Articles | Volume 19, issue 1
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 19, 293–307, 2015

Special issue: Predictions under change: water, earth, and biota in the anthropocene...

Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 19, 293–307, 2015

Research article 16 Jan 2015

Research article | 16 Jan 2015

Linked hydrologic and social systems that support resilience of traditional irrigation communities

A. Fernald1, S. Guldan2, K. Boykin1, A. Cibils1, M. Gonzales3, B. Hurd1, S. Lopez1, C. Ochoa4, M. Ortiz5, J. Rivera6, S. Rodriguez7, and C. Steele1 A. Fernald et al.
  • 1College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico, USA
  • 2Sustainable Agriculture Science Center at Alcalde, New Mexico State University, Alcalde, New Mexico, USA
  • 3Community & Regional Planning Program, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA
  • 4Department of Animal and Rangeland Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon, USA
  • 5New Mexico Acequia Association, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA
  • 6Center for Regional Studies, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA
  • 7Department of Anthropology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA

Abstract. Southwestern US irrigated landscapes are facing upheaval due to water scarcity and land use conversion associated with climate change, population growth, and changing economics. In the traditionally irrigated valleys of northern New Mexico, these stresses, as well as instances of community longevity in the face of these stresses, are apparent. Human systems have interacted with hydrologic processes over the last 400 years in river-fed irrigated valleys to create linked systems. In this study, we ask if concurrent data from multiple disciplines could show that human-adapted hydrologic and socioeconomic systems have created conditions for resilience. Various types of resiliencies are evident in the communities. Traditional local knowledge about the hydrosocial cycle of community water management and ability to adopt new water management practices is a key response to disturbances such as low water supply from drought. Livestock producers have retained their irrigated land by adapting: changing from sheep to cattle and securing income from outside their livestock operations. Labor-intensive crops decreased as off-farm employment opportunities became available. Hydrologic resilience of the system can be affected by both human and natural elements. We find, for example, that there are multiple hydrologic benefits of traditional irrigation system water seepage: it recharges the groundwater that recharges rivers, supports threatened biodiversity by maintaining riparian vegetation, and ameliorates impacts of climate change by prolonging streamflow hydrographs. Human decisions to transfer water out of agriculture or change irrigation management, as well as natural changes such as long-term drought or climate change, can result in reduced seepage and the benefits it provides. We have worked with the communities to translate the multidisciplinary dimensions of these systems into a common language of causal loop diagrams, which form the basis for modeling future scenarios to identify thresholds and tipping points of sustainability. Early indications are that these systems, though not immune to upheaval, have astonishing resilience.