South Texas Water Resource Mental Models: A Systems Thinking, Multi-stakeholder Case Study
Author: Chris Flores-Lopez, Benjamin L. Turner, Roger Hanagriff, Ammar Bhandari, and Tushar Sinha,
The Coastal Bend (CB), Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV), and Wintergarden (WG) subregions of south Texas co-exist in similar socio-economic contexts but rely on markedly different water sources (CB: precipitation; LRGV: surface water; WG: groundwater). This has led to unique agricultural practices and municipal policies and reinforced mental models adapted specifically to each subregion, both of which are critical to understanding structural causes behind current water use and future water sustainability. To better stakeholder mental models in each subregion, semi-structured interviews were conducted with individuals with a significant stake in water resource use and management. Results indicated near unanimous consensus among farmers and other stakeholders that water supply is limited and will be increasingly stressed under continued urban population growth. Farmers expressed concern that it will become more difficult to continue farming if additional water resources are not available, while each subregion expressed their own unique concerns: growing bureaucratic oversight and growing population problems (CB), lack of inflows, poor water quality, and international disputes with Mexico (LRGV), and political subdivision, declining groundwater levels, and information technology costs (WG). Mental models were synthesized based on dominant themes expressed by respondents; we synthesized these into two systems thinking archetypes: Tragedy of the Commons and Success to the Successful. Though it is unreasonable to create blanket region-wide policies, the adoption of under-utilized conservation practices coupled to stakeholder outreach remains unexplored leverage points, given most stakeholders are unaware of the feedback processes continuing to threaten south Texas water resources.
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