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Front. Environ. Sci. | doi: 10.3389/fenvs.2018.00104

Incorporating Social System Dynamics in the Columbia River Basin: Food-Energy-Water Resilience and Sustainability Modeling in the Yakima River Basin

  • 1Utah State University, United States
  • 2Washington State University, United States
  • 3University of Idaho, United States

In the face of climate change, achieving resilience of desirable aspects of food-energy-water (FEW) systems already strained by competing multi-scalar social objectives requires interdisciplinary approaches. This study is part of a larger effort exploring “Innovations in the Food-Energy-Water Nexus (INFEWS)” in the Columbia River Basin (CRB) through coordinated modeling and simulated management scenarios. Here, we focus on a case study and conceptual mapping of the Yakima River Basin (YRB), a sub-basin of the CRB. Previous research on FEW system management and resilience includes some attention to social dynamics (e.g., economic and governance systems); however, more attention to social drivers and outcomes is needed. Our goals are to identify several underutilized ways to incorporate social science perspectives into FEW nexus research and to explore how this interdisciplinary endeavor alters how we assess innovations and resilience in FEW systems. First, we investigate insights on FEW nexus resilience from the social sciences. Next, we delineate strategies for further incorporation of social considerations into FEW nexus research, including the use of social science perspectives and frameworks such as socio-ecological resilience and community capitals. Then, we examine a case study of the YRB, focusing on the historical development of the FEW nexus and innovations. We find that a resilience focus applied to the FEW nexus can inadvertently emphasize a status quo imposed by those already in power. Incorporating perspectives from the social sciences, which highlight issues related to inequality, power, and social justice, can address these shortcomings and inform future innovations. Finally, we use causal loop diagrams to explore the role of the social in the FEW nexus, and we suggest ways to incorporate social aspects into an existing stock and flow object-oriented modeling system. This project represents a starting point for a continued research agenda that incorporates social dynamics into FEW system resilience modeling and management in the CRB.

Keywords: resilience, sustainability, social science, Food-energy-water nexus, INFEWS, Columbia River Basin, Yakima River Basin, Sociology

Received: 25 Jun 2018; Accepted: 24 Aug 2018.

Edited by:

Jill A. Engel-Cox, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (DOE), United States

Reviewed by:

Richard Meissner, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), South Africa
Nidhi Nagabhatla, United Nations University Institute for Water Environment and Health, Canada  

Copyright: © 2018 Givens, Padowski, Guzman, Malek, Witinok-Huber, Cosens, Briscoe, Boll and Adam. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Jennifer E. Givens, Utah State University, Logan, United States,