A Multi-dimensional Analysis of the Upper Rio Grande-San Luis Valley Social-ecological System
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The Upper Rio Grande (URG), located in the San Luis Valley (SLV) of southern Colorado, is the primary contributor to streamflow to the Rio Grande Basin, upstream of the confluence of the Rio Conchos at Presidio, TX. The URG-SLV includes a complex irrigation-dependent agricultural social-ecological system (SES), which began development in 1852, and today generates more than 30% of the SLV revenue. The diversions of Rio Grande water for irrigation in the SLV have had a disproportionate impact on the downstream portion of the river. These diversions caused the flow to cease at Ciudad Juarez, Mexico in the late 1880s, creating international conflict. Similarly, low flows in New Mexico and Texas led to interstate conflict. Understanding changes in the URG-SLV that led to this event and the interactions among various drivers of change in the URG-SLV is a difficult task. One reason is that complex social-ecological systems are adaptive, contain feedbacks, emergent properties, cross-scale linkages, large-scale dynamics and non-linearities. Further, most analyses of SES to date have been qualitative, utilizing conceptual models to understand driver interactions. This study utilizes both qualitative and quantitative techniques to develop an innovative approach for analyzing driver interactions in the URG-SLV. Five drivers were identified for the URG-SLV social-ecological system: water (streamflow), water rights, climate, agriculture, and internal and external water policy. The drivers contained several longitudes (data aspect) relevant to the system, except water policy, for which only discreet events were present. Change point and statistical analyses were applied to the longitudes to identify quantifiable changes, to allow detection of cross-scale linkages between drivers, and presence of feedback cycles. Agricultural was identified as the driver signal. Change points for agricultural expansion defined four distinct periods: 1852-1923, 1924-1948, 1949-1978 and 1979-2007. Changes in streamflow, water allocations and water policy were observed in all agriculture periods. Cross-scale linkages were also evident between climate and streamflow; policy and water rights; and agriculture, groundwater pumping and streamflow.