Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Towards Regional Sustainability Assessment Utilizing Community Based Participatory Research, Sustainability Indicators, and Future Scenario Modeling
by Dubinsky, Jonathan, Ph.D., University of Colorado at Denver, 2017, 242; 10276461
Abstract (Summary)

Decision making with regards to sustainability at a regional/local level is increasingly recognized as an important issue. This research focused on the rural agricultural region of San Luis Valley (SLV) in southern Colorado and builds on an Environmental Protection Agency sustainability study in the same region. The goal of this research was to select and calculate relevant sustainability indictors, and then use those baseline results to model potential future scenarios. A region-specific greenhouse gas (GHG) accounting indicator and a consumptive water use indicator were developed and calculated in SLV over the period of 1980 – 2010. In addition to sustainability modeling, this research leveraged the principles of Community Based Participatory research (CBPR) to engage local stakeholders throughout the process to ensure that the research was relevant to the region.

From a carbon emissions perspective, the baseline assessment showed that on a per gross domestic/regional product (GDP) basis, SLV carbon emissions are almost twice that of the national average, indicating that, with all things being equal, agricultural economies contribute disproportionately more towards GHG emissions. A future scenario analysis revealed that SLV can reduced GHG emissions by ~5% through crop changes and alterations to the crop rotation regime. Another scenario showed that SLV, with its significant solar resource, has the potential to offset much or all of its GHG emissions by increasing solar development and utilizing renewable energy carbon credits.

The baseline water use assessment of the region showed that SLV meets 85% of the crop water demand through irrigation, whereas the global average is only 19%. This highlights the heavy reliance the economy has on its ground and surface water resources in a region where agriculture is the number one economic driver. When comparing livestock water use (including feed crops grown to support local livestock) to export crops in the region (i.e., potatoes, alfalfa, small grains) we see that livestock consume significantly less groundwater than the export crops on a per ton of product basis, revealing the critical role livestock play in this arid region with a depleting aquifer. Results from the future scenario modeling showed that irrigation water use could be reduced by ~10% through realistic shifts in the crop regime while keeping land fallowing to a minimum.

This research was successful in terms of engaging a rural region around issues of sustainability. Through training and knowledge transfer from researchers to the community, SLV now has the ability to use the sustainability indicator models developed in this research. This work is highly relevant to policymakers and planners, and will provide the community with some necessary tools to make policy choices for sustainable growth in the region.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Karunanithi, Arunprakash T.
Commitee: Cabezas, Heriberto, Hopton, Matthew, Janson, Bruce, Karunanithi, Arunprakash, Main, Deborah
School: University of Colorado at Denver
Department: Civil Engineering
School Location: United States -- Colorado
Source: DAI-A 78/10(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Environmental management, Engineering, Civil engineering, Sustainability
Keywords: Community based, Greenhouse gas, Scenario modeling, Sustainability indicator, Water use
Publication Number: 10276461
ISBN: 9781369782677
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