Abstract for: Misperception of Dynamic Complexity as a Potential Threat to Sustainable Groundwater Management

Many communities worldwide are affected by over-extraction and depletion of groundwater resources. The inefficiency of state-centered governance stands accused of groundwater mismanagement. So, decentralized governance has been increasingly advocated in recent decades. However, in decentralized governance, decision-makers are generally not groundwater specialists. While groundwater systems are dynamically complex, their management is prone to misperception of such complexities, even for groundwater experts. This paper, first, elaborates on the complexity elements of groundwater systems. Then, considering the managerial decision of determining total allowable withdrawal (TAW) as an example, it discusses how flawed mental models and rational boundaries can cause groundwater mismanagement. Next, a generic, simple system dynamics model is presented to show how the dynamics of TAW can challenge both reactive and proactive decision-makers. It underscores the importance of understanding the endogenous dynamics of groundwater resources and using simulation models (including essential system feedback) for sustainable management, instead of trusting intuitions and human brain abilities, especially in decentralized governance.