Skip to Content
Report an accessibility problem


An Arid Arizona City Manages Its Thirst

June 17, 2013

By Fernanda Santos of The New York Times

June 16, 2013

CAP_RiparianPreservePHOENIX — The hiss of sprinklers serenades improbably green neighborhoods early in the morning and late at night, the moisture guarding against the oppressive heat. This is the time of year when temperatures soar, water consumption spikes and water bills skyrocket in this city, particularly for those whose idea of desert living includes cultivating a healthy expanse of grass.

Half of the water consumed in homes here is used to irrigate lawns, but there is a certain curiosity about the way water is used in Phoenix, which gets barely eight inches of rain a year but is not necessarily parched.

The per capita consumption here, 108 gallons a day, is less than in Los Angeles, where residents average 123 gallons a day. And though humid Southeastern cities like Atlanta have grappled with recurrent water shortages, there is no limit here to how many times someone can wash a car or water flowers in a yard.

"We’re often maligned as being an unsustainable place simply for existing in an arid climate," said Colin Tetreault, senior policy adviser for sustainability for Mayor Greg Stanton. "But that’s just myopic."

Phoenix gathers its water from several places. It relies on melting snow in the north to feed the rivers that supply its water system: the Salt and the Verde, which begin and end in Arizona, and the overstretched Colorado, which slices the Southwest. It pumps from aquifers, strained by development over time, and then works to replenish them whenever water is in surplus, which happens occasionally.

To irrigate its many golf courses, it reuses most of the water drained from bathroom faucets and washing machines. It uses treated wastewater to cool a nuclear power generating station and to feed a man-made wetland complex known as Tres Rios, home to more than 150 species of birds.

A system of canals crisscrosses the city and stretches beyond its boundaries, a legacy of the prehistoric Hohokam Indians that allowed fertile farms to flourish in the desert. To this day, half of all the water used in the Sun Corridor, the area from Phoenix to Tucson, goes to agriculture, according to a 2011 report by the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University. Steadily, though, much of the farmland has given way to development.

Figuring out how water will be used here is like solving a puzzle speckled with blank pieces, in which the unknowns are the housing market and climate change.

Water managers weigh wet and dry cycles over the past 100 years against climate change models designed in the previous year and demographic projections. They also analyze the way parcels of land are zoned to make assumptions about how water will be used.

Over all, demand for water has declined steadily in this and in many other metropolitan areas, because of water-efficient technologies like low-flow toilets, and stricter building codes. Still, the draining of rivers and other water sources — from overdevelopment, poor management, climate change or a little bit of all of these — has forced communities to rethink their strategies. Some have used money as the main incentive to get people to give up their addiction to turf.

Tucson, where grass is hard to find and true desert living is a source of pride among residents, consumes less water than Phoenix, but it has a bigger problem. The city relies heavily on a dwindling supply of groundwater. To safeguard its supply, the city has an aggressive conservation campaign that includes rebates for residents who harvest rainwater or use water reclaimed from bathroom faucets for landscaping.

The city of Mesa pays residents $500 for every 500 square feet of grass they remove from their yards. Scottsdale, which has the highest per-person water consumption among Arizona’s cities, offers at least $125 for removing the same amount. Las Vegas pays $1.50 a square foot of grass replaced by landscaping appropriate for dry regions.

Phoenix, where water consumption is down from 250 daily gallons a person in 1990, does not have rebate programs. "It costs all the taxpayers money if you do that kind of thing," said its deputy water services director, Brandy Kelso.

"I don’t want to mean that we don’t do conservation," Ms. Kelso added. "We just approach it differently."

A modest list of zoning and other rules — controlling responsibilities over leak repairs, limiting the amount of potable water used to irrigate 10 or more acres of grass, and imposing restrictions on the types of plants allowed in certain public rights of way, to name a few — have helped the city evenly reduce indoor water use over time, she said.

Reductions in outdoor use have been much less homogeneous, though. Affluent neighborhoods like Arcadia, a former citrus grove on the eastern edge of the city, remain lush oases. But in Phoenix’s outer ring, where most new housing has sprouted, grass has largely given way to rocks and dirt.

Master-plan communities like Fireside at Norterra, in the city’s northern fringe, go as far as regulating the kinds of trees, shrubs and flowers that can be planted.

"You may want to plant begonias," Tamara Swanson, the development’s general manager, recalled having told prospective buyers, "but they wouldn’t do well here anyway."

But is green in the desert a bad thing? Not necessarily. Dave D. White, a director of the National Science Foundation’s Decision Center for a Desert City, which studies water management decisions in central Arizona, said grass "cools off the landscape" and trees provide shade.

The idea, Dr. White said, is striking the right balance between conservation and growth. In the verdant corners of Phoenix, he and other researchers are looking at whether a homeowner’s switch to desert landscaping might cause a ripple effect that would eventually change the neighborhood.

