Synthesis of System Dynamics Tools for Holistic Conceptualization of Water Resources Problems

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Out-of-context analysis of water resources systems can result in unsustainable management strategies. To address this problem, systems thinking seeks to understand interactions among the subsystems driving a system's overall behavior. System dynamics, a method for operationalizing systems thinking, facilitates holistic understanding of water resources systems, and strategic decision making. The approach also facilitates participatory modeling, and analysis of the system's behavioral trends, essential to sustainable management. The field of water resources has not utilized the full capacity of system dynamics in the thinking phase of integrated water resources studies. We advocate that the thinking phase of modeling applications is critically important, and that system dynamics offers unique qualitative tools that improve understanding of complex problems. Thus, this paper describes the utility of system dynamics for holistic water resources planning and management by illustrating the fundamentals of the approach. Using tangible examples, we provide an overview of Causal Loop and Stock and Flow Diagrams, reference modes of dynamic behavior, and system archetypes to demonstrate the use of these qualitative tools for holistic conceptualization of water resources problems. Finally, we present a summary of the potential benefits as well as caveats of qualitative system dynamics for water resources decision making. © 2012 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.

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Water Resources Management