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The Arctic Water Resource Vulnerability Index: An Integrated Assessment Tool for Community Resilience and Vulnerability with Respect to Freshwater

Abstract

People in the Arctic face uncertainty in their daily lives as they contend with environmental changes at a range of scales from local to global. Freshwater is a critical resource to people, and although water resource indicators have been developed that operate from regional to global scales and for midlatitude to equatorial environments, no appropriate index exists for assessing the vulnerability of Arctic communities to changing water resources at the local scale. The Arctic Water Resource Vulnerability Index (AWRVI) is proposed as a tool that Arctic communities can use to assess their relative vulnerability–resilience to changes in their water resources from a variety of biophysical and socioeconomic processes. The AWRVI is based on a social–ecological systems perspective that includes physical and social indicators of change and is demonstrated in three case study communities/watersheds in Alaska. These results highlight the value of communities engaging in the process of using the AWRVI and the diagnostic capability of examining the suite of constituent physical and social scores rather than the total AWRVI score alone.

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Acknowledgments

We are grateful to the National Science Foundation (OPP Arctic System Science #0327296 and #0328686) for funding this research; the views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the National Science Foundation. We thank Paula Williams of the Resilience and Adaptive Management Group, University of Alaska Anchorage for assistance with field work, data entry, and literature work. We thank Sean Mack of the Resilience and Adaptive Management Group and the Geographic Information Network of Alaska for assistance with spatial dataset compilation and GIS-based computations. We are grateful for the insightful comments on an earlier version by two anonymous reviewers. We also thank our community collaborators in the communities of Eagle River, Wales and White Mountain, Quyana.

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Correspondence to Andrew Kliskey.

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Lilian Alessa and Andrew Kliskey have contributed equally.

Appendix

Appendix

This Appendix provides the initial indicators for an AWRVI modified from existing broad-scale indices: Water Poverty Index (Sullivan 2002), Water Availability Index (Meigh et al. 1999), and the Index of Watershed Indicators (EPA 2002) prior to assessment and revision from an expert panel via Delphi method. Experts were asked to rate the applicability of each indicator and the range of values used and to propose additional indicators considered necessary. This process proceeded through five iterations.

   Indicator Unit Resilience Index 0 (low: vulnerable)−1 (high: resilient) range Secondary indicators/detailed indicators/comments
Water use capacity5 Natural supply (%) Landscape type; change in area wetlands/lakes % of catchments: (topography and change over time, rate in loss/gain m2/year) (+ % high) (+ change loss, low; +change gain, high) Lake depth or volume est., seasonal availability. Precipitation: changes in regime, timing, and magnitude; WBM/WTM; time step depends on data availability (Note: WBM/WTM by Vörösmarty et al. (2000) if local-scale appropriate); precipitation weighted w.r.t. land-use changes: higher ppt might result in flooding if higher disturbance. Sources: remote sensing, satellite, maps, gauges, oral histories, met stations, trade records, etc.
Stream network diversity (1−3 orders); change in river discharge Ratio rate in m3/year (+ high) (+ change, low)  
Precipitation; variance mm/year Rate in mm/year (+ high; linked to upstream drainage modified) (+low; “unreliable”)  
Municipal supply (%) Reservoirs (storage capacity) (m3/year) and/or flow rates Ratio (+ high) Sources: facility and engineering specifications, local knowledge
Wells (groundwater) (+ high)
Index of treatment technology, # of water sources (+ low)
Ratio % infrastructure on dPF  
Water transport Distance from source to user m/km (+ low) Sources: facility and engineering specifications, local knowledge
Energy required to move water or melt snow KW or L of petrol or kg of coal (+ low) Sources: facility and engineering specifications, local knowledge
Watershed features Water quality Upstream drainage modified or withdrawn by industry, number and types of MWS wastewater discharge, number of landfills and honeybucket disposal sites % of catchment (+ low) Biological quality: EC, TC, Cryptosporidia, Giardia
Chemical quality: conductivity, pH, other standard chemical analyses
Sources: sample analyses
Water origin [Continuous PF/PF free]/[Transitional Permafrost (PF)/Discontinuous PF] (+ low) More reliable (cPF or PF-free) versus transitional (dPF) land; groundwater contribution by comparison of conductivity; water infrastructure constructed on PF, heavier weighting for dPF. Sources: remote sensing, satellite, maps, gauges, oral histories, industry records.
(+ high)  
Subsistence habitat % (#) fish-recruiting streams % (+ high) Sources: records of catch (ADF&G), local knowledge
Regulation and management capacity Informational capacity Regulatory control   - Types of data missing, access to local and traditional knowledge that is documented. Education includes Western degrees and experience/knowledge through land-schooling and other traditional methods (e.g., total number of elders who actively transfer relevant knowledge)
Environmental strategies and action plans. Availability of sustainable development information at national, regional, and local levels   (+ high)
% of ESI variables missing from public datasets: % of baseline data at watershed scale, local knowledge available regarding water % (+ low)
Education   (+ high)
Network diversity # of internal & external links  
Sensitivity to change Perception of change Pi that perceives change (+ high) Greater perception of change→more likely to respond; more values of water as a resource→less likely to choose options that degrade or threaten it.
Values of water Pi with subsistence/cultural values (+ high proportion) Sources: local knowledge

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Alessa, L., Kliskey, A., Lammers, R. et al. The Arctic Water Resource Vulnerability Index: An Integrated Assessment Tool for Community Resilience and Vulnerability with Respect to Freshwater. Environmental Management 42, 523–541 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-008-9152-0

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Keywords

  • Arctic
  • Freshwater
  • Index
  • Resilience
  • Vulnerability