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The nature of human adaptation : exploring local water resource management in the Okanagan region Blincoe Shepherd, Philippa

Abstract

Using climate change adaptation theory as a framework, this study explores the process of adaptation to multiple stressors in the context of water management in the Okanagan Region, British Columbia. Water resources in the Okanagan are under growing stress from many pressures, including population growth, irrigated agriculture, tourism activities, forestry at higher elevations and now climate change. How to effectively adapt to these multiple stressors is a pertinent question for both local and provincial decision-makers. Four case studies, each representing different water efficiency approaches were selected for the study: domestic metering in Kelowna, irrigation metering in SEKID, wastewater reclamation in Vernon and institutional change in Greater Vernon, specifically amalgamation of separate water utilities. The primary objective of the study is to explore how local authorities are adapting to current changing circumstances that impact availability of water resources: what factors triggered adaptation, determine the options selected and the success or failure of implementation, as well as what capacities facilitated adaptation i.e. adaptive capacity. Exploration of adaptation from a multi-signal perspective accentuates the contextual nature of future adaptation to climate change; that many factors i.e. other environmental pressures, socio-economic and political issues, will ultimately constrain, impede or encourage effective adaptation. Secondary objectives of the study include analysing the effectiveness of the four management practises and exploring the role of learning in the adaptation process. 28 interviews of local water managers, Council/Board members and other key informants were undertaken. These cases show that adaptation, even planned adaptation, is not a rational, clear-cut process. Five key elements are critical for the initiation and follow through of appropriate and effective adaptation: 1) Capacity; 2) Willingness; 3) Understanding; 4) Trust, and 5) Learning. Resources need to be available/accessible in order for adaptation to occur. Willingness, or human agency, is vital in making appropriate decisions. Understanding the context will aid selection of appropriate options, aid procedural ease and outcome effectiveness. Trust, although won't necessarily prevent conflict will ease the decision-making process. Finally, making learning an explicit objective will challenge internal status quo and ensure continual system improvements as well as the diffusion of experience between organisations.

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