Incorporating social dimensions in hydrological and water quality modeling to evaluate the effectiveness of agricultural beneficial management practices in a Prairie River Basin

  • Lori Bradford
  • Anuja Thapa
  • Ashleigh Duffy
  • Elmira Hassanzadeh
  • Graham Strickert
  • Bram Noble
  • Karl-Erich LindenschmidtEmail author
Advances in Receiving Water Quality Models


There is growing interest to develop processes for creating user-informed watershed scale models of hydrology and water quality and to assist in decision-making for balanced policies for managing watersheds. Watershed models can be enhanced with the incorporation of social dimensions of watershed management as brought forward by participants such as the perspectives, values, and norms of people that depend on the land, water, and ecosystems for sustenance, economies, and overall wellbeing. In this work, we explore the value of combining both qualitative and quantitative methods and social science data to enhance salience and legitimacy of watershed models so that end-users are more engaged. We discuss pilot testing and engagement workshops for building and testing a systems dynamics model of the Qu’Appelle Valley to gather insights from local farmers and understand their perceptions of Beneficial Management Practices (BMPs). Mixed-method workshops with agricultural producers in the Qu’Appelle Watershed gathered feedback on the developing model and the incorporation of social determinants affecting decision-making. Analysis of focus groups and factor analysis of Q-sorts were used to identify the desired components of the model, and whether it supported farmers’ understanding of the potential effects of BMPs on water quality. We explored farmers’ engagement with models testing BMPs and the potential of incorporating their decision processes within the model itself. Finally, we discuss the reception of the process and the practicality of the approach in providing legitimate and credible decision support tools for a community of farmers.


Watershed modeling System dynamic modeling Beneficial management practices Saskatchewan Mixed method Q methodology Qu’Appelle River Basin 


Funding information

Funding for this project was provided by Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Environmental Damages Fund (project number 1000370120-EDF-CA-2015I001)

Compliance with ethical standards

This project received ethics certification from the University of Saskatchewan (BEH 17-84), and all participants gave informed consent during each phase of the work.

Supplementary material

11356_2019_6325_MOESM1_ESM.docx (47 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 47 kb)