"There’s a need to use water to make our community livable, but in an intelligent way that thinks about long-term sustainability," he said. "Because there’s no new supply out there."

View the article at The New York Times.

States dependent on Colorado River consider conservation effort

May 30, 2013

By Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times

May 28, 2013

736705main_iss_colorado_full_full_296SAN DIEGO — Officials in the seven states that depend on the drought-beset Colorado River expressed a cautious willingness Tuesday to join the federal government in a complex, possibly contentious effort to step up conservation.

At a meeting in San Diego, officials of the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Reclamation announced the establishment of three inter-state committees to devise plans for conservation, possibly including water reuse, desalination, water banking and the sale of water from farms to cities.

"While the solutions won't be easy for anyone involved, the consequences of failure are too dire to ignore," said Patricia Mulroy, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

The committees have been ordered to have their recommendations ready by year's end — virtually lightning speed for water-sharing issues that regularly take years, often decades, to resolve, if they can be resolved at all.

One committee will be composed of major municipal and industrial water users, one of agricultural interests, and one will have representatives from environmental groups. Also, the federal government is pledging to work on conservation projects with 10 American Indian tribes that have rights to the Colorado River and its tributaries.

On one point, there appears to be no disagreement: The hour is late and shortages loom as demand threatens to outstrip supply. Last year was the fifth driest on record; this year is headed to be the fourth driest.

By Oct. 1, the river's two reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, could be at less than half of their capacity, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.

"The time for action is now," said Jennifer Pitt, head of the Environmental Defense Fund's Colorado River Project. "Communities that depend on the Colorado River — for water supply or as the foundation of a $26-billion recreation economy — cannot afford to wait."

Continue reading at the Los Angeles Times.

Wells Dry, Fertile Plains Turn to Dust

May 20, 2013

via The New York Times


Published: May 19, 2013

Source: U.S. Geological Survey and The New York Times

HASKELL COUNTY, Kan. — Forty-nine years ago, Ashley Yost’s grandfather sank a well deep into a half-mile square of rich Kansas farmland. He struck an artery of water so prodigious that he could pump 1,600 gallons to the surface every minute.¶ Last year, Mr. Yost was coaxing just 300 gallons from the earth, and pumping up sand in order to do it. By harvest time, the grit had robbed him of $20,000 worth of pumps and any hope of returning to the bumper harvests of years past.

"That’s prime land," he said not long ago, gesturing from his pickup at the stubby remains of last year’s crop. "I’ve raised 294 bushels of corn an acre there before, with water and the Lord’s help." Now, he said, "it’s over."

The land, known as Section 35, sits atop the High Plains Aquifer, a waterlogged jumble of sand, clay and gravel that begins beneath Wyoming and South Dakota and stretches clear to the Texas Panhandle. The aquifer’s northern reaches still hold enough water in many places to last hundreds of years. But as one heads south, it is increasingly tapped out, drained by ever more intensive farming and, lately, by drought.

Vast stretches of Texas farmland lying over the aquifer no longer support irrigation. In west-central Kansas, up to a fifth of the irrigated farmland along a 100-mile swath of the aquifer has already gone dry. In many other places, there no longer is enough water to supply farmers’ peak needs during Kansas’ scorching summers.

And when the groundwater runs out, it is gone for good. Refilling the aquifer would require hundreds, if not thousands, of years of rains.

Continue reading at The New York Times.

An Underground Pool Drying Up

via The New York Times

Portions of the High Plains Aquifer are rapidly being depleted by farmers who are pumping too much water to irrigate their crops, particularly in the southern half in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Levels have declined up to 242 feet in some areas, from predevelopment — before substantial groundwater irrigation began — to 2011.

Limits to Flood Forecasting in the Colorado Front Range

May 7, 2013


Limits to Flood Forecasting in the Colorado Front Range for Two Summer Convection Periods using Radar Nowcasting and a Distributed Hydrologic Model


Hernan A. Moreno, (1),(2)

Enrique R. Vivoni, (1),(3)

David J. Gochis, (4)


