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Sustainability 2012, 4(11), 2998-3022; doi:10.3390/su4112998
Article

Modeling Sustainability of Water, Environment, Livelihood, and Culture in Traditional Irrigation Communities and Their Linked Watersheds

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Received: 5 October 2012 / Revised: 2 November 2012 / Accepted: 3 November 2012 / Published: 9 November 2012
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Abstract

Water scarcity, land use conversion and cultural and ecosystem changes threaten the way of life for traditional irrigation communities of the semi-arid southwestern United States. Traditions are strong, yet potential upheaval is great in these communities that rely on acequia irrigation systems. Acequias are ancient ditch systems brought from the Iberian Peninsula to the New World over 400 years ago; they are simultaneously gravity flow water delivery systems and shared water governance institutions. Acequias have survived periods of drought and external shocks from changing economics, demographics, and resource uses. Now, climate change and urbanization threaten water availability, ecosystem functions, and the acequia communities themselves. Do past adaptive practices hold the key to future sustainability, or are new strategies required? To explore this issue we translated disciplinary understanding into a uniform format of causal loop diagrams to conceptualize the subsystems of the entire acequia-based human-natural system. Four subsystems are identified in this study: hydrology, ecosystem, land use/economics, and sociocultural. Important linkages between subsystems were revealed as well as variables indicating community cohesion (e.g., total irrigated land, intensity of upland grazing, mutualism). Ongoing work will test the conceptualizations with field data and modeling exercises to capture tipping points for non-sustainability and thresholds for sustainable water use and community longevity.
Keywords: interdisciplinary model; sustainability; natural and human system dynamics; hydrology; ecology; economics; culture interdisciplinary model; sustainability; natural and human system dynamics; hydrology; ecology; economics; culture
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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Fernald, A.; Tidwell, V.; Rivera, J.; Rodríguez, S.; Guldan, S.; Steele, C.; Ochoa, C.; Hurd, B.; Ortiz, M.; Boykin, K.; Cibils, A. Modeling Sustainability of Water, Environment, Livelihood, and Culture in Traditional Irrigation Communities and Their Linked Watersheds. Sustainability 2012, 4, 2998-3022.

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