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

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

1
College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, New Mexico State University, P.O. Box 30003, MSC 3-I, Las Cruces, NM 88003, USA
2
Sandia National Laboratories, P.O. Box 5800, Albuquerque, NM 87185, USA
3
Center for Regional Studies, MSC 05 3020, 1 University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131, USA
4
Department of Anthropology (Emerita), MSC01-1040, 1 University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131, USA
5
Sustainable Agriculture Science Center at Alcalde, New Mexico State University, 371 County Road 40, P.O. Box 159, Alcalde, NM 87511, USA
6
New Mexico Acequia Association, 805 Early Street, Building B, Suite 203, Santa Fe, NM 87505, USA
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
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. View Full-Text
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 (CC BY 3.0).

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MDPI and ACS Style

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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