Many wetland impoundments managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) National Wildlife Refuge System throughout the northern Great Plains rely on rivers as a primary water source. A large number of these impoundments currently are being stressed from changes in water supplies and quality, and these problems are forecast to worsen because of projected changes to climate and land use. For example, many managed wetlands in arid regions have become degraded owing to the long-term accumulation of salts and increased salinity associated with evapotranspiration. A primary goal of the USFWS is to provide aquatic habitats for a diversity of waterbirds; thus, wetland managers would benefit from a tool that facilitates evaluation of wetland habitat quality in response to current and anticipated impacts of altered hydrology and salt balances caused by factors such as climate change, water availability, and management actions.
A spreadsheet model that simulates the overall water and salinity balance (WSB model) of managed wetland impoundments is presented. The WSB model depicts various habitat metrics, such as water depth, salinity, and surface areas (inundated, dry), which can be used to evaluate alternative management actions under various water-availability and climate scenarios. The WSB model uses widely available spreadsheet software, is relatively simple to use, relies on widely available inputs, and is readily adaptable to specific locations. The WSB model was validated using data from three National Wildlife Refuges with direct and indirect connections to water resources associated with rivers, and common data limitations are highlighted. The WSB model also was used to conduct simulations based on hypothetical climate and management scenarios to demonstrate the utility of the model for evaluating alternative management strategies and climate futures. The WSB model worked well across a range of National Wildlife Refuges and could be a valuable tool for USFWS staff when evaluating system state and management alternatives and establishing long-term goals and objectives.