  1. Asgedom H, Kebreab E (2011) Beneficial management practices and mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions in the agriculture of the Canadian Prairie: a review. Agron Sustain Dev 31(3):433–451CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Barbour R (2018) Doing focus groups, 2nd edn. Sage, LondonGoogle Scholar
  3. Barnaud C, Le Page C, Dumrongrojwatthana P, Trébuil G (2013) Spatial representations are not neutral: lessons from a participatory agent-based modelling process in a land-use conflict. Environ Model Softw 45:150–159CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Basco-Carrera L, Warren A, van Beek E, Jonoski A, Giardino A (2017) Collaborative modelling or participatory modelling? A framework for water resources management. Environ Model Softw 91:95–110CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Blair P, Buytaert W (2016) Socio-hydrological modelling: a review asking “why, what and how?”. Hydrol Earth Syst Sci 20(1):443–478CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Blöschl G, Bierkens MF, Chambel A, Cudennec C, Destouni G, Fiori A, …, Stumpp C (2019) Twenty-three unsolved problems in hydrology (UPH) – a community perspective. Hydrol Sci J 64:1141-1158. doi CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Boucher MA, Tremblay D, Delorme L, Perreault L, Anctil F (2012) Hydro-economic assessment of hydrological forecasting systems. J Hydrol 416:133–144CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bradford L, Chun KP, Bonli R, Strickert G (2019) Does engagement build empathy for shared water resources? Results from the use of the interpersonal reactivity index during a mobile water allocation experimental decision laboratory. Water 11(6):1259CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Brannstrom C (2011) A Q-method analysis of environmental governance discourses in Brazil’s northeastern soy frontier. Prof Geogr 63(4):531–549CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Brown SR (1993) A primer on Q methodology. Operant Subj 16(3/4):91–138Google Scholar
  11. Bu H, Meng W, Zhang Y, Wan J (2014) Relationships between land use patterns and water quality in the Taizi River basin, China. Ecol Indic 41:187–197CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Chen H, Chang YC, Chen KC (2014) Integrated wetland management: an analysis with group model building based on system dynamics model. J Environ Manag 146:309–319CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Congreves KA, Grant BB, Campbell CA, Smith WN, VandenBygaart AJ, Kröbel R, Lemke RL, Desjardins RL (2015) Measuring and modeling the long-term impact of crop management on soil carbon sequestration in the semiarid Canadian prairies. Agron J 107(3):1141–1154CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Coogan J, Herrington N (2011) Q methodology: an overview. Res Second Teach Educ 1(2):24–28Google Scholar
  15. Cosgrove WJ, Loucks DP (2015) Water management: current and future challenges and research directions. Water Resour Res 51(6):4823–4839CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Creswell JW, Clark VL (2011) Designing and conducting mixed methods research: second edition. SAGE Publications. Accessed at Accessed 7 Sept 2019
  17. Daigneault PM, Jacob S (2014) Unexpected but most welcome: mixed methods for the validation and revision of the participatory evaluation measurement instrument. J Mixed Methods Res 8(1):6–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Denzin N (1984) The research act. Prentice Hall, NJGoogle Scholar
  19. Di Baldassarre G, Viglione A, Carr G, Kuil L, Yan K, Brandimarte L, Blöschl G (2015) Debates—perspectives on socio-hydrology: capturing feedbacks between physical and social processes. Water Resour Res 51(6):4770–4781CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Di Baldassarre G, Sivapalan M, Rusca M, Cudennec C, Garcia M, Kreibich H, Konar M, Mondino E, Mård J, Pande S, Sanderson MR (2019) Socio-hydrology: scientific challenges in addressing a societal grand challenge. Water Resources Res Accessed 7 Sept 2019
  21. Dixit AS, Hall RI, Leavitt PR, Quinlan R, Smol J (2000) Effects of sequential depositional basins on lake response to urban and agricultural pollution: a palaeoecological analysis of the Qu’Appelle Valley, Saskatchewan, Canada. Freshw Biol 43(3):319–337CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Eden S, Donaldson A, Walker G (2005) Structuring subjectivities? Using Q methodology in human geography. Area 37(4):413–422CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Elo S, Kääriäinen M, Kanste O, Pölkki T, Utriainen K, Kyngäs H (2014) Qualitative content analysis: a focus on trustworthiness. SAGE Open 4(1):1–10. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Emery SB (2015) Independence and individualism: conflated values in farmer cooperation? Agric Hum Values 32(1):47–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Fischer G, Hizsnyik E, Tramberend S, Wiberg D (2015) Towards indicators for water security-a global hydro-economic classification of water challenges. IIASA Interim Report. IIASA, Laxenburg, Austria, IR-15-01 Accessed 7 Sept 2019
  26. Forrester JW (1994) System dynamics, systems thinking, and soft OR. Syst Dyn Rev 10(2-3):245–256CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Friesen J, Sinobas LR, Foglia L, Ludwig R (2017) Environmental and socio-economic methodologies and solutions towards integrated water resources management. Sci Total Environ 581-582:906–908CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Fürst C, Volk M, Makeschin F (2010) Squaring the circle? Combining models, indicators, experts and end-users in integrated land-use management support tools. Environ Manag 46(6):829–833CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Gaddis EJB, Falk HH, Ginger C, Voinov A (2010) Effectiveness of a participatory modeling effort to identify and advance community water resource goals in St. Albans, Vermont. Environ Model Softw 25(11):1428–1438CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Gibbs GR (2007) Analysing qualitative data. London, England. SAGE Publications Ltd. (p10-23). Accessed at Accessed 7 Sept 2019
