The Okanagan region in southeast British Columbia is a unique place offering opportunities for agriculture, tourism and other commercial enterprises, along with attractive residential amenities such as stunning panoramas and lakeside communities. The Okanagan also features high per capita water use and is confronting rapid population growth, altered landscapes, and climate change induced alterations to the water supply cycle. Decision makers managing freshwater systems in the Okanagan need to balance the competing tasks of meeting growing demands for water and protecting hydrological processes supporting the broader ecosystem. To do so, they need representative information about the complex interactions between physical and social processes in the Okanagan Basin watershed. In this thesis, I examine how discrete choice experiments and a coupled socio-hydrological model can be used to advance understanding of the preferences and behaviour of water users in the Okanagan, and to inform water policymaking. First, I use a discrete choice experiment to investigate and model the preferences of residents for landscaping options affecting outdoor water use. I find that residential preferences for lawns in the Okanagan differ from the current characteristics of many lawns in the region, offering the potential for policies to promote changes to reduce water use. I then use similar methods to examine and model the preferences of farmers concerning drought response policies in an adjacent agricultural setting. I find that these farmers have preferences for drought response plans that contain opportunities to trade water during droughts and that a moderate reduction of water supply during droughts may also be acceptable to them. Finally, I develop and demonstrate the application of a coupled socio-hydrological model that links the behavioural model developed from my resident study with a hydrological model of the Okanagan Basin. I find that discrete choice models can be used to prepare a valuable proxy for human behaviour to inform water related decisions and that the coupled socio-hydrological model presents a more sophisticated representation of human-water system interactions than conventional hydrological models, improving the information available to support decision makers.
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Thesis advisor: Rutherford, Murray
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