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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Culture, Water, Livelihoods and Adaptation in the Complex Socio-Ecological Systems of Colorado, U.S.A.
by Even, Trevor Lee, Ph.D., Colorado State University, 2020, 255; 28155026
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation comprises the results of several years of mixed-methods qualitative research on the socio-ecological systems of the U.S. state of Colorado, with a particular focus on their ability to effectively manage natural resource and ecosystem-related challenges amid intensifying social, environmental, and climatic change. Located at the interface of the Great Plains and the Semi-Arid Western U.S., Colorado faces numerous significant challenges from current escalations of climate variability, future trends towards warming temperatures, intensified urban population growth trends, and growing demand for limited water resources. This work, comprised of the results of two distinct but interrelated projects, therefore asks, in the broadest terms, How are key livelihood and cultural systems in the state engaging with critical natural resource and climate-related risks? Taken to a more granular level, it investigates, 1) What are the most vulnerable components of the socio-ecological systems of Colorado in terms of local expressions of climate change and resource management; 2) How are these systems currently engaging with those vulnerabilities on a cultural level, and 3) How can the interdisciplinary scientific community and policy-makers better align themselves to serve their needs for adaptation?

In Part I, titled “Changing Weather and Livelihoods in Rural Colorado,” I attempt to answer these questions at a state-wide level. Here, I rely upon interviews with ranchers, farmers, recreational sector experts, and extensive secondary data gathering on the varied ways in which sensitive land-based livelihoods in the state have been impacted by drought, wildfire, flooding, extreme precipitation events, and related phenomena over the last two decades, doing so in order to chart out how leaders in these sectors are adapting to changing weather-related risk profiles. In this, I identify significant vulnerabilities within livelihoods central to rural economics and identity, as well as barriers to current and future adaptation efforts in the form of economic, policy, information access, and cross-cultural communication challenges. As part of this, water–both as a resource and as a site of cultural values–emerges as critical to nearly every future-oriented line of inquiry, as the state’s physical and socially constructed patterns of water scarcity weave through nearly every aspect of both its vulnerabilities and its capacity to adapt to climate- and ecologically-driven challenges.

In Part II, then, I ask, “How can the state’s human-altered hydrological systems–i.e., socio-hydrological systems–approach a level of self-understanding that takes into account the wide range of diverse perspectives and livelihoods associated with water systems at the basin scale?” Titled “Conceptualizations and Valuations of Water in the South Platte Basin,” it takes a more zoomed-in approach, examining cultures of water commodification, use, interaction, cultural connection, and risk management across six key viewpoints within the Colorado South Platte Basin’s complex and multi-layered water management systems. In this, it attempts to bridge existing gaps within the varied literatures related to water resources management and the social-science investigation of human-water system interactions, aiming to advance understanding of how cultural systems within hydrological basins heavily influenced by human intervention influence contemporary and future dynamics of water management and socially-constructed water scarcity. Based on in-depth interviews with water managers, users, advocates, and consultants from around the region as well as a variety of secondary data, it attempts to sketch out a typology of water valuation and understand across four distinct levels of value and across six distinct viewpoints with implications for the water system’s current operation and future capacity to adapt to increasing variability and extreme event risk. It finds significant diversity among different types of actor groups involved in the water decision-making systems of the region, as well as numerous innovative avenues toward bridging these gaps in the form of “hybridized” or “nexus” approaches to water infrastructure development, environmental protection, and flood risk mitigation that capitalize upon multiple value orientations as they enact manipulations of the region’s water systems. Finally, I discuss several important gaps identified in the region’s cultures of water, including the lack of a meaningful system-wide identity, and the lack of affirmative spaces for creatively imagining the future at the basin scale.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Galvin, Kathleen, Ojima, Dennis
Commitee: Waskom, Reagan, Boone, Randall
School: Colorado State University
Department: Ecology (Graduate Degree Program)
School Location: United States -- Colorado
Source: DAI-A 82/7(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Cultural anthropology, Ecology, Hydrologic sciences, Climate Change
Keywords: Adaptation, Climate change, Culture, Land-based livelihoods, Socio-ecological systems, Water
Publication Number: 28155026
ISBN: 9798557080293
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