The opposite of 'whole': groundwater dependence in a rural agricultural community in Colorado

MacIlroy, Kelsea E., author
Taylor, Peter L., advisor
Cross, Jeni, committee member
Cheng, Tony, committee member
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Colorado State University. Libraries
As the American West faces increasing water demands and decreased access and flows due to the effects of climate change, increasing populations, and pollution it is more important than ever to examine governance structures of common pool resources like groundwater. In the San Luis Valley of south-central Colorado, the community's dependence on this resource has been concealed by the hiddenness of groundwater, which also obscured its role in shaping agriculture, expansion in farmland, and social structure in the Valley. This unsustainable use of groundwater--the opposite of 'whole'--made a 'tragedy of the commons' possible. In response, a local water management organization spearheaded a groundwater management plan with a main goal to preserve as many livelihoods as possible. Similar to other natural resource dependent communities, subdistrict #1 provides a case study of how a community is responding to their overuse through collective action. Support and opposition for this plan stems from different perceptions among community members influenced by their legal, geographical and social relationships with water and ability to access it; perceptions of who bears the responsibility for solving the issue of overdraft; perceptions of the state of the local farming based economy and community; and perceptions of the future of agriculture in the Valley. This case study relies on in-depth interviews with 25 people and participant observation. Critiquing Ostrom's (1990) framework for behavioral choice, this study finds that social vulnerability is unevenly distributed and thus, in order to return the aquifer to a sustainable level, there cannot be just one solution to the problem.
2014 Spring.
groundwater, water, tragedy of the commons, San Luis Valley, commons, governance