Elinor Ostrom, Distinguished Professor of political science at Indiana University (IU) Bloomington and the 2009 Nobel Prize Laureate in economic sciences, is the principal investigator in a three-year project to study the impact of climate change on water resources and the ability of governance systems to adapt to the resulting challenges.

“Much of the world’s population depends on water from glaciers and snow pack, and climate change threatens to significantly alter the availability of melt-water for irrigation and other purposes,” Ostrom said. “This research will help us better understand the likely impact of these changes, as well as the capacity of individuals and households to adapt to water scarcity.”

The National Science Foundation has awarded a $1.2 million grant to researchers at IU and two other institutions. The project will focus on snowmelt-dependent, semi-arid regions in Colorado and New Mexico and in eastern Kenya, providing a range of governmental and institutional arrangements to study.

Global water withdrawals have doubled in the past 40 years to support increases in agricultural irrigation: 45 percent of global food supply is now produced on only 20 percent of global cropland. As a result, more than one-sixth of the world’s population relies on glaciers and seasonal snow pack for agricultural production. But climate change will have an impact on snowfall and on the amount and timing of water discharges, as temperatures and precipitation patterns change and glaciers shrink or even disappear. Systems for allocating water to users will have to respond.

ACT’s Climate Change Adaptation and Water Governance report, authored by Bob Sandford, Chair, Canadian Partnership Initiative of the UN Water for Life Decade, and due for release on October 4th 2011, outlines a new “water ethic” that could be a means of ultimately achieving greater adaptive capacity to climate change in Canada, while generating a great many other lasting social, economic and environmental benefits along the way.

Elinor Ostrom’s research will add new knowledge about the ways in which institutional diversity can contribute to effective management of water resources, providing guidance for policy makers who seek nuanced alternatives to “one-size-fits-all” resource management approaches. We look forward to the results!