Assessment of Watershed Condition and Vulnerability to Forecasted Land-Use/Land-Cover Change in the Northwestern Great Plains of Western South Dakota

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Suehring, Aaron
South Dakota State University
Environmental Monitoring; Environmental Studies; Natural Resources Management and Policy
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A projected increase in global population by mid-century will likely further intensify agricultural practices given future demand for food, increasing the strain on the nation’s aquatic resources. Extensive water quality monitoring will be important in agriculturally dominated regions. The main objectives of this effort were to develop an approach to assess watershed condition and watershed vulnerability to land-use/landcover (LULC) change under multiple scenarios of future development. We used U.S. EPA’s Analytical Tools Interface for Landscape Assessment (ATtILA) to analyze landscape spatial data to determine the condition of wadeable, perennial stream watersheds in the Northwestern Great Plains level III ecoregion of western South Dakota (n=1,025). We incorporated forecasted LULC data from the FOREcasting SCEnarios of Land-Use Change (FORE-SCE) model following four scenarios of future development to assess watershed vulnerability to LULC change. Watershed condition scores ranged from 0-100 (high value = good condition; median = 78). Watersheds in the Dense Clay Prairie had relatively little human influence and subsequently scored the highest (median = 88). Watersheds in the agriculturally dominated Missouri Plateau scored the lowest (median = 65). This area was classified as a restoration priority because there was limited potential for further agricultural expansion. Watersheds in the Moreau Prairie were especially vulnerable to LULC change, expected to undergo extensive land conversion in all four scenarios of future land-cover change. Because many watersheds in this area are presently in good condition but are particularly at risk of future land conversion, they were classified as protection priorities. These analyses contributed a toolset of available landscape assessment and modeled measures available to decision makers to target management efforts and prevent potentially harmful future impacts to aquatic resources.