Journal of Hydrometeorology 2013 ; e-View



Figure 10. Spatial distribution of total (a) rainfall and (b) runoff at LTHOM during Storm 2004, 2 using QPE forcing; mean ensemble difference of precipitation for (c) 60-min and (e) 180-min 3 lead times; and mean ensemble differences of runoff for (d) 60-min and (f) 180-min lead times.
Figure 10. Spatial distribution of total (a) rainfall and (b) runoff at LTHOM during Storm 2004,
2 using QPE forcing; mean ensemble difference of precipitation for (c) 60-min and (e) 180-min
3 lead times; and mean ensemble differences of runoff for (d) 60-min and (f) 180-min lead times.
Flood forecasting in mountain basins remains a challenge given the difficulty in accurately predicting rainfall and in representing hydrologic processes in complex terrain. This study identifies flood predictability patterns in mountain areas using quantitative precipitation forecasts for two summer events from radar nowcasting and a distributed hydrologic model. We focus on eleven mountain watersheds in the Colorado Front Range (CFR) for two warm-season convective periods in 2004 and 2006. The effects of rainfall distribution, forecast lead time and basin area on flood forecasting skill are quantified by means of regional verification of precipitation fields and analyses of the integrated and distributed basin responses. We postulate that rainfall and watershed characteristics are responsible for patterns that determine flood predictability at different catchment scales. Coupled simulations reveal that the largest decrease in precipitation forecast skill occurs between 15 and 45-min lead times that coincide with rapid development and movements of convective systems. Consistent with this, flood forecasting skill decreases with nowcasting lead time, but the functional relation depends on the interactions between watershed properties and rainfall characteristics. Across the majority of the basins, flood forecasting skill is reduced noticeably for nowcasting lead times greater than 30-min. We identified that intermediate basin areas (~2 to 20 km2) exhibit the largest flood forecast errors with the largest differences across nowcasting ensemble members. The typical size of summer convective storms is found to coincide well with these maximum errors, while basin properties dictate the shape of the scale dependency of flood predictability for different lead times.

Read more here.

(1) School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287

(2) Decision Center for a Desert City, Global Institute of Sustainability, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287

(3) School of Earth and Space Exploration, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287

(4) National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO

DCDC Poster Symposium

May 7, 2013

On May 1, 2013, students engaged in DCDC education programs participated in our annual poster symposium. Graduate students from the Community of Graduate Scholars program, undergraduate interns from the Internship for Science-Practice Integration program, and undergraduates working with faculty researchers as Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU's) presented their research results.

CGS Posters

Farmers’ Resilience to Socio-Ecological Change in Central Arizona [poster]

- Julia C. Bausch (CGS), Cathy Rubiños, Hallie Eakin, Abigail York, and Rimjhim Aggarwal

Quenching our Thirst: Future Scenarios of Water in Phoenix [poster]

- Lauren Withycombe Keeler (CGS), Arnim Wiek, Dave White, Ray Quay, David Sampson, and John Quinn

Fostering Perspective-Taking in Collaborative Decision Making through an Interactive Computer Simulation [poster]

- Rashmi Krishnamurthy (CGS), Erik W. Johnston, Manikandan Vijayakumar (CGS), and Ajay Vinze

Actual vs. Perceived Amounts of De facto Wastewater Reuse in the Continental United States [poster]

- Jacelyn Rice (CGS) and Paul Westerhoff

Cross-cultural Perspectives on Uncertainty in Climate Science: Preliminary Results from DCDC and the Global Ethnohydrology Study [poster]

- Jose Rosales Chavez (CGS), Amber Wutich, Dave White, Kelli Larson, and Alexandra Brewis

Uncertainty Frames in Water Policy Debates [poster]

- Dave White and V. Kelly Turner (CGS)

Sustainability, Collaboration and Uncertainty: A Scenario Based Evaluation of Water Issues for Desert Cities Using Computer Simulation [poster]

- Manikandan Vijayakumar (CGS), Erik Johnston, Rashmi Krishnamurthy (CGS), and Ajay Vinze

Using Structured Discussions to Explore Cross-Cutting Themes in Research at the Decision Center for a Desert City – Community of Graduate Scholars Group Poster [poster]

- Julia C. Bausch, Jacelyn Rice, Jose Rosales Chavez, Lauren Withycombe Keeler, Rashmi Krishnamurthy, Rebecca Neel, Jorge Cazáres Rodriguez, V. Kelly Turner, and Manikandan Vijayakumar


ISPI Posters

Residential Landscaping Decisions and Water Usage in the City of Phoenix [poster]

- Emily Allen, ISPI Intern with the City of Phoenix

- Doug Frost, Mentor, City of Phoenix

- Elizabeth Wentz, ASU Faculty Mentor

Analysis of Water Consumption Trends in the City of Goodyear [poster]

- Christopher Berg, ISPI Intern with the City of Goodyear

- Mark Holmes, Mentor, City of Goodyear

- Ray Quay, ASU Faculty Mentor

Implementation of Low Impact Development Paving Strategies in Central Arizona [poster]

- Erin Brechbiel, ISPI Intern with the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension

- Summer Waters, Mentor, U of A Cooperative Extension

- Abigail York, ASU Faculty Mentor

Potential Attributes of Water Use Variation in Mixed Use Residential Landscapes [poster]

- Joseph Hennessy, ISPI Intern with the City of Phoenix

- Douglas Frost and Adam Miller, Mentors, City of Phoenix

- Dave White, ASU Faculty Mentor

Modeling Well Specific Pumping at the Provider Level [poster]

- Taylor Ketchum, ISPI Intern with Arizona Department of Water Resources

- Dale Mason and Frank Corkhill, Mentors, Arizona Department of Water Resources

- David Sampson, ASU Faculty Mentor

SamKohlwey_DCDCPosterSymposium_2013Criteria-Based Risk Assessment for Sustainable Water Quality in Municipal Wells [poster]

