Colorado River Sustainability

Colorado River Sustainability Requires Balancing Supply and Demand for Water Resources and Responsible Hydropower

via American Rivers
By Matt Niemerski
Director, Western Water Policy
June 15, 2012

Thirty million people in the Southwest use the Colorado River’s water for their material sustenance; millions more use the river itself for recreation and spiritual enjoyment. The river quenches our thirst, feeds our souls, and enlivens our senses.

We are not the only inhabitants using this river. Its waters and canyons provide a vibrant but deeply threatened ecosystem for untold numbers of plant and animal species. These competing demands make the Colorado River one of the most contested and controlled rivers on Earth. Over the last decade, humans have drained all of the river’s water – all 5 trillion gallons – before it reaches the Sea of Cortez.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is the second-largest producer of hydropower in the United States. Last week, Reclamation Commissioner Michael Connor discussed regulatory and policy hurdles facing hydropower and how the Bureau of Reclamation is planning for a possible water crisis.

States in the Western U.S., and particularly in the Colorado River Basin, will face an unprecedented water supply crisis in the coming decades. Extended drought, climate change, and increasing population have created competition for water supplies. Water scarcity is further compounded by declining availability of fresh water in aquifers across the West based on historic use.

Read more at American Rivers.

Video in the News

Check out these links to recent video about our favorite subjects: water, climate change, and other interesting things.

Research Universities and the Future of America. The National Research Council presents critically important strategies for ensuring that our nation’s research universities contribute strongly to America’s prosperity, security, and national goals. In this video, members of the study committee that authored this report discuss the importance of our research universities and their contributions to our economy and society. They conclude by discussing the challenges and opportunities they face at a time of fiscal stress and international competition.

Monsoon Season Set To Start In Arizona. ASU climatologist Randall Cerveny says that although monsoon season begins June 15, after the National Weather Service recently defined this date as the monsoon’s new seasonal start, forecasting the actual start of the Arizona monsoon remains cloudy.

The First 70: A journey through California to document the closure of 70 state parks.

All The Water It Takes To Produce A Burger. The water footprint of an object can be hard to wrap your head around. This video gives you a good sense of exactly how much water–everything from growing the cow’s food to making the bun–goes into your last burger.

How Road Maps Were Made in the 1940s. Over at The Atlantic’s video channel, Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg shows us (courtesy of the Prelinger Archive) Caught Mapping, a 1940 educational film from Chevrolet. The show demonstrates how road maps were made at the time. It captures the entire process, from field surveillance for route updates to photographing a fresh map using the largest camera you’ve ever seen to create a negative for press production. Of course, Chevrolets are strategically scattered throughout.

Sustainable Development and the Tragedy of Commons. Stockholm whiteboard seminars: Elinor Ostrom explains how people can use natural resources in a sustainable way based on the diversity that exists in the world.

Climate Adaptation – California Governor’s Climate Conference 2011

On December 15, 2011, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. and environmental, business and public health and safety leaders came together at The Governor’s Conference on Extreme Climate Risks and California’s Future.

The Governor’s Conference focused on the threats of unpredictable and extreme weather events on the state’s economy, business sectors, public health and natural resources. Attendees discussed the best ways to prepare and protect our state and adapt to these growing risks.

The Governor’s Conference built on the findings of a United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report outlining the link between global warming, extreme weather events and their economic impact.

You’ll find unique examples of California-based climate change adaptation, innovation and mitigation strategies. This video was shown on 12/15/11 during Governor Brown’s “Extreme Climate Risks and California’s Future” conference at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, California. Produced by Cal EMA Public & Crisis Communications Division.

DCDC NSF Annual Report

The DCDC Annual Report covers the NSF reporting period of September 1, 2011-August 31, 2012 and is available on the Vision, Mission, and Strategic Goals page of our website.

DCDC II’s conceptual approach posits that the uncertainties of climate change affect individual and societal alternatives (adaptation decisions), which function through an urban system with economic feedbacks and distributional (social and spatial) consequences. Points of focus for our interdisciplinary research agenda are: 1) climatic uncertainties, 2) outcomes (economic feedbacks, urban system dynamics, and distribution effects), and 3) adaptation decisions. Activities cutting across these themes are simulation modeling and boundary studies.

UN names ASU sustainability dean a ‘Champion of the Earth’

Sander van der Leeuw, the dean of the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University, is among the six winners of the 2012 United Nations Champions of the Earth award. Professor van der Leeuw, an archaeologist and historian by training, was recognized in the science and innovation category for his research in human-environmental relations and the scientific study of innovation as a societal process. He is one of 51 champion laureates who have received the UN award since it was launched in 2005.

The Champion of the Earth honor is the UN flagship environment award that recognizes outstanding visionaries and leaders for their inspiration and action on the environment. The list of previous champion laureates includes former U.S. Vice President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore, Mexican President Felipe Calderón, Chinese actress and environmental advocate Zhou Xun, Biomimicry Institute President Janine Benyus and former Soviet leader and Noble Peace Prize winner Mikhail Gorbachev.

Read more at ASU News.

Water, People, and Sustainability

Water, People, and Sustainability—A Systems Framework for Analyzing and Assessing Water Governance Regimes


Arnim Wiek (1) and Kelli L. Larson (1, 2)


Water Resources Mgmt JournalFreshwater resources might become the most limited resource in the future due to rising demands, climate change, and the degradation of aquatic ecosystems. While the urgency of this challenge is uncontested, water governance regimes still struggle to employ suitable responses. They lack of: taking a comprehensive perspective on water systems; focusing on social actors, their actions, needs, intentions, and norms as drivers of water systems; engaging in a discourse on tangible goals to provide direction for governance efforts; and promoting a comprehensive perspective on water sustainability that equally recognizes depletion, justice, and livelihood issues in the long-term. We present an approach that intends to overcome these limitations by putting the focus on what people do with water, and why, along with the impacts of these doings. First, we outline an integrated approach to water governance regimes, and then, we present a holistic set of principles by which to evaluate sustainable water governance. Solution-oriented research applying this approach integrates natural sciences and engineering perspectives on water systems with social science studies on water governance, while also specifying and applying normative principles for water sustainability. The approach we develop herein can be used to reform and innovate existing water governance regimes as well as stimulate transformative governance research.


Solution-oriented research on water sustainability ultimately intends to provide guidance on what stakeholder groups need to do differently. The ultimate goal is to transition to water governance regimes that better comply with sustainability principles: optimizing economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the viability and integrity of the supporting ecosystems in the long term. However, this question is a separate research stream, namely, on transition paths and interventions, which is often confounded with analytical (what is the current regime?) and normative questions (how sustainable is the current regime?) addressed in the present article. The present article focuses on the systemic understanding and evaluation of regional water governance regimes and prepares, but does not include, studies on how to realize transitions from current to sustainable governance regimes. Future research is needed to apply and further develop the approach with respect to its conceptual robustness (set of sustainability principles and assessment methodology) and its applicability in participatory and collaborative water modeling and other governance activities. Yet, with an integrated perspective on actors and activities, the approach in its present form provides initial guidelines for the redesign of water governance regimes towards sustainability.

Read the article here. Subscription may be required.

(1) School of Sustainability, ASU
(1) School of Sustainability, ASU and (2) School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, ASU