Measuring water security and adaptive management in the arid Americas: A workshop deliverable

By Adriana Zuniga (November 29, 2016)

Workshops are usually very useful events where participants gather together to learn from each other and strengthen their social networks, which often lead to fruitful collaborative projects. In just a few days, participants learn about their colleagues’ research activities increasing their knowledge and expanding their horizons. However, there are seldom tangible outputs or deliverables from this type of events. Participants frequently travel to the host institution to attend a series of talks and social events, and leave promptly afterwards back to their hometowns to resume their busy daily lives and make up for their absences.

But this was not the case for the workshop/writeshop titled “Metrics and Measurement of Adaptation: Advances in Water Research in the Arid Americas” that was held on October 1-3, 2014 at the University of Arizona. This workshop was organized by the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy with funding from three of their grants – sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI), and the International Water Security Network (IWSN). Approximately 30 participants from the U.S., Mexico, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil attended this three-day event. One of the goals of this workshop was to develop a synthesis article on the metrics of adaptation for submission to a high-impact journal. But after subsequent correspondence, rough drafts, submissions, revisions, and proof-reads, a set of fourteen essays was published. This set of essays composes a special issue of the high-impact journal Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability titled “Environmental Change and Assessment” (volume 21) that was edited by Gregg Garfin, Margaret Wilder, and Robert Merideth.


Prof. Robert Varady

Water security and adaptive capacity of water management institutions are considered key to improving water resources use and management worldwide, yet these concepts are difficult to measure and compare across different contexts.  In this workshop, prominent keynote speakers – Maria Carmen Lemos and Diana Liverman – emphasized the importance of developing metrics to measure water security and institutional adaptive capacity while acknowledging the challenges of doing so. The special issue examines progress in developing and applying metrics. The series of essays that developed from this workshop address this complex topic in a context-setting and concise way.


The essays include:

  1. Metrics: Moving beyond the adaptation information gap by Wilder M.
  1. Adaptive management and water security in a global context: definitions, concepts, and examples by Varady RG,  Zuniga-Teran AA, Garfin GM, Martín F, and Vicuña S.
  1. Towards joint consideration of adaptive capacity and water security: lessons from the arid Americas Kirchhoff C,  Lara-Valencia F, Brugger J, Mussetta P, and Pineda-Pablos N.
  1. The nexus: reconsidering environmental security and adaptive capacity by de Grenade R, Scott C, House Peters L, Thapa B, Mills-Novoa M, Gerlak A, and Verbist K.
  1. Advancing metrics: models for understanding adaptive capacity and water security by Lemos, MC, Manuel-Navarrete D, Willems B, Diaz Caravantes R, and Varady RG.
  1. Conceptualizing urban water security in an urbanizing world by Romero-Lankao P and Gnatz DM.
  1. Towards characterizing the adaptive capacity of farmer-managed irrigation systems: learnings from Nepal by Thapa B, Scott CA, Wester P, and Varady RG.
  1. Developing and applying water security metrics in China: experience and challenges by Sun F, Staddon C, and Chen M.
  1. Assessing and measuring adaptive capacity: the experiences of African countries in developing meaningful metrics for water management by Nkhata B and Breen C.
  1. Paradise lost? The difficulties in defining and monitoring Integrated Water Resources Management Indicators by Petit O.
  1. Drought plans: a proxy measurement of public water supply security in England by Cook C.
  1. Institutional attributes for adaptive capacity in federal rivers: moving from principles to indicators by Garrick DE and De Stefano L.
  1. Metrics of water security, adaptive capacity, and agroforestry in Indonesia by van Noordwijk M, Kim Y-S, Leimona B, Hairiah K, and Fisher LA.
  1. Metrics for assessing adaptive capacity and water security: Common challenges, diverging contexts, emerging consensus by Garfin G, Scott CA, Wilder M, Varady RG, and Merideth R.


This is an extraordinary outcome of a workshop that capitalized the expertise of researchers from different countries. In this set of concise essays (approximately 2,000 words each), readers can find the current state of knowledge of what it entails to measure water security and adaptive management from different perspectives. This contribution advances our understanding of what it means to be water-secure while adapting to uncertain future conditions.

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