From channelization to restoration: Sociohydrologic modeling with changing community preferences in the Kissimmee River Basin, Florida


The Kissimmee River Basin (Florida, USA) underwent river channelization in the 1960s and subsequent restoration in the 1990s, revealing a shift in management emphasis from flood protection to wetland health. In this paper, this shift is hypothesized to result from changing human values and preferences, and a power differential between the more numerous and affluent upstream urban residents (who prioritize wetland restoration) and downstream rural residents (who prioritize flood protection). We develop a conceptual sociohydrologic model to simulate the interactions between community interests and hydrology. The modeling results show that flood intensity decreased after channelization, which reduced concern about flooding. However, channelization also led to a decrease in wetland storage, which caused an increase of wetland concern, especially among the urban residents. Eventually, the community sensitivity switched from favoring flood protection to favoring wetlands, and subsequent management strategies switched from channelization to restoration. Using the model, we project that the wetlands will be recovering for the next 20 years and community sensitivity will slowly go back to a neutral state. However, possible rainfall intensification in the future could return the community sensitivity to favoring flood protection again. The preferential increase of upstream population growth will raise the community's concern about wetlands and the preferential increase of downstream population growth will magnify concern about flooding. This study provides insight into the driving forces behind human-water interactions in the Kissimmee River Basin while simultaneously demonstrating the potential of sociohydrologic modeling to describe complex human-water coupled systems with simple concepts and equations.

Publication Type
Journal Article
Xi Chen, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Dingbao Wang, University of Central Florida
Fuqiang Tian, Tsinghua University
Murugesu Sivapalan, University of Illinois
Water Resources Research

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