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A Critical Evaluation of the Voluntary Flow Management Program in Colorado’s Upper Arkansas River Basin

Authors: Apostolos Paul Landahl*, , Adrianne Kroepsch, Academic advisor
Topics: Water Resources and Hydrology, Environmental Science
Keywords: water, climate, rivers, watershed management, adaptive management
Session Type: Poster
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Colorado’s Upper Arkansas River Basin has the modern problem of confronting climate/hydrologic variability and increasing water demands, all while multiple stakeholders attempt to work together cooperatively. To parry these challenges, the Basin has instituted a voluntary, multi-stakeholder program to manage flows using a collaborative effort between local water conservancy districts, regional NGOs, the State of Colorado, and the federal Bureau of Reclamation. But as climate/hydrologic variability and water demands become more urgent, it is unknown whether the Voluntary Flow Management Program (VFMP) has the institutional potential to address these issues. The goal of the study will be to critically evaluate the VFMP’s capacity and ability to undertake the Basin’s hydrologic and political challenges of the future, highlighting specific characteristics of the program that could prove most vulnerable. Drawing upon mixed methods approaches utilized in socio-hydrology, I will couple a hydrological analysis of the Upper Arkansas River flows mediated by infrastructure, employing USGS gages and snowpack data, with a qualitative analysis of the relevant political actors through formal interviews. Because the Arkansas River is a centerpiece of the economy and culture in the Upper Basin, it is important that the results of the study reveal the strengths and limitations of the program. The success of the study will depend on its ability to provide practical solutions and insight into these limitations in time for the VFMP’s parties to renegotiate the program in March 2021.

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