Utilization of Emerging Geo-Spatial Technologies in the Implementation of Conjunctive Administration of Surface and Ground Water

David R. Tuthill, Jr.

A Dissertation Presented in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy with a Major in Civil Engineering in the College of Graduate Studies University of Idaho

In many areas of the western United States, water supplies are insufficient to meet all demands at all times. The appropriation doctrine of "first in time is first in right" provides a mechanism for the orderly distribution of water during periods of scarcity. While this doctrine has been functional for interconnected surface water systems, application of the doctrine to ground water has been more challenging -- especially in situations where surface and ground water are interconnected and should, by state law, be administered conjunctively. Water managers in most of the western states are charged with administering water conjunctively, but situations where implementation has been successful are rare. 

The purpose of this research was to develop an improved approach to implementation of conjunctive administration of surface and ground water. Specific objectives included development of a conceptual conjunctive administration model, application of the model to the Boise River Basin, and development of guidelines for future implementation of conjunctive administration in the Boise River Basin and in other locations within the western states. The approach was enhanced with group decision making processes and emerging technologies such as vivid geo-spatial representations and active linkages between tabular and spatial data. 

A cornerstone of the conceptual conjunctive administration model is the conjunctive administration platform. This platform consists of these four primary elements: water laws and rules, water rights, technical information and stakeholder involvement. These elements are integrated via a Geographic Information System (GIS). The platform provides a framework for enabling stakeholders to assess technical information and uncertainties, and to assist in developing implementation recommendations via collaborative spatial decision making (CSDM) sessions. 

An experiment was conducted to evaluate the optimal strategy for integration of stakeholder involvement and the potential influence of technology in the decision making process. Stakeholders participating in the experiment included representatives of surface water users, ground water users, a private municipal water purveyor, a municipality, the administrative water district, and the general public. Members of a Test Group were provided with individual computers, GIS data, and facilitators to assist with data exploration. Members of a Control Group conducted an identical session, with the exception that they iv did not have individual computers with which to further analyze GIS data, and instead solely relied upon group information displays. A distinguishing attribute of this experiment was that participants in both groups were not role-players but instead were actual Boise River Basin stakeholders, and the results of the study were used to assist in development of water administration policy for the basin. 

Both groups were provided background administrative and technical information about implementation of conjunctive administration, and they were requested to determine if, where, and when conjunctive administration should be implemented. The experiment demonstrated that spatial displays of information assist in enabling stakeholders to make informed decisions. Members of the Control Group found the GIS displays to be useful and helpful in decision determinations. Members of the Test Group, while also finding the GIS displays to be useful and helpful, were not able to fully utilize the enhanced technology provided for their group, and did not rate the helpfulness of the technology as highly as the Control Group. This presents a challenge to researchers to increase the simplicity and versatility of software for future sessions. 

This research resulted in the Idaho Department of Water Resources using determinations from the experiment to initiate steps toward implementation of conjunctive administration in the Boise River Basin. Additional steps have been recommended for further implementation in this basin. Enhancements are proposed for future stakeholder sessions in this continuing research effort of the Idaho Department of Water Resources. A guideline is provided for implementation of conjunctive administration in other river basins in the western states.

< Back to collaborative spatial decision makings study home page