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Cash, David. 1998. "Assessing and Addressing Cross-Scale Environmental Risks: Information and Decision Systems for the Management of the High Plains Aquifer." Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs (BCSIA) Discussion Paper E-98-17. Cambridge, MA: Environment and Natural Resources Program, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.

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Between 1940 and 1995, the High Plains aquifer, a major source of irrigation water underlying eight U.S. states in the semi-arid Great Plains, declined in some areas by as much as 50%. As an environmental and resource management challenge, depletion of the High Plains aquifer exemplifies a class of problems which are characterized by cross-scale interactions - those in which events or phenomena at one level of scale influence phenomena at other levels. Environmental problems of this nature have historically posed unique problems and pitfalls for management, particularly when scales of biogeophysical and human systems are mismatched, or when linkages across scales are ignored by decision makers. This research investigates what kinds of responses to a cross-scale problem - in this case, irrigation-induced depletion of the High Plains aquifer - result in effective management strategies, focusing on how information and decision making systems can be structured to support such management.

In this effort groundwater management regimes are compared in Kansas, Nebraska, and Texas using evidence from approximately 50 interviews at federal, state, and local levels. This study suggests that effective cross-scale management is associated with: 1) coordination of information systems across scale (e.g. when scale-dependent comparative advantages in information production and dissemination are exploited); 2) coordination/orchestration of decision making systems across scale (e.g., when decisions made at one level provide opportunities to, or at least do not constrain, decision makers at another level of scale); 3) integration of information and decision functions (e.g., decision makers working closely with information providers in an iterative and long term process of research agenda setting, model building, and model testing); and 4) addressing linked issues simultaneously (e.g., when one agency has responsibility for addressing numerous linked issues such as water quality and quantity and surface and groundwater.)

Subsequent History

· Revised version presented at the Panel on "Scale, Cross-Scale Dynamics, and the Commons" at the Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property, "Constituting the Commons: Crafting Sustainable Commons in the New Millenium." 31 May - 4 June 2000, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN.


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