Socio-hydrologic modeling to understand and mediate the competition for water between agriculture development and environmental health: Murrumbidgee River basin, Australia
Competition for water between humans and ecosystems is set to become a flash point in the coming decades in many parts of the world. An entirely new and comprehensive quantitative framework is needed to establish a holistic understanding of that competition, thereby enabling the development of effective mediation strategies. This paper presents a modeling study centered on the Murrumbidgee River basin (MRB). The MRB has witnessed a unique system dynamics over the last 100 years as a result of interactions between patterns of water management and climate driven hydrological variability. Data analysis has revealed a pendulum swing between agricultural development and restoration of environmental health and ecosystem services over different stages of basin-scale water resource development. A parsimonious, stylized, quasi-distributed coupled socio-hydrologic system model that simulates the two-way coupling between human and hydrological systems of the MRB is used to mimic and explain dominant features of the pendulum swing. The model consists of coupled nonlinear ordinary differential equations that describe the interaction between five state variables that govern the co-evolution: reservoir storage, irrigated area, human population, ecosystem health, and environmental awareness. The model simulations track the propagation of the external climatic and socio-economic drivers through this coupled, complex system to the emergence of the pendulum swing. The model results point to a competition between human "productive" and environmental "restorative" forces that underpin the pendulum swing. Both the forces are endogenous, i.e., generated by the system dynamics in response to external drivers and mediated by humans through technology change and environmental awareness, respectively. Sensitivity analysis carried out with the model further reveals that socio-hydrologic modeling can be used as a tool to explain or gain insight into observed co-evolutionary dynamics of diverse human–water coupled systems. This paper therefore contributes to the ultimate development of a generic modeling framework that can be applied to human–water coupled systems in different climatic and socio-economic settings.