  31. Gober P, Wheater HS (2015) Debates-perspectives on socio-hydrology: modeling flood risk as a public policy problem. Water Resour Res 51(6):4782–4788CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Greene JC, Caracelli VJ, Graham WF (1989) Toward a conceptual framework for mixed-method evaluation designs. Educ Eval Policy Anal 11(3):255–274CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Hassanzadeh E, Elshorbagy A, Wheater H, Gober P (2014) Managing water in complex systems: an integrated water resources model for Saskatchewan, Canada. Environ Model Softw 58:12–26CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Hassanzadeh E, Elshorbagy A, Wheater H, Gober P (2016) A risk-based framework for water resource management under changing water availability, policy options, and irrigation expansion. Adv Water Resour 94:291–306CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Hassanzadeh E, Strickert G, Morales-Marin L, Noble B, Baulch H, Shupena-Soulodre E, Lindenschmidt K-E (2019) A framework for engaging stakeholders in water quality modeling and management: application to the Qu’Appelle River Basin, Canada. J Environ Manag 231:1117–1126CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Hsieh HF, Shannon SE (2005) Three approaches to qualitative content analysis. Qual Health Res 15(9):1277–1288CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Inam A, Adamowski J, Prasher S, Halbe J, Malard J, Albano R (2017) Coupling of a distributed stakeholder-built system dynamics socio-economic model with SAHYSMOD for sustainable soil salinity management–part 1: model development. J Hydrol 551:596–618CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Johnson RB, Onwuegbuzie AJ, Turner LA (2007) Toward a definition of mixed methods research. J Mixed Methods Res 1(2):112–133CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Kelly RA, Jakeman AJ, Barreteau O, Borsuk ME, ElSawah S, Hamilton SH, Henriksen HJ, Kuikka S, Maier HR, Rizzoli AE, van Delden H (2013) Selecting among five common modelling approaches for integrated environmental assessment and management. Environ Model Softw 47:159–181CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Kendy E, Flessa KW, Schlatter KJ, Carlos A, Huerta OMH, Carrillo-Guerrero YK, Guillen E (2017) Leveraging environmental flows to reform water management policy: lessons learned from the 2014 Colorado River Delta pulse flow. Ecol Eng 106:683–694CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Kitzinger J (1995) Qualitative research: introducing focus groups. BMJ 311(7000):299–302. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Kowalski K, Stagl S, Madlener R, Omann I (2009) Sustainable energy futures: methodological challenges in combining scenarios and participatory multi-criteria analysis. Eur J Oper Res 197(3):1063–1074CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Laforge JM, Levkoe CZ (2018) Seeding agroecology through new farmer training in Canada: knowledge, practice, and relational identities. Local Environ 23(1):1–17CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Lee SW, Hwang SJ, Lee SB, Hwang HS, Sung HC (2009) Landscape ecological approach to the relationships of land use patterns in watersheds to water quality characteristics. Landsc Urban Plan 92(2):80–89CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Lindsey E, McGuinness L (1998) Significant elements of community involvement in participatory action research: evidence from a community project. J Adv Nurs 28(5):1106–1114CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Malec E (2018) The benefits of using computer simulation models to support decision-making. In: Hamrol A, Ciszak O, Legutko S, Jurczyk M (eds) Advances in Manufacturing. Lecture Notes in Mechanical Engineering. Springer, Cham, pp 205-214. Google Scholar
  47. Mertens DM (2017) Mixed methods design in evaluation (Vol. 1). SAGE publications, Los AngelesGoogle Scholar
  48. Mirchi A (2013) System dynamics modeling as a quantitative-qualitative framework for sustainable water resources management: insights for water quality policy in the Great Lakes Region (Doctoral dissertation, Michigan Technological University)Google Scholar
  49. Mirchi A, Madani K, Watkins D, Ahmad S (2012) Synthesis of system dynamics tools for holistic conceptualization of water resources problems. Water Resour Manag 26(9):2421–2442CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Paolisso M (2002) Blue crabs and controversy on the Chesapeake Bay: a cultural model for understanding watermen’s reasoning about blue crab management. Hum Organ 61(3):226–239CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Paolisso M, Trombley J (2017) Cognitive, material and technological considerations in participatory environmental modeling. In: Gray S, Paolisso M, Jordan R, Gray S (eds) Environmental modeling with stakeholders. Springer, Cham, pp 3-23. Google Scholar
  52. Paolisso M, Trombley J, Hood RR, Sellner KG (2015) Environmental models and public stakeholders in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Estuar Coasts 38(1):97–113CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Pomeroy JW, de Boer D, Martz LW (2005) Hydrology and water resources of Saskatchewan. Centre for Hydrology, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, p 25Google Scholar
  54. Preston SD, Alexander RB, Woodside MD, Hamilton PA (2009) SPARROW modeling: enhancing understanding of the nation’s water quality. US Department of the Interior, US Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2009–3019, 6 p. Accessed 7 Sept 2019
  55. Ramlo S (2016) Mixed method lessons learned from 80 years of Q methodology. J Mixed Methods Res 10(1):28–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Ravera F, Hubacek K, Reed M, Tarrasón D (2011) Learning from experiences in adaptive action research: a critical comparison of two case studies applying participatory scenario development and modelling approaches. Environ Policy Gov 21(6):433–453CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Ricart S (2018) Water management and irrigation governance in the Anthropocene: moving from physical solutions to social involvement. J Geogr Environ Earth Sci Int 15(4):1–15Google Scholar
