Research Theme - Socio-hydrology

At the Decision Centre for a Desert City at Arizona State University

Socio-hydrology is a new area of research that integrates people and their activities into water science. The Global Institute for Water Security recognizes that at the heart of water security is the ability of water systems to meet changing human and environmental needs. Socio-hydrology research ensures that decisions made about our water resources incorporate a range of values and perspectives about the meaning, value and use of water. 

Social scientists bring an interest in human values, markets, social organizations and political institutions to the traditional focus of water science on climate and hydrology.  Increasingly, it is recognized that some of the most critical vulnerabilities in contemporary water systems lie at the intersection between human activities and physical systems, such as when governance systems are incapable of dealing with climate-induced changes in water supply. 

Social scientists study societal responses to water stresses like flooding and drought and investigate the potential of existing and new economic and other policy instruments to help communities make sound decisions under uncertainty. The institute’s socio-hydrology team members ensure that social science questions are given a consideration throughout the research activities and incorporated across research themes. 

Theme Objectives:

  •  Build relationships with stakeholder communities to develop a common understanding of their values and what they identify as threats to water security
  •  Understand divergent perspectives on the definition of water security and the major driving forces for future insecurity
  •  Assess the social and natural science questions deemed important by stakeholder communities and draw on local knowledge to inform the research
  •  Study societal response to water stress and to economic and policy instruments
  •  Inform policy options to address water uncertainty and impediments to effective water governance

Working group membership:

Douglas Clark (lead), Howard Wheater, Patricia Gober, Maureen Reed, John Pomeroy, Bram Noble, Lalita Bharadwaj, Marcia McKenzie, Bob Patrick

Project: A Collaborative Approach to Defining Water Security in the Saskatchewan River Basin*

The Global Institute for Water Security hosted a series of workshops in spring and summer 2012 to find out how people engaged in the water sector in the Saskatchewan River Basin personally define water security. Stakeholders representing a range of interests in water and water management were invited to attend. The final attendance list represented municipalities, farmers, industry, environmental groups, First Nations and Metis, and water scientists and managers. Workshops were held in Kananaskis and Medicine Hat, Alberta, and Saskatoon and Nipawin, Saskatchewan.

Each workshop followed the same format and took participants through several exercises to gather information about their thoughts and experiences regarding governance, resource stresses, policy and other perceived opportunities for, and threats to, current and future water security in the Saskatchewan River Basin.

The data gathered from these conversations will help feed into the types of scientific questions GIWS researchers should be examining, and help us understand water security on the Prairies. This project is the first step in developing the socio-hydrology research theme at GIWS and connecting people to water science.

Project Goals:

  • Build relationships between scientists and stakeholders
  • Take the participants through a process of understanding their perspectives on water security in the Saskatchewan River Basin
  • Obtain data for future analysis 

*This project is partially funded by the U of S Office of the Vice-President Research Science in Society grant.



Contact Us:
Global Institute for Water Security
University of Saskatchewan
National Hydrology Research Centre
11 Innovation Boulevard
Saskatoon, SK S7N 3H5 Canada
Phone: (306) 966-8014
Fax: (306) 966-1193 

For media inquiries contact:
Meagan Hinther, Communications Specialist
Phone: (306) 966-1019