As climate change challenges the sustainability of existing water supplies, many cities must transition toward more sustainable water management practices to meet demand. However, scholarly knowledge of the factors that drive such transitions is lacking, in part due to the dearth of comparative analyses in the existing transitions literature. This study seeks to identify common factors associated with transitions toward sustainability in urban water systems by comparing transitions in three cases: Miami, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles. For each case, we develop a data-driven narrative that integrates case-specific contextual data with standardized, longitudinal metrics of exposures theorized to drive transition. We then compare transitions across cases, focusing on periods of accelerated change (PoACs), to decouple generic factors associated with transition from those unique to individual case contexts. From this, we develop four propositions about transitions toward sustainable urban water management. We find that concurrent exposure to water stress and heightened public attention increases the probability of a PoAC (1), while other factors commonly expected to drive transition (e.g. financial stress) are unrelated (2). Moreover, the timing of exposure alignment (3) and the relationship between exposures and transition (4) may vary according to elements of the system’s unique context, including the institutional and infrastructure design and hydro-climatic setting. These propositions, as well as the methodology used to derive them, provide a new model for future research on how cities respond to climate-driven water challenges.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations Agenda 2030 represent an ambitious blueprint to reduce inequalities globally and achieve a sustainable future for all mankind. Meeting the SDGs for water requires an integrated approach to managing and allocating water resources, by involving all actors and stakeholders, and considering how water resources link different sectors of society. To date, water management practice is dominated by technocratic, scenario‐based approaches that may work well in the short‐term, but can result in unintended consequences in the long‐term due to limited accounting of dynamic feedbacks between the natural, technical and social dimensions of human‐water systems. The discipline of socio‐hydrology has an important role to play in informing policy by developing a generalizable understanding of phenomena that arise from interactions between water and human systems. To explain these phenomena, socio‐hydrology must address several scientific challenges to strengthen the field and broaden its scope. These include engagement with social scientists to accommodate social heterogeneity, power relations, trust, cultural beliefs, and cognitive biases, which strongly influence the way in which people alter, and adapt to, changing hydrological regimes. It also requires development of new methods to formulate and test alternative hypotheses for the explanation of emergent phenomena generated by feedbacks between water and society. Advancing socio‐hydrology in these ways therefore represents a major contribution towards meeting the targets set by the SDGs, the societal grand challenge of our time.
From 2007 to 2017, the state of California experienced two major droughts that required significant governmental action to decrease urban water demand. The purpose of this study is to isolate and explore the effects of these policy changes on water use during and after these droughts, and to see how these policies interact with hydroclimatic variability. The results of the city level water demand models indicate that implementation of mandatory policies that target water use behaviors effectively reduce water use. The findings suggest that drought-related policies impact per capita urban water use along with temperature, income, unemployment, and water stress. The mathematically significant relationships identified in this study offer a path forward for more complex water demand models to include policy changes as a driver of water use. The policy coding methodology offers a start to the complicated task of categorizing drought policies and identifying what qualities make them effective at reducing urban water use.
Open science practices such as publishing data and code are transforming water science by enabling synthesis and enhancing reproducibility. However, as research increasingly bridges the physical and social science domains (e.g., socio‐hydrology), there is the potential for well‐meaning researchers to unintentionally violate the privacy and security of individuals or communities by sharing sensitive information. Here, we identify the contexts in which privacy violations are most likely to occur, such as working with high‐resolution spatial data (e.g., from remote sensing), consumer data (e.g., from smart meters), and/or digital trace data (e.g., from social media). We also suggest practices for identifying and addressing privacy concerns at the individual, institutional, and disciplinary levels. We strongly advocate that the water science community continue moving toward open science and socio‐environmental research and that progress toward these goals be rooted in open and ethical data management.
Infrastructure are increasingly being recognized as too rigid to quickly adapt to a changing climate and a non-stationary future. This rigidness poses risks to infrastructure service delivery and public welfare. Adaptivity in infrastructure is critical for managing uncertainties to continue providing services, yet little is known about how infrastructure can be made more agile and flexible for improved adaptive capacity. A literature review identified approximately fifty examples of novel infrastructure and technologies which support adaptivity through one or more of ten theoretical characteristics of adaptive infrastructure. From these examples, several infrastructure forms and possible strategies for adaptivity emerged, including smart technologies, combined centralized / decentralized organizational structures, and renewable electricity generation. With institutional and cultural support, such novel structures and systems have the potential to transform infrastructure provision and management.
