Farmer (mal)adaptation to reduced groundwater availability: When do adaptations mediate or exacerbate vulnerabilities to water shortages?

Authors: Morey Burnham*, Idaho State University, Chloe Wardropper, University of Idaho, Garry Sotnik, Idaho State University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Hazards and Vulnerability
Keywords: Adaptation; groundwater; livelihoods; farmer
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Governor's Room, Omni, East
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The future success of agriculture in arid and semi-arid American West hinges on the capacity of farmers and water management organizations to adapt to future water resource constraints. While much research has focused on how perceptions of environmental change, risk, access to technology, and political economy influence farmer adaptation decision-making, little attention has been paid to how adaptive practices put in place by organizations or farmers mediate farmer vulnerability to social-ecological change or interact with formal and informal social institutions, extant production practices, and agricultural markets to create unintended consequences or reshape the institutional context in which agriculture is practiced. Without this knowledge, adaptation interventions and practices may become maladaptive and create long-term vulnerabilities under future social-ecological conditions. In this research, we ask how does farmer adaptation to reduced groundwater availability mediate their vulnerability and influence the set of social norms, values, and other institutions that guide farmer behavior? To answer this, we draw on interviews (n=50) and a household survey (n=264) with farmers in southeast Idaho required to adapt to the loss of an average of 13% of their irrigation water as part of a managed aquifer recharge program. Preliminary results suggest that the managed aquifer recharge program and attendant farmer adaptations have 1) led to changes in the ways that farmers appraise risks associated with water availability; 2) altered the ways that farm communities pool risk through informal water economies; and 3) undermined trust and introduced a new degree of competitiveness among farmers.

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