Are the Prairie Pothole wetlands drying up? A study by the U.S. Geological Survey says so.
USGS scientists analyzed data on 141 large Prairie Pothole Region wetlands in North Dakota from the 1930s through 2010 and found they have increased significantly in size. That’s mostly in part because of the drainage of smaller wetlands, possibly for more efficient agricultural production. The Prairie Pothole Region includes a large chunk of three Canadian provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba), eastern North and South Dakota, western Minnesota and a small portion of northern Montana.
According to a recent press release from the USGS, small wetlands in the Prairie Pothole Region are economically and environmentally important because they help recharge local and regional groundwater. They also provide habitat for 50 to 80 percent of North American ducks.
So are farmers really helping themselves out by installing drainage tile, like much of western Minnesota saw about 15 years ago?
The USGS says it’s actually a determent in the long run. The news from the USGS says drainage of small wetlands can cause local and regional flooding, because as wetlands grow, their likelihood of spillover increases. Less drained areas, according to the USGS, with many small wetlands help store water from snowmelt or precipitation, where it evaporates or seeps into the ground.
Drainage for agriculture is happening all over in the Prairie Pothole Region. But for our waterfowl population to stay high, we need the small wetlands, and we certainly hope farmers don’t become overly reliant on drainage systems such as tiling all over the Prairie Pothole Region.