- Samantha Kohlwey, ISPI Intern with the City of Mesa

- Brian Draper and Colette Moore, Mentors, City of Mesa

- Ray Quay, ASU Faculty Mentor

Complexities of Analyzing the Water/Energy Nexus in Small Hillside Water Distribution Systems [poster]

- Winnie (Ching Yan) Lau, ISPI Intern with the City of Phoenix

- Andy Terrey, Mentor, City of Phoenix

- Benjamin Ruddell, ASU Faculty Mentor

Effective Engagements at the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area [poster]

- Martin Montes de Oca, ISPI Intern with the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension

- Summer Waters, Mentor, University of Arizona Cooperative Extension

- Monica Elser, ASU Faculty Mentor

Effectiveness of the Modified Field Trip Curriculum: Teaching the Importance of Good Conservation Habits [poster]

- Andrew Wittig, ISPI Intern with Audubon Arizona

- Lyana Guevara, Mentor, Audubon Arizona

- Joni Adamson and Monica Elser, ASU Faculty Mentors

REU Posters

When Scientists Disagree: How We Frame Uncertainty Influences Public Trust of Science [poster]

- Rebecca Neel, Nicholas Murtha (REU), Susan Ledlow, Steven Neuberg, and Douglas Kenrick

The Future of Water in the Desert: Convergence and Divergence between Decision Makers and Students [poster]

- John Quinn (REU), Dave White, Lauren Withycombe Keeler, Arnim Wiek, and Kelli Larson

The Upside of Flip-Flopping: How Former Skeptics Can Shift Public Opinion on Climate Change [poster]

- Megan Ringel (REU), Rebecca Neel, Jaimie Krems, and Steven Neuberg

DCDC Intern Emily Allen wins Udall Scholarship

April 19, 2013

Emily AllenEmily Allen, a two-time intern in DCDC's Internship for Science-Practice Integration (ISPI) program, has won the Udall Scholarship for commitment to the environment.

Emily has aspirations of following the example of famed U.S. Congressman Morris K. Udall.

Throughout his decades-long career of representing Arizona, Udall – a lawyer and environmentalist- worked on legislation to expand the national park system, protect the environment and effectively manage natural resources. He also was a driving force for legislation, called the Central Arizona Project (CAP), which brought Colorado River water to the parched Arizona desert.

While Udall supported the project, which routed river water through Arizona and into Phoenix and Tucson, he was concerned about its environmental impact. This dilemma became a significant challenge of Udall’s work on the CAP.

Allen, a sustainability and English major and student in Barrett, The Honors College, has been named a 2013 Udall Scholar by the Morris K. Udall and Stewart L. Udall Foundation. She will receive a $5,000 scholarship to use toward tuition for her senior year at Arizona State University.

She was among 488 candidates nominated by 230 colleges and universities. Fifty recipients from 43 colleges and universities were chosen for this year’s scholarship. Udall Scholars are selected on the basis of commitment to careers in the environment, Native American health care or tribal public policy; leadership potential; academic achievement; and record of public service.

"My career goal is to work with local governments in the state of Arizona to protect fragile water resources from the pressures of overuse and rapid urban development. I plan to accomplish this goal as an attorney with a water law specialty, either in a private firm or a local municipality," Allen stated on her scholarship application.

"I will learn from Morris Udall’s challenge in office and defend water resources against unreasonable urban uses. I will be the additional support that city officials need to protect and property manage water resources," she added.

Allen said she is honored and humbled to have won the scholarship.

"It is an incredible honor to have the opportunity to engage further with the Udall Foundation and to be able to learn more about environmental leadership through their network," she said.

"I also feel humbled because so many people helped me to earn this award. My application was based on my experience with the School of Sustainability, the Barrett Honors College, and the Decision Center for a Desert City. The exceptional mentorship available to me through those three entities not only helped me to develop my credentials for the scholarship, but they also provided me with critical support in the scholarship application process," she added.

Emily's work in DCDC's ISPI program has included working in 2011 at the City of Mesa with mentor Mark Holmes, P.G. on Uncovering Barriers and Motivations in Groundwater Management Collaboration and GIS-Based Delineation of Prime Groundwater Recharge Areas in the East Salt River Sub-basin and her current internship with the City of Phoenix working with mentor Doug Frost.

Allen will attend a conference of Udall Scholars August 7-11 in Tucson where they will receive their awards and meet policymakers and community leaders in environmental fields, tribal health care, and governance.

Relief for a Parched Delta

April 16, 2013

By Henry Fountain on April 15, 2013 via The New York Times

CUCAPÁ EL MAYOR, Mexico — Germán Muñoz looked out at the river before him and talked about the days when dolphins swam here, 60 miles from the sea.

