Our group has been awarded funding from the National Science Foundation for a new project, “Institutional Dynamics of Adaptation to Climate Change: Longitudinal Analysis of Snowmelt-Dependent Agricultural Systems”. The project – which will provide $1.2 million in funding over the next three years – is led by Lin Ostrom at Indiana University. Kelly is a Co-PI on the project, along with Tom Evans (Indiana University), Krister Andersson (Colorado University), and Daniel Cole (Indiana University). The goal of the project is to understand the vulnerability of snowmelt-dependent agriculturalists to hydrological change (in terms of their sensitivity, exposure, and adaptive capacity) via shifts in snowmelt magnitude and timing. Here’s the abstract of the award, which we’ll link to once it’s on the NSF web page.
Global withdrawals of water have doubled over the past 40 years as irrigated agricultural land expanded from 138 million ha to 277 million ha during the period 1961–2003. Irrigated land is responsible for >85% of global consumptive water use, producing approximately 45% of the global food supply on only 20% of global cropland. The combination of increasing usage of irrigation in agricultural production and the importance of snowmelt in many agricultural areas has led to a situation where over one-sixth of the world’s population relies on glaciers and seasonal snow packs as their primary source of streamflow. Climate change processes are projected to impact the amount of snowfall and the seasonality of discharge around the globe. Temperature effects of climate change alone will be sufficient to alter both snowpack accumulation and snowmelt dynamics of many agricultural systems. While additional climate change impacts on growing season rainfall, streamflow, and drought could serve to either exacerbate or mitigate shifts in snowmelt climatology on water available for crops, the dependence on snowmelt and irrigation in many agricultural systems may reduce their ability to respond to future changes. Of additional concern is the fact that many temperate and tropical agricultural areas dependent on glacial meltwater are now facing the threat of complete glacier loss, making climate changes in these regions potentially more disruptive than in areas where only seasonal snowmelt is used as a water resource. In the face of water shortages, governance institutions established to allocate water may be disrupted and forced to change.
It is clear that critical tensions exist between the potential impacts of climate change and existing/future patterns of water use in regions highly dependent on streamflow for agricultural irrigation. This project will examine how human populations will be impacted by these changes, and the capacity of users in glacier-irrigated agricultural systems to adapt. The research will examine semi-arid agricultural systems that are dependent on snowmelt located across strongly contrasting institutional and hydrological settings in Eastern Kenya and the Western United States. Field hydrological measurements will be integrated with detailed information about the institutions governing water resources to investigate how these institutions have adapted over time in the context of past climate conditions. This integrated empirical analysis will support the development of scenario-based models of potential climate change impacts to assess community vulnerability to climate variability and to understand how communities might respond to changes in water availability in the future. Findings from this project will be of value to policy makers who are seeking more nuanced policy responses than simple “one size fits all” solutions. Many policy analysts recommend one-type of governance – such as government or private ownership – as being “ideal” to cope with threats to ecological systems. This research will develop new knowledge about the ways in which institutional diversity can contribute to the effective management of water resources.