Assessing System Resilience and Ecosystem Services in Large River Basins: A Case Study of the Columbia River Basin

51 Natural Resources and Environmental Law Edition of the Idaho Law Review 91 (2014)

Posted: 19 Jan 2016

See all articles by Barbara A. Cosens

Barbara A. Cosens

University of Idaho - College of Law

Alexander Fremier

Washington State University

Date Written: December 31, 2013

Abstract

The economic life and the health of society depend on the services provided by large river basins. Throughout the world, widespread development and modification of river basins has resulted in highly stressed ecosystems and societal dependence on engineered services (i.e. the use of infrastructure such as dams and diversions to maximize certain uses of the river) that may be reaching their maximum capability in delivery. These water-based social-ecological systems (SES) are particularly vulnerable to climate change. The complexity of river basins is reflected not only in the biophysical system and the provisioning of ecosystem services, but in societal interaction with these systems, particularly water governance. In the face of change, water governance must become adaptive. Improvement in the capacity of these social-ecological systems to adapt through changes in governance begins with understanding the system-wide effects of past changes and the evolution of social interaction with the basin’s ecological system. As part of the Adaptive Water Governance Project, this article explores the resilience of the Columbia River Basin social-ecological system to climate change. It begins with an overview of its theoretical background and methodology, and proceeds to a basin characterization. The article then presents a resilience assessment of the basin following methods developed by Walker and Salt and by the Resilience Alliance, but modified to include ecosystem services concepts as a means to discuss system properties. This study takes place in the face of a key window of opportunity for change brought about by expiration of certain provisions of a Treaty between the United States and Canada, and the review process both countries have begun. Although focused on system-wide perturbation resulting from climate change as a thought experiment, this article will view that change in light of this current window of opportunity.

Keywords: water law, resilience, adaptive governance, Columbia River Basin

Suggested Citation

Cosens, Barbara A. and Fremier, Alexander, Assessing System Resilience and Ecosystem Services in Large River Basins: A Case Study of the Columbia River Basin (December 31, 2013). 51 Natural Resources and Environmental Law Edition of the Idaho Law Review 91 (2014). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2717747

Barbara A. Cosens (Contact Author)

University of Idaho - College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 442321
Moscow, ID 83844-2321
United States
208 885-6298 (Phone)
208 885-2859 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.uidaho.edu/law/people/faculty/bcosens

Alexander Fremier

Washington State University ( email )

School of the Environment
122
Pullman, WA 99164-1228
United States

HOME PAGE: http://soe.wsu.edu/people/faculty/alexfremier.html

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