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Significance: In face of increasing drought risk in semi-arid and rapid urbanizing regions such as the US Southwest, it is increasingly important that the diversity of water users collaborate and participate in the adaptation and transformation of water-use systems. Despite declining crop production in central Arizona, irrigated agriculture remains the primary water user. While the last decades have witnessed a growth in climate services and drought monitoring in Arizona, as well as programs to support enhanced water conservation in farming, available evidence suggests the Arizona farm sector has yet to take full advantage of these services. We hypothesized that water regulation in the state has buffered farmers from inter-annual variability and climatic shocks, however this increased robustness may be at the expense of the vulnerability of the broader region to future drought and water scarcity.
Objective: The objective of this project was to help farmers maximize opportunities to enhance their flexibility in face of climatic stress while also investing in the resilience of the broader social-ecological system on which farmers depend. We addressed CSI-Water priorities associated with evaluation of institutional readiness and climate risk perception. Specifically, we evaluated the relationship among farm-level capacities and perceptions, information use, technology adoption and the institutional context of decision-making. We asked: 1) What role do water resource management institutions – namely, the Ground Water Management Act of 1980 (the GMA) – play in farmers’ perception of climate risk, interest in and use of climate services (specifically drought information and early warning) and capacity to innovate in water conservation? 2) What are the robustness-vulnerability trade-offs associated with different modes of interaction between institutions, information, and agent decision-making in the study area? 3) What institutional arrangements and communication strategies will facilitate learning and innovation in response to increased water scarcity?
Approach: A multidisciplinary team of scientists, in collaboration with the Cooperative Extension Service, and drawing from parallel research in Australia implemented by CSIRO, evaluated the ways in which water resource institutions affect Central Arizona farmers’ capacities to individually adapt to drought risk, as well as their participation in efforts to enhance broader system resilience in face of increasing water scarcity. We did this in three activities: a) an evaluation of the influence of groundwater management institutions in farm-level risk perception, adaptive capacity attributes and adoption of water conservation practices; b) a collaborative institutional analysis, involving farmers and water resource users in an exploration of the rules, norms, and regulations that facilitate and impede adaptation at the farm and system levels; and c) the development of innovative communication and extension materials to highlight farm-level adaptive responses to the threat of regional water scarcity.
Expected outcomes: Our anticipated outcomes included: a) recommendations for enhancing the harmonization of drought risk management policy and groundwater resource management law to enhance incentives for adaptation in the agricultural sector b) documentation and dissemination of farm-level innovation and best practices to area farmers, water resource managers and public officials and c) greater insights into the role of resource institutions in mediating tradeoffs between effective management of inter-annual variability and adaptation to longer-term climate change.