Ecosystem services are the benefits humans receive directly or indirectly from ecosystems. A major example of such a service is clean water for consumption, recreation, and industrial use. Periodic droughts, reducing the availability of these services, occur naturally in virtually all climatic zones. However the impacts of drought can be exacerbated or mitigated by varying public policy, infrastructure, and human behavior. These variations in turn cause differences in vulnerability to drought among regions and across communities of various racial, ethnic, and income composition, impacts commonly addressed under the term environmental justice.
Ecology has the tools and methods needed to measure and predict the impacts of drought on ecosystem services related to water and in turn to help analyze the magnitude and social distribution of those impacts. Social science can provide us with the tools to understand how human institutions affect and respond to drought. Effective public decision making requires application of the knowledge generated by both disciplines.
Drought is a normal, recurrent feature of climate that occurs in virtually all climatic zones. The impact of drought, however, is exacerbated or mitigated by water resource infrastructure, policy, and human behavior resulting in differential vulnerability to drought from region to region, as well as within regions. Ecology has the tools, the methods, and the principals by which to measure and explore the dynamics of ecosystem services at scales that match the properties of ecosystems. Such knowledge is relevant to anticipating drought, which has direct implications for factors influencing the magnitude of and social distribution of its impact.
These in turn are significant for assessing local-to-regional environmental justice as they relate to neglect or failure to control processes such as urbanization and water management policy that are significant for their relative impact on water quantity and quality outside 'normal' climatic conditions. Within this context, ecological research is particularly needed in designing solutions for problems related to urbanization, the degradation of fresh water, and the movement of materials between ecosystems - bringing into concrete relief the need to integrate ecological and social science research. This is because climate is a public good, and the risks of drought episodes are linked directly to environmental decision-making at local-to-regional levels within national and transnational contexts.
Our goal in this proposed ESA Millennium Conference is to bridge our knowledge of the biophysical and socioeconomic processes underpinning the local-to-regional provision of water-ecosystem services. This will be the basis for analyzing the mechanisms for managing socio-ecologic vulnerability to drought to enhance environmental justice. Many significant questions will be addressed during the Conference, including:
- Does the capacity to mitigate riparian pollution change under projected drought regimes or compensatory management regimes?
- What effects do mitigations and forward-thinking designs for water management in landscapes have on ecological features and processes in the same settings?
- What tools for ecological forecasting are effective in the arena of drought prediction and management?
- How can restoration of urban streams be improved under current and projected drought regimes?
- What are the rules and/or concepts of equity that govern decisions about water-ecosystem service allocation?
- Which policies are most efficient in achieving a socially optimal level of ecosystem service provision (e.g. education campaigns, command-and-control regulations, or incentive-based policies)?