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Natural infrastructure in dryland streams offers a nature-based solution to boost climate resilience

Examples of Natural Infrastructure in Dryland Streams (NIDS), including a) check dams at El Coronado Ranch; b) leaky weir at Cienega Ranch; and c) Zuni Bowl (One-rock Dam) at Cebolla Wilderness Area within the El Malpais National Conservation Area. Source: USGS.

Nature-based solutions are ecosystem-based approaches to achieve climate mitigation and adaptation goals and combat nature loss. A new study by USGS, NOAA, and academic researchers evaluates one such approach: natural infrastructure in dryland streams (NIDS) are beaver- or human-made structures of earth, debris, wood, or rock that, when installed in dryland streambeds, can have a range of benefits (Norman et al., 2022). Impacts of NIDS include storing water, sediment, and carbon; creating or restoring wetlands in degraded watersheds of arid landscapes; and sustaining processes and functions that reverse desertification and boost the resilience of stream- and river-based ecosystems to the effects of climate change. 

The study is the latest product of the Sky Island Restoration Collaborative, a 10-year binational collective of federal/State government organizations, the San Carlos Apache Tribe, universities, non-governmental organizations, and private landowners working to improve restoration outcomes across the Madrean Sky Islands Ecoregion of the desert Southwest. This research highlights the potential to reverse degradation in large watershed-scale restoration efforts. Widespread implementation of NIDS could have significant effects on the global water and carbon cycles, help mitigate climate change through sequestration of carbon, and improve the resilience of dryland ecosystems to climate change.