"The wave made noise like a train," he said, describing the tides that would roll up the Colorado River from the Gulf of California and then a mile or so up this tributary, past his family’s land. "There would be all kinds of fish jumping, very happy. And then the dolphins would come, chasing the fish."

That was in the 1950s, when the Colorado still flowed regularly to the gulf — as it had for tens of thousands of years, washing sand and silt down from the Rocky Mountains to form a vast and fertile delta. In the last half-century, thanks to dams that throttled the Colorado and diverted its water to fuel the rise of the American West, the river has effectively ended at the Mexican border. The Colorado delta, once a lush network of freshwater and marine wetlands and meandering river channels and a haven for fish, migrating birds and other wildlife, is largely a parched wasteland.

Mr. Muñoz last saw a dolphin as a teenager in 1963, the year the last of the big Colorado dams, the Glen Canyon, began impounding water 700 miles upstream. "The river doesn’t come here anymore," he said.

But after decades of dismay in Mexico over the state of the delta, there is reason for some optimism. An amendment to a seven-decades-old treaty between the United States and Mexico, called Minute 319, will send water down the river once again and support efforts to restore native habitat and attract local and migratory wildlife.

Continue reading at The New York Times.

April 23 Water/Climate Briefing

April 12, 2013

The Future of Arizona’s Forests: Anticipating the effects of climate change and fire on water sustainability

Arizona’s forests are not only mountain playgrounds for recreation and tourism but also sustain critical ecosystem functions such as water storage, filtration, and release for downstream uses.

In the face of climate change, forest ecosystems are being stressed from higher temperatures and lower precipitation, making them more vulnerable to insect infestations and more frequent and intense wildfires.

The impacts of climate and landscape changes and wildfire include increased erosion, sedimentation, and warmer water temperatures, which in turn affect municipal water supplies and riparian habitats.

Please join us as we explore the critical research and policy priorities regarding the interaction between Arizona’s climate, forests, and water.


Erik Nielsen

Assistant ProfessorWCB_Apr23_2013_225 School of Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability

Northern Arizona University

Thomas Sisk

Olajos-Goslow Professor of Environmental Science and Policy

Northern Arizona University

Abe Springer

Professor of Geology

Northern Arizona University

Dave White

Moderator and Co-Director

Decision Center for a Desert City

Arizona State University


Tuesday, April 23, 2013, 12:00-1:30 p.m.

Lunch will be served. Please RSVP to:


Decision Center for a Desert City, 21 East 6th Street, Suite 126B, Tempe [Map]

Historical threshold temperatures for Phoenix (urban) and Gila Bend (desert), central Arizona, USA

April 4, 2013

Climate Research, Vol 55, No. 3

January 10, 2013


D. Ruddell [1], D. Hoffman [2], O. Ahmad [3], A. Brazel [4]


Several critically important temperature thresholds are experienced in the climate of the desert southwest USA and in central Arizona. These thresholds present significant and increasing challenges to social systems. Utilizing daily surface air temperature records from Phoenix and Gila Bend regional weather stations from 1900−2007, we examined 3 temperature thresholds: (1) frost days (minimum temperature < 0°C); (2) misery days (maximum temperature ≥43.3°C); and (3) local characteristics of heat waves. We investigated historic climate patterns in addition to considering the human implications associated with these changes. Analyses also integrated multidecadal modes of the El Niño−Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). Key findings of this study were: (1) uneven warming trends among temperature thresholds between the Phoenix (pronounced warming) and Gila Bend (modest warming) weather stations; (2) disjointed associations between ENSO and PDO with frost and misery days, signaling anthropogenic interference between temperature thresholds and historic atmospheric processes; (3) variable effects of ENSO and PDO modulations on annual frost and misery days; (4) evidence of urbanization suppressing local effects of global climate systems (i.e. ENSO, PDO); and (5) potentially significant and widespread adverse impacts on many local environmental, economic, and social systems as a result of changes in threshold temperatures.

Key Words

Temperature thresholds, Urban heat island, Phoenix, Gila Bend, Coupled natural-human systems

[1] Spatial Sciences Institute, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California 90089-0374, USA

[2] School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109-1041, USA

[3] School of Sustainability, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona 85287-5502, USA

[4] School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona 85287-5302, USA

Denver Water Approves Mandatory Watering Restrictions Because of Drought

March 28, 2013

DenverWater_2011Campaignvia Denver Post on March 27, 2013

On Monday, Denver returns to a low-water lifestyle that many haven't experienced in more than a decade.

The Denver Board of Water Commissioners on Wednesday declared a Stage 2 drought, with mandatory restrictions on lawn irrigation, hotel laundry, car washing and other nonessential uses.

Residents may water lawns only twice weekly. Restaurants can serve water to customers only when asked. Lodging establishments can wash sheets for long-term guests no more frequently than every four days, unless the customer makes a request.

Cars may be washed only by using a bucket or a hand-held hose equipped with an automatic shut-off nozzle. Fleet and commercial vehicles may be washed only once a week.