  58. Rivers MR, Weaver DM, Smettem KRJ, Davies PM (2011) Estimating future scenarios for farm–watershed nutrient fluxes using dynamic simulation modelling. Phys Chem Earth A/B/C 36(9-11):420–423CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Rosenstein B (2002) Video use in social science research and program evaluation. Int J Qual Methods 1(3):22–43CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Saldaña J (2015) The coding manual for qualitative researchers. Sage, Los AngelesGoogle Scholar
  61. Saldaña J (2016) The coding manual for qualitative researchers - third Edition. SAGE Publications Ltd., London Accessed at Accessed 7 Sept 2019
  62. Schall D, Lansing D, Leisnham P, Shirmohammadi A, Montas H, Hutson T (2018) Understanding stakeholder perspectives on agricultural best management practices and environmental change in the Chesapeake Bay: a Q methodology study. J Rural Stud 60:21–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Schlicht SB (1998) Perceptions of secondary students with learning disabilities regarding their networking knowledge, skills, and attitudes. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Minnesota, USA.Google Scholar
  64. Schmeier S, Vogel B (2018) Ensuring long-term cooperation over transboundary water resources through joint river basin management. In: Schmutz S, Sendzimir J (eds) Riverine ecosystem management. Aquatic Ecology Series, vol 8. Springer, ChamCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Scown MW, Flotemersch JE, Spanbauer TL, Eason T, Garmestani A, Chaffin BC (2017) People and water: exploring the social-ecological condition of watersheds of the United States. Elementa (Washington, DC) 5(64):1Google Scholar
  66. Singh VP, Frevert DK (2003) Watershed models. In: Rogers JR, Fredrich AJ (eds) Environmental and water resources history. American Society of Civil Engineers, pp 156–167.
  67. Smith RA, Schwarz GE, Alexander RB (1997) Regional interpretation of water-quality monitoring data. Water Resour Res 33:2781–2798CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Strickert G, Smarasinghe S, Doscher C, Davies T (2010) A gap hazard analysis: initiating policy development with mountainous communities. J Nat Resour Policy Res 2(4):389–407CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Strickert G, Chun KP, Bradford L, Clark D, Gober P, Reed MG, Payton D (2016) Unpacking viewpoints on water security: lessons from the South Saskatchewan River Basin. Water Policy 18(1):50–72Google Scholar
  70. Strickert GE, Hassanzadeh E, Noble B, Baulch HM, Morales-Marin LA, Lindenschmidt K-E (2017) Putting people into water quality modelling. In AGU fall meeting abstracts. PA31B: science to action: building novel and transformative partnerships toward decision-relevant science III posters, December 13th, 2017, New Orleans, LAGoogle Scholar
  71. SWA (Saskatchewan Watershed Authority) (2012) Present and future water demand in the Qu’Appelle River Basin. Saskatchewan Watershed Authority, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada. Accessed 7 Sept 2019
  72. Todini E (2017) Flood forecasting and decision making in the new millennium. Where are we? Water Resour Manag 31(10):3111–3129CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Tong ST, Chen W (2002) Modeling the relationship between land use and surface water quality. J Environ Manag 66(4):377–393CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Tonitto C, Woodbury PB, McLellan EL (2018) Defining a best practice methodology for modeling the environmental performance of agriculture. Environ Sci Policy 87:64–73CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Troy TJ, Pavao-Zuckerman M, Evans TP (2015) Debates—perspectives on socio-hydrology: socio-hydrologic modeling: tradeoffs, hypothesis testing, and validation. Water Resour Res 51(6):4806–4814CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Valls-Donderis P, Ray D, Peace A, Stewart A, Lawrence A, Galiana F (2014) Participatory development of decision support systems: which features of the process lead to improved uptake and better outcomes? Scand J For Res 29(sup1):71–83CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Voinov A, Gaddis EJB (2008) Lessons for successful participatory watershed modeling: a perspective from modeling practitioners. Ecol Model 216(2):197–207CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Vollmer D, Regan HM, Andelman SJ (2016) Assessing the sustainability of freshwater systems: a critical review of composite indicators. Ambio 45(7):765–780CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Vollmer D, Shaad K, Souter NJ, Farrell T, Dudgeon D, Sullivan CA, Fauconnier I, MacDonald GM, McCartney MP, Power AG, McNally A (2018) Integrating the social, hydrological and ecological dimensions of freshwater health: the freshwater health index. Sci Total Environ 627:304–313CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Wheater H, Gober P (2013) Water security in the Canadian prairies: science and management strategies. Phil Trans R Soc A 371:20120409. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Wiek A, Larson KL (2012) Water, people, and sustainability—a systems framework for analyzing and assessing water governance regimes. Water Resour Manag 26(11):3153–3171CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Wilkinson S (1998) Focus group methodology: a review. Int J Soc Res Methodol 1(3):181–203CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Winz I, Brierley G, Trowsdale S (2009) The use of system dynamics simulation in water resources management. Water Resour Manag 23(7):1301–1323CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Yin R (1994) Case study research: design and methods, 2nd edn. Sage Publishing, Beverly HillsGoogle Scholar
  85. Zabala A, Pascual U (2016) Bootstrapping Q methodology to improve the understanding of human perspectives. PLoS One 11(2):e0148087CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Environment and SustainabilityUniversity of SaskatchewanSaskatoonCanada
  2. 2.Department of Civil, Geological and Mining EngineeringPolytechnique MontrealMontrealCanada
  3. 3.Department of Geography and PlanningUniversity of SaskatchewanSaskatoonCanada

Personalised recommendations