Integrating Water, Actors, and Structure to Study Socio-Hydro-Ecological Systems
Thursday, 18 December 2014
Urbanization, climate uncertainty, and ecosystem change represent major challenges for managing water resources. Water systems and the forces acting upon them are complex, and there is a need to understand and generically represent the most important system components and linkages. We developed a framework to facilitate understanding of water systems including potential vulnerabilities and opportunities for sustainability. Our goal was to produce an interdisciplinary framework for water resources research to address water issues across scales (e.g., city to region) and domains (e.g., water supply and quality, urban and transitioning landscapes). An interdisciplinary project (iUTAH – innovative Urban Transitions and Aridregion Hydro-sustainability) with a large (N=~100), diverse team having expertise spanning the hydrologic, biological, ecological, engineering, social, planning, and policy sciences motivated the development of this framework. The framework was developed through review of the literature, meetings with individual researchers, and workshops with participants. The Structure-Water-Actor Framework (SWAF) includes three main components: water (quality and quantity), structure (natural, built, and social), and actors (individual and organizational). Key linkages include: 1) ecological and hydrological processes, 2) ecosystem and geomorphic change, 3) planning, design, and policy, 4) perceptions, information, and experience, 5) resource access, and 6) operational water use and management. Our expansive view of structure includes natural, built, and social components, allowing us to examine a broad set of tools and levers for water managers and decision-makers to affect system sustainability and understand system outcomes. We validate the SWAF and illustrate its flexibility to generate insights for three research and management problems: green stormwater infrastructure in an arid environment, regional water supply and demand, and urban river restoration. These applications show that the framework can help identify key components and linkages across diverse water systems.