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Participatory Modeling of Water Vulnerability in Remote Alaskan Households Using Causal Loop Diagrams


Despite perceptions of high water availability, adequate access to sufficient water resources remains a major challenge in Alaska. This paper uses a participatory modeling approach to investigate household water vulnerability in remote Alaska and to examine factors that affect water availability and water access. Specifically, the work asks: how do water policy stakeholders conceptualize the key processes that affect household water vulnerability in the context of rural Alaska? Fourteen water policy stakeholders participated in the modeling process, which included defining the problem of household water vulnerability and constructing individual causal loop diagrams (CLDs) that represent their conceptualization of household water vulnerability. Individual CLDs were subsequently combined and five sub-models emerged: environmental, economic, infrastructure, social, and health. The environmental and economic sub-models of the CLD are explored in depth. In the environmental sub-model, climate change and environmental barriers due to geography influence household water vulnerability. In the economic sub-model, four processes and one feedback loop affect household water vulnerability, including operations and maintenance funding, the strength of the rural Alaskan economy, and the impact of regulations. To overcome household water vulnerability and make households more resilient, stakeholders highlighted policy solutions under five themes: economics, social, regulatory, technological, and environmental.

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We gratefully acknowledge funding support from the Canadian Institute of Health Research, and ArcticNet – A Canada National Center of Excellence. We are very appreciative of all the Alaskans and stakeholders that participated in this research. Thanks to Dr. Mylene Riva for discussing these research ideas.

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Correspondence to Antonia Sohns.

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Sohns, A., Ford, J.D., Adamowski, J. et al. Participatory Modeling of Water Vulnerability in Remote Alaskan Households Using Causal Loop Diagrams. Environmental Management 67, 26–42 (2021).

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  • Water vulnerability
  • Alaska
  • Participatory modeling
  • Causal loop diagrams
  • Arctic
  • Climate change