Water-watchers say this drought is worse than in 2002, the last time Stage 2 restrictions were enacted.

Read more: Denver Water approves mandatory watering restrictions because of drought - The Denver Post

An Astronaut's View of the Colorado Plateau

March 26, 2013

via NASA Images Image of the Day


The Colorado Plateau spans northern Arizona, southern Utah, northwestern New Mexico, and southwestern Colorado. This physiographic province is well known for its striking landscapes and broad vistas—an impression that is enhanced by the view from the orbital perspective of the International Space Station. This astronaut photograph highlights part of the Utah-Arizona border region of the Plateau, and includes several prominent landforms.

The Colorado River, dammed to form Lake Powell in 1963, crosses from east to west (which is left to right here because the astronaut was looking south; north is towards the bottom of the image). The confluence of the Colorado and San Juan Rivers is also visible. Sunglint—sunlight reflected off a water surface back towards the observer—provides a silvery, mirror-like sheen to some areas of the water surfaces.

The geologic uplift of the Colorado Plateau led to rapid downcutting of rivers into the flat sedimentary bedrock, leaving spectacular erosional landforms. One such feature, The Rincon, preserves evidence of a former meander bend of the Colorado River.

Dirks appointed director of ASU's Global Institute of Sustainability

March 15, 2013

Gary DirksGary Dirks, director of Arizona State University’s LightWorks Initiative and former president of BP China and BP Pacific-Asia, has been appointed director of ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability (GIOS), with the goal of expanding the global impact of ASU.

"GIOS’s charter is to advance research, education, business practices and global partnerships that aid in the transformation of today’s world into a more sustainable endeavor," said ASU President Michael Crow. "With the appointment of Gary Dirks as director of GIOS, we look to increase the global impact of our work and surge ahead as a leader in sustainability."

Dirks was chosen for this role to help GIOS solve global sustainability challenges. Dirks is a distinguished sustainability scientist, Julie Ann Wrigley Chair of Sustainable Practices, and teaching faculty member in the School of Sustainability at ASU.

"Gary possesses exactly the combination of skills, experience and intellectual curiosity to lead the Institute," said Julie Ann Wrigley, co-chair of the GIOS Board of Directors. "As a former global business executive, member of the GIOS Board of Directors and leader of ASU LightWorks Initiative, a better leader could not have been chosen at this point in the development of the Institute."

While in China, Dirks grew the BP operation from 30 employees and no revenue in 1995 to more than 1,300 employees and revenues of about $4 billion in 2008.

"Gary has demonstrated his ability to set a grand vision, align projects and people around that vision to create solutions to grand challenges that impact our society," said Sethuraman "Panch" Panchanathan, senior vice president for ASU’s Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development. "He does all of this in a rapid time frame that is consistent with the spirit of the New American University."

As director, Gary will chair the GIOS 3-person Directorate. The Directorate oversees the Insititute’s complex, pan-university mission and consists of the director, an executive dean and the dean of the School of Sustainability.

Dirks received his doctorate in chemistry from ASU in 1980, and after working in the energy industry, returned to ASU to lead the LightWorks in 2009. The LightWorks Initiative is ASU’s multidisciplinary research effort to harness the energy of sunlight and apply it across a broad spectrum of technology related challenges. Dirks will continue to lead the initiative as part of his new role at GIOS.

Dirks previously served as chairman of the British Chamber of Commerce in Beijing and as the only foreign member of the British Prime Minister’s China Task Force. He was a founding director of the China Business Council for Sustainable Development, past chairman of the China U.S. Center for Sustainable Development and served as a board member of the India Council for Sustainable Development.

In 2003 Dirks received China’s "Friendship Award," the highest recognition granted to foreign citizens, and was appointed Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George from the UK in 2005. In December 2008, he was recognized by the People’s Daily as one of the 10 most influential multinational company leaders of the last 30 years of China’s economic development.

"GIOS is an extraordinary place with people who understand sustainability at a very deep level and who know how to apply sustainability concepts to solve real-world problems," said Dirks. "The challenge for me will be building on a very strong foundation to extend the reach and impact of the Institute."

via Amelia Huggins, Office of Knowledge Enterprise and Development, ASU

DCDC on Vimeo and Twitter

March 11, 2013


Using social media, DCDC is reaching out to the public presenting ideas from experts and community partners on such topics as urban heat island, water re-use, and the energy-water nexus to name a few.

DCDC Water/Climate Briefings are on Vimeo. If you were unable to attend our latest Water/Climate Briefing or would like an opportunity to watch the Water/Climate Briefing again, check out all five of our 2012-2013 Water/Climate Briefings.

Follow us on Twitter for the latest news about DCDC, ASU, water, urban climate adaptation, and sustainability. The list goes on and on! Check us out @DCDC_ASU.

The Worth of Water

March 11, 2013

The story of the American West is a story of water, and of our Herculean efforts to capture and spread that water across an arid landscape.

