Results and Lessons Learned from a Coupled Social and Physical Hydrology Model: Testing Alternative Water Management Policies and Institutional Structures Using Agent-Based Modeling and Regional Hydrology
Abstract:Water Management in the U.S. Southwest is under increasing scrutiny as many areas endure persistent drought. The impact of these prolonged dry conditions is a product of regional climate and hydrological conditions, but also of a highly engineered water management infrastructure and a complex web of social arrangements whereby water is allocated, shared, exchanged, used, re-used, and finally consumed.
We coupled an agent-based model with a regional hydrological model to understand the dynamics in one richly studied and highly populous area: southern Arizona, U.S.A., including metropolitan Phoenix and Tucson. There, multiple management entities representing an array of municipalities and other water providers and customers, including private companies and Native American tribes are enmeshed in a complex legal and economic context in which water is bought, leased, banked, and exchanged in a variety of ways and on multiple temporal and physical scales.
A recurrent question in the literature of adaptive management is the impact of management structure on overall system performance. To explore this, we constructed an agent-based model to capture this social complexity, and coupled this with a physical hydrological model that we used to drive the system under a variety of water stress scenarios and to assess the regional impact of the social system's performance. We report the outcomes of ensembles of runs in which varieties of alternative policy constraints and management strategies are considered. We hope to contribute to policy discussions in this area and connected and legislatively similar areas (such as California) as current conditions change and existing legal and policy structures are revised. Additionally, we comment on the challenges of integrating models that ostensibly are in different domains (physical and social) but that independently represent a system in which physical processes and human actions are closely intertwined and difficult to disentangle.