Modeling Feedbacks Between Individual Human Decisions and Hydrology Using Interconnected Physical and Social Models
Abstract:The global hydrological cycle intersects with human decision making at multiple scales, from dams and irrigation works to the taps in individuals’ homes. Residential water consumers are commonly encouraged to conserve; these messages are heard against a background of individual values and conceptions about water quality, uses, and availability. The degree to which these values impact the larger-hydrological dynamics, the way that changes in those values have impacts on the hydrological cycle through time, and the feedbacks by which water availability and quality in turn shape those values, are not well explored. To investigate this domain we employ a global-scale water balance model (WBM) coupled with a social-science-grounded agent-based model (ABM). The integration of a hydrological model with an agent-based model allows us to explore driving factors in the dynamics in coupled human-natural systems. From the perspective of the physical hydrologist, the ABM offers a richer means of incorporating the human decisions that drive the hydrological system; from the view of the social scientist, a physically-based hydrological model allows the decisions of the agents to play out against constraints faithful to the real world.
We apply the interconnected models to a study of Tucson, Arizona, USA, and its role in the larger Colorado River system. Our core concept is Technology-Induced Environmental Distancing (TIED), which posits that layers of technology can insulate consumers from direct knowledge of a resource. In Tucson, multiple infrastructure and institutional layers have arguably increased the conceptual distance between individuals and their water supply, offering a test case of the TIED framework.
Our coupled simulation allows us to show how the larger system transforms a resource with high temporal and spatial variability into a consumer constant, and the effects of this transformation on the regional system. We use this to explore how pricing, messaging, and social dynamics impact demand, how changes in demand affect the regional water system, and under what system challenges the values of the individuals are likely to change. This study is a preamble to modeling multiple regionally connected cities and larger systems with impacts on hydrology at the continental and global scales.