As our western cities continue to grow, however, we need to find ways to curb our thirst. In this mini-documentary, ASU researchers talk about the West's water history, our current situation, and some social and technological options for the future.

Written, produced and edited by Kirk Davis for ASU Research.

ASU Research - ASU is delivering research breakthroughs and achieving discovery in a broad range of strategic research areas designed to address everything from next generation health diagnostic exams and cancer vaccines to reliable and efficient alternative fuels.

The Worth of Water from ASU Research on Vimeo.

March 6 Water/Climate Briefing

February 28, 2013

Environment and Water: Decision-support Tools for Managing Ecosystem Services in Arizona


Humans benefit from a multitude of resources and services that are supplied by ecosystems.

ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability is undertaking research on the contribution of Arizona’s ecosystems to sustainable economic growth, job creation, and human wellbeing in Arizona.

Ecosystem services being studied include water quality and quantity, erosion control, fire regulation, recreation and tourism, grazing, and disease regulation. The discussion will highlight the new and innovative scientific methods being developed to assess ecosystem services and how potential changes in land use would affect the present and future delivery and value of these ecosystem services.

Please join us at DCDC to discuss this ground breaking research.


Ann Kinzig

Professor, School of Life Sciences

Co-Director, ecoServices Group

Chief Research Strategist, Global Institute of Sustainability

Charles Perrings

Professor of Environmental Economics

Co-Director, ecoServices Group

School of Life Sciences,/p>


Wednesday, March 6, 2013, 12:00-1:30 p.m.

Lunch will be served. Please RSVP to:


Decision Center for a Desert City, 21 East 6th Street, Suite 126B, Tempe [Map]


A comprehensive sustainability appraisal of water governance in Phoenix, AZ

February 22, 2013

Authors: Kelli L. Larson (a,b), Arnim Wiek (a), Lauren Withycombe Keeler (a)

Journal of Environmental Management

Volume 116, 15 February 2013, Pages 58–71


SaguaroLake_FourPeaks_296x200In Phoenix, Arizona and other metropolitan areas, water governance challenges include variable climate conditions, growing demands, and continued groundwater overdraft. Based on an actor-oriented examination of who does what with water and why, along with how people interact with hydro-ecological systems and man-made infrastructure, we present a sustainability appraisal of water governance for the Phoenix region.

Broadly applicable to other areas, our systems approach to sustainable water governance overcomes prevailing limitations to research and management by: employing a comprehensive and integrative perspective on water systems; highlighting the activities, intentions, and rules that govern various actors, along with the values and goals driving decisions; and, establishing a holistic set of principles for social–ecological system integrity and interconnectivity, resource efficiency and maintenance, livelihood sufficiency and opportunity, civility and democratic governance, intra- and inter-generational equity, and finally, precaution and adaptive capacity.

This study also contributes to reforming and innovating governance regimes by illuminating how these principles are being met, or not, in the study area. What is most needed in metropolitan Phoenix is enhanced attention to ecosystem functions and resource maintenance as well as social equity and public engagement in water governance.

Overall, key recommendations entail: addressing interconnections across hydrologic units and sub-systems (e.g., land and water), increasing decentralized initiatives for multiple purposes (e.g., ecological and societal benefits of green infrastructure), incorporating justice goals into decisions (e.g., fair allocations and involvement), and building capacity through collaborations and social learning with diverse interests (e.g., scientists, policymakers, and the broader public).

Continue to the full text of the article at Science Direct.

(a) School of Sustainability, Arizona State University, Mail Code 5502 Tempe, AZ 85287-5502, USA

(b) School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, Arizona State University, Mail Code 5302 Tempe, AZ 85287-5302, USA

Intel Aims to Make Matches for Wastewater Heaven

February 15, 2013

Intel's WaterMatch research partnership with CH2M Hill and DCDC is highlighted in the following article.

via Green Biz by Aaron Tilley

For the past year, Intel has been doing its part to help make the perfect match. That is, in matching wastewater makers with wastewater users for the WaterMatch project.

Intel’s director of global citizenship, Gary Niekerk, describes the project as functioning potentially like an online dating site. But instead of having an interested couple meet up and seeing where things go, wastewater makers like agriculture or power companies could hook up with wastewater users like industrial facilities or treatment plants.

But obviously, making this dream happen is going to be a lot more complicated than getting two budding lovers together for coffee.

And so far, progress has been slow. Although the site has received plenty of hits from all over the world, said Niekerk, there has yet to be any documented successful matches.

The biggest problem is that getting data on wastewater treatment plants is incredibly hard. There is no national database for treatment facilities so gathering this kind of information requires laborious searches and calls to each individual plant.

Nevertheless, the wastewater project has made strides since Intel got involved a year ago. Niekerk said he became interested in the project after meeting with Jan Dell, vice president at consultant and construction firm CH2M Hill, which developed the project. But Niekerk noticed when he entered Tempe, Ariz., the location where he lived, nothing came up. The map was practically empty.

