Water Decisions for Sustainability: Drought and Risk in South-Central Oklahoma

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Thursday, 6 February 2014: 9:30 AM
Room C107 (The Georgia World Congress Center )
Heather Lazrus, NCAR, Boulder, CO; and D. P. Mazumder, E. Towler, R. A. McPherson, and R. E. Morss

Drought is a challenge faced by communities across the United States, exacerbated by growing demands on water resources and climate variability and change. The Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer in south-central Oklahoma, situated in the heart of the Chickasaw Nation, is the state's only sole-source groundwater basin and sustains the Blue River, the state's only free-flowing river. The recent comprehensive hydrological studies of the aquifer indicate the need for sustainable management of the amount of water extracted. However, in the Arbuckle-Simpson as in so many other areas, it is not yet clear how to manage water sustainably in the face of increasing drought vulnerability, diverse demands, and climate variability and change. In South-Central Oklahoma, water management carries a further imperative to be inclusive of tribal and non-tribal interests.

To address these issues, this project is taking an integrated interdisciplinary approach to understand drought risks as well as water management decisions that could support the sustainability of the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer. Our research asked: How do stakeholders in the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer perceive drought risks across weather and climate scales, and how do these perceptions guide water management decisions given (i) diverse cultural beliefs, (ii) valued hydrologic services, (iii) past drought experience, and (iv) uncertainties in future projections of precipitation, temperature, and drought? We used ethnographic methods to diagnose how cultural values and beliefs inform stakeholders' risk perceptions, and how this in turn guides decision making or ignites conflict across different sectors and stakeholder groups. Further, stakeholders' characterizations of drought risk was examined in the context of historic meteorological and hydrologic events, as well as climate variability and change. This approach helped us to identify which risks are prioritized, and under what conditions, in regional water management decision making or water-related conflicts.

Findings will contribute to understanding local perspectives and drivers which is important for sustainable management of the aquifer according to theories of successful governance of common pool resources such as groundwater in Oklahoma. The study is relevant beyond the field site as a novel interdisciplinary approach to understanding weather and climate risk.