While Buffalo received 7 feet of snow in December, most of the Lake Ontario and Lake Erie basin counties are experiencing a rare winter drought. Sparse rainfall since last spring and paltry snowfall this winter have dried up reservoirs and forced conservation in a season when water is usually plentiful. The jet stream that directs cold air and precipitation to the Northeast in winter has remained farther north than usual, keeping the snowfall above the Great Lakes. The lack of normal precipitation has depleted groundwater, rivers, and lakes. New York has issued drought warnings or drought watches to 38 counties, and sixteen counties were named primary disaster areas.
What does New York’s winter drought mean for wetlands? Long-term drought, like summer drying, is not a problem for most wetland species that inhabit temporary wetlands. Animal species that breed in small, temporary wetlands are “programmed” to breed at the time of year when rainfall is most likely. This assures an aquatic habitat for egg laying. Some wetlands are actually dry for longer periods than they are wet, because several types of genuine wetlands go through extended dry spells. These temporary wetland habitats are some of the most productive areas in the Great Lakes Basin. Some animal inhabitants actually depend on the wetland habitat drying up to assure that predatory fish are not present.
Time will tell the impact of this winter drought, but as voices for these important wetland resources we must maintain that protective umbrella of advocacy in any weather.