Managing dammed rivers: water governance and adaptive management in the Colorado Basin

It is our pleasure to share with you the short bilingual (English-Portuguese) video-documentary “Exploring the Colorado River Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program“. In the video, indigenous leaders, researchers, government officials and managers share their experiences and perspectives on hydroelectric dam development in the Colorado River in the US and in Amazonian rivers in South America.

The video documents the first workshop of the Amazon Dams Network/Rede Barragens Amazônicas supported by the National Science Foundation – Coupled Human-Natural Systems – Research Coordination Network, held in Flagstaff, Arizona, from May 15-18, 2017. The event was co-organized by the U.S. Geological Survey (Southwest Biological Science Center), Northern Arizona University (NAU), the University of Florida (UF), the Federal University of Tocantins (UFT) and the Federal University of Rondônia (UNIR). The event included the participation of 55 people representing a diversity of disciplinary orientations, experiences, perspectives, roles and knowledge on management of freshwater systems in Brazil, the Andean region and the US.

Adaptive management is an approach to studying and managing environmental systems which includes active experimentation, learning and adapting management actions according to the objectives defined for that given system. Some highlights and lessons learned during the event and portrayed in the video include the fact that value systems guide the objectives/goals for using a socio-ecological system, as well as research and management decisions, and that these need to be recognized and negotiated between society and decision-makers.


ADN/RBA group during a field boat trip in the Colorado river.

According to David Wegner, who has worked extensively in the establishment of the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program, adaptive management, in principle, provided greater societal participation in the understanding and decision-making of the Colorado River and the post-construction transformations of the Glen Canyon dam, including ensuring a seat at the decision-making table for the indigenous peoples of the Colorado Basin. Philip Fearnside (INPA) noted that adaptive management, which includes negotiation among social actors, research and continuous monitoring, may be an interesting approach to areas already transformed by dams, but should not be used as a “solution” or justification for building more dams.

We learned that water governance has become increasingly complex in the Colorado river, given the multiple competing perspectives, objectives and interests related to the river system and the various services and benefits it provides to humans. States and countries have established agreements that need to be fulfilled, but in our current climate change scenario, compliance is challenging and uncertainty is high.


Octavius Seowtewa, Zuni leader, sharing knowledge and stories about Zuni’s spiritual connections with the Grand Canyon.

Another highlight of the event was the participation and input by indigenous peoples from the U.S. and from the Brazilian Amazon. Octavius Seowtewa, from the Zuni people, shared his knowledge of the petroglyphs and the story of Zuni’s pilgrimages to the Canyon, a sacred place of emergence for many North American groups such as the Zuni, Navajo and Hopi. He mentioned that indigenous peoples and their systems of knowledge and values have historically been neglected in the planning and management programs of river basins in Colorado. The same experiences were shared by Candido Munduruku and Eliete Juruna, indigenous participants from the Munduruku and Juruna indigenous peoples in Brazil, affected by the Teles Pires, São Manoel and Belo Monte dams in the Brazilian Amazon.  Because of these dams, various indigenous groups in the region have been subjected to violation of human rights, increased conflicts (including armed conflicts), permanent impacts on sacred sites, destruction of traditional livelihoods, and food insecurity.

A collective conclusion was that events such as this transdisciplinary workshop enable learning from multiple perspectives, as well as promote and strengthen cross-sectorial dialogue towards enhanced planning and management of rivers in the Amazon and elsewhere. The network will meet again at Federal University of Tocantins in Palmas in May of 2018, to learn from the experiences in the Tocantins river and to inform adaptive management approaches and initiatives in Amazonian watersheds.

More information and access to workshop’s presentations: http://amazondamsnetwork.org/nsf-workshop-flagstaff/

Link to the Video in the You tube page: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BycM82urPDI

USGS/Southwest Biological Science Center: https://www.usgs.gov/centers/sbsc/science/glen-canyon-dam-adaptive-management-gcmrc-science