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Hydrologic Interdependencies and Human Cooperation: The Process of Adapting to Droughts

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  • 1 Department of Environment and Society, Utah State University, Logan, Utah
  • | 2 Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas
  • | 3 Department of Environment and Society, Utah State University, Logan, Utah
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Abstract

The Bear River Basin, which includes portions of Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming in the United States, has a dynamic history of human hydrologic adaptations in relation to a highly variable water supply. These adaptations are embedded in a geographical setting highly influenced by the legal, policy, and institutional contexts that govern allocation of water in this generally arid region. In response to several years of drought and a historically low water year in 2004, water users in the Bear River Basin tested the efficacy of the “law of the river” and innovative agreements that they had negotiated in recent years to help mitigate impacts related to water shortages. Three innovations were identified as being key to a successful response to the 2004 drought: 1) a precedent-setting voluntary settlement agreement, 2) technical work in river modeling and instrumentation, and 3) extraordinary communication strategies employed throughout the drought. Based on case study research and utilizing a “ways of knowing” theoretical framework, the authors report on an unfolding contemporary history of how people in the Bear River Basin have learned to deal with uncertainties and risks associated with both droughts and floods. Their story has important implications for the understanding of conflict and cooperation in water systems, management of transboundary waters, and the promotion of sustainable water resource governance.

Corresponding author address: Joanna Endter-Wada, Department of Environment and Society, Old Main Hill 5215, Utah State University, Logan, UT 84322–5215. Email: Joanna.Endter-Wada@usu.edu

Abstract

The Bear River Basin, which includes portions of Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming in the United States, has a dynamic history of human hydrologic adaptations in relation to a highly variable water supply. These adaptations are embedded in a geographical setting highly influenced by the legal, policy, and institutional contexts that govern allocation of water in this generally arid region. In response to several years of drought and a historically low water year in 2004, water users in the Bear River Basin tested the efficacy of the “law of the river” and innovative agreements that they had negotiated in recent years to help mitigate impacts related to water shortages. Three innovations were identified as being key to a successful response to the 2004 drought: 1) a precedent-setting voluntary settlement agreement, 2) technical work in river modeling and instrumentation, and 3) extraordinary communication strategies employed throughout the drought. Based on case study research and utilizing a “ways of knowing” theoretical framework, the authors report on an unfolding contemporary history of how people in the Bear River Basin have learned to deal with uncertainties and risks associated with both droughts and floods. Their story has important implications for the understanding of conflict and cooperation in water systems, management of transboundary waters, and the promotion of sustainable water resource governance.

Corresponding author address: Joanna Endter-Wada, Department of Environment and Society, Old Main Hill 5215, Utah State University, Logan, UT 84322–5215. Email: Joanna.Endter-Wada@usu.edu

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