Complex socio-environmental challenges require interdisciplinary, team-based research capacity. Graduate students are fundamental to building such capacity, yet formal opportunities for graduate students to develop these capacities and skills are uncommon. This paper presents an assessment of the Graduate Pursuit (GP) program, a formal interdisciplinary team science graduate research and training program administered by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC). Quantitative and qualitative assessment of the program’s first cohort revealed that participants became significantly more comfortable with interdisciplinary research and team science approaches, increased their capacity to work across disciplines, and were enabled to produce tangible research outcomes. Qualitative analysis of four themes—(1) discipline, specialization, and shared purpose, (2) interpersonal skills and personality, (3) communication and teamwork, and (4) perceived costs and benefits—encompass participants’ positive and negative experiences and support findings from past assessments. The findings also identify challenges and benefits related to individual personality traits and team personality orientation, the importance of perceiving a sense of autonomy and independence, and the benefit of graduate training programs independent of the university and graduate program environment.
Over the past twenty-five years, per capita water use has declined in many US cities. Technological and policy changes partially explain this decline, but variables beyond control of water managers also influence water use including external (e.g. drought) and emergent (e.g. public attention) changes. Importantly, these variables interact and the relationships between these variables and water use are non-stationary. However, many models assume fixed relationships between water use and its drivers, and limited interaction between variables. Here we present a flexible socio-hydrological approach to model how conservation strategies, and external and emergent changes, interact to influence per capita water use. We apply this approach to Las Vegas and find that marginal water rates, code changes coupled with population growth, and conservation response to water stress are the key drivers of the observed decline. Critically, modeling these strategies in absence of their connections to population growth and water stress cannot fully account for observed changes.
Sociohydrology was launched as the science dealing with feedbacks between coupled human and water systems. Much of the early work in sociohydrology involved studies in spatially isolated domains (e.g., river basins) dealing with phenomena that involved emergent patterns in the time domain, with a focus on formulating and testing hypotheses about how they arise. The papers collected in this Special Section “Sociohydrology: Spatial and Temporal Dynamics of Coupled Human‐Water Systems” illustrate that the scientific scope of sociohydrology has broadened over the last few years, with a rich diversity of phenomena studied and an expansion of the knowledge foundations and methodologies applied. These Special Section papers now incorporate methodologies and approaches from a wide range of social science disciplines, including anthropology, complex systems, economics, and sociology. The major themes tackled by these papers are understanding (i) water metabolism – the economic use of water, (ii) interactions between humans and droughts, (iii) interactions between humans and floods, and (iv) the role of human institutions, policy and management. These collected papers provide a foundation for future research that strives to understand how to achieve water resources sustainability (society to water) and reduce the risk of hydrological hazards in society (water to society). Going forward, we suggest that the development of a common sociohydrology framework will be paramount for research development and student training. Additionally, increased engagement with the broader water management communities will enhance sociohydrology understanding and impact.
The expansion of reservoirs to cope with droughts and water shortages is hotly debated in many places around the world. We argue that there are two counterintuitive dynamics that should be considered in this debate: supply–demand cycles and reservoir effects. Supply–demand cycles describe instances where increasing water supply enables higher water demand, which can quickly offset the initial benefits of reservoirs. Reservoir effects refer to cases where over-reliance on reservoirs increases vulnerability, and therefore increases the potential damage caused by droughts. Here we illustrate these counterintuitive dynamics with global and local examples, and discuss policy and research implications.
The future is uncertain. Technologies, needs, policies, economies, and environments change frequently. Some changes are quantifiable, and we attempt to make best estimates of what will happen, but we will always encounter game-changing events and unanticipated new technologies.
When decision-makers consider needs for future water infrastructure, they often use a conventional, deterministic approach. They assume that current conditions will not change and that we can safely rely on a forecast of long-term requirements. However, the water supply and demand system is complex. Natural, societal, and political forces interact to drive changes in both supply and demand over time. Our ability...
