Understanding rancher's beliefs and behaviors regarding drought and natural water storage in southwest Montana
Moore, Megan Alison
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Drought has the potential to impact both natural environments and human communities, with specific repercussions for agricultural communities. In the face of changes to the quality, quantity, and timing of water runoff, water storage for drought mitigation is one of the top concerns for many water managers and water users. Due to a growing recognition of negative social and environmental impacts of traditional infrastructure, such as dams, there is a need for alternative forms of water storage. The concept of nature-based solutions, specifically natural water storage systems, has gained traction as a potential strategy to slow spring runoff, store water, and raise water tables, often resulting in an increase in late season streamflows. This research examines the adoption of these new strategies, specifically flood irrigation and beaver mimicry projects in the context of a changing climate in Montana. This thesis uses the theory of planned behavior to better understand findings from twenty-two amenity and traditional ranchers in the Red Rock Watershed/Upper Beaverhead Watershed in southwestern Montana. Results show that ranchers' beliefs toward drought can impact their drought planning responses. In this watershed, it is impractical for ranchers to convert to flood irrigation due its high labor needs and low production outputs. There is potential for beaver mimicry projects to be adopted, but economic and regulatory hurdles must first be addressed. Results suggest that natural water storage practices will be more successful if organizations involved form better relationships with ranchers, remain flexible, and integrate local knowledge into decisions and policies.