Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Name

Resource Conservation (International Conservation and Development)

Department or School/College

College of Forestry and Conservation

Committee Chair

Dane Scott

Commitee Members

Sarah Halvorson, Josh Slotnik


central asia, climate change, irrigation, natural resource management, water resource management


University of Montana


This thesis presents findings from research conducted in Southern Kyrgyzstan, which followed nongovernmental organization (NGO) efforts to support climate change adaptation, and to support more “resilient” community-managed irrigation systems. Findings suggest that current NGO partnerships with Water User Associations (WUAs) frequently amount to financial and technical transactions, to preserve inherited infrastructure and resist disturbance. “Enhancing resilience” is pursued in an effort to maintain existing technical configurations of canals and water resources, despite altered socio-political and environmental conditions. Findings suggest increasing disassociation between irrigation constituents and the institutions and managers that are supposed to direct their grievances through legitimate democratic channels. Instead of being based on current irrigation practices and needs, decisions about allocating resources to technical components of the irrigation system seem to be based on desires to maintain past dynamics of resource access and distribution. The irrigation infrastructure and policies that were inherited from the Soviet era inherently favor those who were well-positioned after independence, while often disenfranchising others. Allocating resources to WUAs for technical projects to repair or maintain these configurations serves, at the same time, to maintain or even exacerbate existing local power and resource-access inequalities. The research project presented here has sought to provide NGOs operating in this arena with some actionable recommendations, for how they might conceptualize and focus their efforts to “enhance resilience” for community-managed irrigation systems. The research finds the absence of locally-specific knowledge and information concerning current irrigation practice from decision-making represents a critical barrier and potential opportunity to fostering effective deliberation and supporting transitions to more resilient systems. Do to their ostensibly impartial status, technical experience, and cross-community interactions, NGOs could play an important role in helping co-create and aggregate locally-specific knowledge about post-independence water use and access, which has gone hitherto ignored to the detriment of equitable and forward-looking management opportunities. In this way, NGOs who partner with WUAs for irrigation projects should increasingly base that partnership on the collection and management of information about irrigation practice, land-use, water availability and other parameters, in order to help establish WUAs as local institutions grounded in responsiveness to local conditions.



© Copyright 2013 Peter Michael Igoe