. ?? 2008, The Society of Wetland Scientists.
Additional publication details
Simulated natural hydrologic regime of an intermountain playa conservation site