Pennsylvania Protects Coldwater Fisheries and Water Quality from Climate Change

Pennsylvania Protects Coldwater Fisheries and Water Quality from Climate Change

Project Summary

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Allegheny National Forest

In 2009, pursuant to the Pennsylvania Climate Change Act, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection developed a “Pennsylvania Climate Impact Assessment.” This report identified the climate risks to maintaining the health of freshwater ecosystems among several other climate vulnerabilities.

The report identified that warmer air temperatures and the associated increase of stream waters may reduce the ability for certain aquatic species to survive. This is supported by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency's National Water Program's Climate and Water Strategy which identifies cold water fisheries as particularly susceptible to climate change and associated changes in water temperature.

The Climate Impact Assessment specifically suggested that: “Pennsylvania may see a decline in some of our most valued coldwater communities… Of special concern is the impact of higher temperatures and altered flow regimes on Eastern Brook Trout, not only because of its status as a recreationally and culturally important species, but because it is an indicator of high water quality and may be an early victim of deleterious impacts of climate change.”

Pennsylvania, in recognition of the cultural, environmental and economic importance of cold-water fisheries to the state, and the vulnerability of possible transformation of cold water fisheries to warm water fisheries, identified the need to cover freshwater stream health within their Climate Change Adaptation Report. Pennsylvania, in recognition of the need to adapt to the changing climate and protect cold-water fisheries and freshwater ecosystems, outlined specific adaptation strategies for state agencies within their Climate Adaptation Planning Report.

These strategies, if implemented, can help Pennsylvania adapt to future climate changes for freshwater ecosystems, and will provide benefits to coldwater fisheries and stream health regardless of whether future climate impacts meet or exceed current projections.

Implementation

To start, Pennsylvania conducted a risk analysis and vulnerability assessment of their natural lands using global climate models from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 4th Assessment Report. The State used two different emissions scenarios and averaged the results over three separate 20 year periods. The Pennsylvania Climate Impact Assessment (PDF) (350 pp, 12 MB) states that the “average of the projections from a suite of GCMs [global climate models] is most often used because model-average backcasts [running the model for previous decades using known data to determine accuracy] are found to more closely replicate the historical climate record in Pennsylvania in the 20th Century than the backcasts for any individual model, thus indicating greater reliability for the model average than for individual models or subsets.”

Next, Pennsylvania developed an adaptation report that identified the key issues affecting freshwater streams and the potential consequences of climate change, including impacts to water quality and extent of native fish species. This report identified adverse impacts to specific fish species as well as recommendations for adaptation actions and corresponding research needs to determine effective adaptation strategies.

Pennsylvania used the information in the adaptation report to identify specific recommendations. The State identified how different environmental conditions would lead to differing resilience levels with implications for the targeting of adaptation efforts. For example, the Pennsylvania Climate Adaptation Planning Report (PDF) (105 pp, 9.3 MB) specifically highlighted variable levels of resilience against climate risk as “Limestone spring streams with abundant, deep cold springs will be more resilient in the face of hot weather extremes than freestone streams that rely on surface and shallow groundwater sources. Trout conservation efforts are likely to be more successful in the limestone streams compared to other coldwater streams.” The recommended adaptation actions included identifying and protecting critical habitat and, where applicable, removing small dams to conserve habitat and mitigate temperature increases.

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