Water resource management involves public investments with long-ranging impacts that traditional prediction approaches cannot address. These are increasingly being critiqued because (1) there is an absence of feedbacks between water and society; (2) the models are created by domain experts who hand them to decision makers to implement; and (3) they fail to account for global forces on local water resources. Socio-hydrological models that explicitly account for feedbacks between water and society at multiple scales and facilitate stakeholder participation can address these concerns. However, they require a fundamental change in how we think about prediction. We suggest that, in the context of long-range predictions, the goal is not scenarios that present a snapshot of the world at some future date, but rather projection of alternative, plausible and co-evolving trajectories of the socio-hydrological system. This will both yield insights into cause–effect relationships and help stakeholders identify safe or desirable operating space.
Although the water management sector is often characterized as resistant to risk and change, urban areas across the United States are increasingly interested in creating opportunities to transition toward more sustainable water management practices. These transitions are complex and difficult to predict – the product of water managers acting in response to numerous biophysical, regulatory, political, and financial factors within institutional constraints. Gaining a better understanding of how these transitions occur is crucial for continuing to improve water management. This paper presents a replicable methodology for analyzing how urban water utilities transition toward sustainability. The method combines standardized quantitative measures of variables that influence transitions with contextual qualitative information about a utility's unique decision making context to produce structured, data-driven narratives. Data-narratives document the broader context, the utility's pretransition history, key events during an accelerated period of change, and the consequences of transition. Eventually, these narratives should be compared across cases to develop empirically-testable hypotheses about the drivers of and barriers to utility-level urban water management transition. The methodology is illustrated through the case of the Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department (WASD) in Miami-Dade County, Florida, and its transition toward more sustainable water management in the 2000s, during which per capita water use declined, conservation measures were enacted, water rates increased, and climate adaptive planning became the new norm.
Human and hydrological systems are coupled: human activity impacts the hydrological cycle and hydrological conditions can, but do not always, trigger changes in human systems. Traditional modeling approaches with no feedback between hydrological and human systems typically cannot offer insight into how different patterns of natural variability or human-induced changes may propagate through this coupled system. Modeling of coupled human–hydrological systems, also called socio-hydrological systems, recognizes the potential for humans to transform hydrological systems and for hydrological conditions to influence human behavior. However, this coupling introduces new challenges and existing literature does not offer clear guidance regarding model conceptualization. There are no universally accepted laws of human behavior as there are for the physical systems; furthermore, a shared understanding of important processes within the field is often used to develop hydrological models, but there is no such consensus on the relevant processes in socio-hydrological systems. Here we present a question driven process to address these challenges. Such an approach allows modeling structure, scope and detail to remain contingent on and adaptive to the question context. We demonstrate the utility of this process by revisiting a classic question in water resources engineering on reservoir operation rules: what is the impact of reservoir operation policy on the reliability of water supply for a growing city? Our example model couples hydrological and human systems by linking the rate of demand decreases to the past reliability to compare standard operating policy (SOP) with hedging policy (HP). The model shows that reservoir storage acts both as a buffer for variability and as a delay triggering oscillations around a sustainable level of demand. HP reduces the threshold for action thereby decreasing the delay and the oscillation effect. As a result, per capita demand decreases during periods of water stress are more frequent but less drastic and the additive effect of small adjustments decreases the tendency of the system to overshoot available supplies. This distinction between the two policies was not apparent using a traditional noncoupled model.
Water management challenges are multifaceted, often involving issues of water availability, quality, access and equity. It is increasingly recognized that professionals trained to work in traditional disciplinary roles are ill-equipped to address complex issues such as water that transcend both geographic and disciplinary boundaries. A growing number of interdisciplinary doctoral programs, including the Water Diplomacy Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) at Tufts University, have formed to respond to demand for progress in this area. This paper presents a Water Diplomacy IGERT student perspective on the benefits and challenges of interdisciplinary water education. First, we find that articulating a set of shared principles helps to build a strong research community, which in turn shapes the research approach and perspectives of participating students. Second, we recommend students clearly state uncertainties and assumptions to tackle the challenge of working with multidimensional complex systems. Next, we advise that students collaborate with researchers and partner organizations to gain exposure to different approaches outside of their discipline, and to increase breadth of knowledge while maintaining sufficient depth. Finally, we recommend that students take an active role in program leadership to ensure balance between program and student development. These difficulties are not unique to water education, and therefore we hope this discussion can help inform future interdisciplinary education and research efforts.