COS 177-3 - Eco-drought, conservation, and natural resource management: Socio-ecological findings on water management and habitat along the Rio Grande

Friday, August 11, 2017: 8:40 AM
B110-111, Oregon Convention Center
Jack R. Friedman and Stephanie Paladino, Center for Applied Social Research, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK
Background/Question/Methods During 2016, USGS’s North Central Climate Science Center brought together a novel Eco-Drought Actionable Science Working Group (EDASWD). The group was organized to plan for and support initiatives to re-think how management efforts designed to prepare for and respond to drought on public, private, and tribal lands might integrate ecosystem functions and services into drought models, planning, and management. This effort, focusing on “eco-drought,” brought together physical, biological, and social scientists to address this holistic understanding of drought. The EDASWD was tasked with generating a summary of the current state of the science regarding coupled human management and natural systems in relationship to eco-drought. This talk will focus on research into how water managers along the Rio Grande do (or do not) consider ecological vulnerabilities and the interaction between drought risks and natural habitats in their everyday water management decisions. Data are drawn from one year of in situ ethnographic observation of daily water decision making from the headwaters of the Rio Grande in Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico, including over 80 recorded interviews with water managers and thousands of pages of documents representing institutional factors that influence the possibility of current and future eco-drought planning and action.

Results/Conclusions Environmental flows and “pulses” are rare along the Rio Grande, as the over-allocation of water for human uses has resulted in little flexibility to manage water for ecological health. Despite the limited formal planning for the impacts of eco-drought, our research revealed deep commitment among water managers to address the needs of, vulnerabilities of, and risks to the environment. Water managers expressed deeply felt attachments to the health of local habitats, but, were often frustrated because they were so constrained by existing treaties, agreements, and systems of water rights that they could not, within their scope of their practice, address the needs of ecosystems. These data confirmed existing scholarship on the limitations of eco-drought responsiveness within many already over-allocated Western river systems. What was novel about our research findings were the ways in which water managers described working “around” the formal rules of the system in order to attempt to respond to ecological needs during times of water shortage and drought. We will report on these often ad hoc and undocumented practices to respond to the risks of eco-drought, and why they should matter to ecologists concerned with conservation and protection of threatened habitats and species.