CNH: Hyper-Extractive Economies and Sustainability: Policy Scenarios for Sustainable Water Use in the High Plains Aquifer

Southwest Kansas sits on the Ogallala Aquifer, one of world's largest underground sources of freshwater, which is also quickly becoming a depleted natural resource. The hyper-extractive economic system of Southwest Kansas survives and thrives by externalizing the costs of production, at every step along the production chain, onto society, the economy, and natural systems of the region. Hyper-extractive practices produce economic and resource path dependencies, which when placed in relation with global processes such as international migration and the emergence of global commodity chains, shape future patterns of population growth and economic development.

Our research asks which changes in the parameters of irrigated agriculture will produce sustainable uses of the aquifer without jeopardizing the region's economy. To model this system, we use an integrated, cross-disciplinary, system-level, theoretical approach developed by the Consortium for Global Research on Water-Based Economies at KSU By linking land and water use patterns, economic trends and population dynamics to issues of sustainability, we focus on 1) accurately modeling the current hyper-extractive system, 2) forecasting the outcome of possible policy approaches to transition the current system toward possible paths that are more sustainable for the social, economic and natural systems of the groundwater-based economies of the High Plains Aquifer, and 3) communicating the model's outcomes to stakeholders and policy-makers for the purpose of developing legislation to implement policy changes designed to enhance sustainability.

This holistic, interdisciplinary approach has broad application to other hyper-extractive economic systems in the High Plains, Africa, Asia, and South America. It will help researchers, students and stakeholders representing different fields and interest areas to work together on commonly-discussed but differently interpreted concepts such as sustainability and path dependence. Collaboration with the Steward County Community College will bring in underrepresented groups and help disseminating knowledge and interdisciplinary perspective on environmental stewardship at the local level. The involvement of researchers, educators, students, elected leaders and stakeholders ensures the development of a healthy dialogue about sustainability issues and the possibility of changing policy to implement some combination of reforms to enhance regional sustainability. This project will create synergies for research, education and infrastructure development with the Kansas NSF EPSCoR Ecoforecasting project.

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