Vulnerability of acequia communities to climate change

TitleVulnerability of acequia communities to climate change
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsSteele C, Reyes J.T., Elias EH
Conference NameUniversities Council on Water Resources
Date Published06/2019
Conference LocationSnowbird, UT
ARIS Log Number364364

Vulnerability to climate change can be conceptualized either as an outcome resulting from biophysical changes to a system, or as a condition that already exists in a system and is subject to complex interactions between biophysical and human factors. Much of the research on agricultural systems in the U.S. has used the outcome vulnerability framework and focuses on producing technical, infrastructural, or policy-level solutions to climate change impacts. These types of assessment do not necessarily consider a community’s ability to apply these solutions. The alternative framework often applies the terms “contextual” or “starting point” vulnerability. Assessments using a contextual vulnerability framework incorporate biophysical, social, cultural, political, institutional and economic factors to define pre-existing vulnerabilities. Contextual vulnerability frameworks are well-suited for place-based research that seeks to formulate community-level responses to climate change impacts, especially where there are strong institutional factors to consider. In this paper, we first summarize the biophysical factors that acequia communities in Northern New Mexico will be exposed to under a changing climate, notably impacts on snowpack, water supply and the health of surrounding forests. We then review contextual vulnerabilities using a framework that draws on the five capitals model. Some of the key factors that reduce the vulnerability of acequia communities to climate impacts include the institutions associated with their community-based irrigation systems, and the social capital and “reciprocal interdependence” that acequia membership generates. Contemporary factors that increase acequia vulnerability include land use change, property-rights fragmentation and population decline.