So Intel decided to fund a grant for Arizona State University for students to do the grunt work of populating the map, starting with Arizona. There are now almost 200 of these sites listed on the map for Arizona.

Next, students at ASU are moving on to Mexico with funding from CH2M Hill. The project is also trying to draw other university students from around the world to help fill in more gaps.

And next month the project is bringing together leading water experts in the Colorado River basin to discuss the tool and how it might be improved.

Intel’s interest in this project stems from its own efforts to improve water sustainability in the company’s operations. Since 1998 Intel has invested $100 million in internal projects to make its water usage more sustainable in its manufacturing operations. The company has saved more than 40 billion gallons of water through its water reuse and efficiency measures.

"We have been thinking as a company about what we can do to increase water sustainability, especially in the places we operate," said Niekerk.

In the company’s Arizona facilities, for example, it uses 2.6 million gallons of reclaimed water per day in its manufacturing process in things like scrubbers and cooling towers.

"This is a worldwide opportunity," said Niekerk. "If you talk to water experts, increasing water reuse is an important way to increase water sustainability, because we’re not finding any new water."

February 27 Water/Climate Briefing

February 12, 2013

The Dynamics of Energy and Water for Central Arizona Agriculture

Water, energy, and policy are intimately linked in the West.

Irrigated agriculture is particularly sensitive to changes in the source and price of energy, with implications for water demand, land use and economic activity in Central Arizona.

  • In what ways is Central Arizona agriculture sensitive to changing energy policy?
  • How can irrigation districts and farmers cope with the dynamics of energy and water prices?
  • What might different energy scenarios mean for the viability of central Arizona agriculture?

Join us in a discussion on February 27, 2013.


Brian Betcher, General Manager, Maricopa Stanfield Irrigation and Drainage District

Ed Gerak, General Manager, Buckeye Water Conservation and Drainage District

Katosha Nakai, Manager, Tribal Relations and Policy Development, Business Planning and Governmental Programs, Central Arizona Project

Ron Rayner, Partner/Manager, A Tumbling T Ranches

Karen Smith, Fellow, Grand Canyon Institute


Wednesday, February 27, 2013, 3:00-4:30p.m.

Refreshments will be served. Please RSVP to:


Decision Center for a Desert City, 21 East 6th Street, Suite 126B, Tempe [Map]


Decision Center for a Desert City at AAAS 2013

February 7, 2013

DCDC_CGS_2012-2013A contingent of faculty, graduate students and undergraduate students from the Decision Center for a Desert City (DCDC) at Arizona State University will present their research at a special poster session at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting in Boston, MA on February 17. Dave White, DCDC’s Director and Principal Investigator and Margaret Nelson, DCDC Co-PI and education program coordinator, will accompany the group.

Students from DCDC Community of Graduate Scholars (CGS) have organized a special section for the AAAS general poster session focused on decision making under uncertainty (DMUU) since 2011. The ASU students coordinated with students and faculty from universities that host projects funded by the National Science Foundation under the NSF’s DMUU program, which, along with ASU, includes Columbia University, Carnegie Mellon University and University of Chicago. The DCDC students and their faculty mentors will present research that employs interdisciplinary social science methods to develop knowledge and tools for water sustainability and climate change adaptation in urban areas. Two undergraduate students funded under DCDC's Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program will also attend.

According to Margaret Nelson, an anthropologist and Vice Dean of Barrett, The Honors College, "The students in the Community of Graduate Scholars represent multiple disciplines, including psychology, anthropology, public policy, sustainability, computer science and geography. Through the seminar, students become familiar with the issues, perspectives, and language of the researchers within DCDC, as well as with issues that emerge from interdisciplinary collaborations."

"The CGS students have not only been instrumental in developing interdisciplinary collaborations at ASU, but have fostered cooperation between the DMUU centers," says White, a Senior Sustainability Scientist at ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability. "Their efforts have helped develop a network of research efforts focused on improving environmental decision making."

Research posters will be presented by the following students:

  • Rebecca Neel, CGS, Using upward trends to promote sustainable behaviors. [Poster]
  • Nicholas Murtha, REU, (Rebecca Neel 1st author), When scientists disagree: How we frame uncertainty influences public trust of science. [Poster]
  • Lauren Withycombe Keeler, CGS, Quenching our thirst: Future scenarios of water in Phoenix. [Poster]
  • V. Kelly Turner, CGS (Dave White 1st author), Uncertainty frames in water policy debates. [Poster]
  • Rashmi Krishnamurthy, CGS, Fostering perspective-taking in collaborative decision making through an interactive computer simulation. [Poster]
  • Jose Rosales Chavez, CGS, Cross-cultural perspectives on uncertainty in climate science: Preliminary results from DCDC and the Global Ethnohydrology Study. [Poster]
  • Julia C. Bausch, CGS, Farmers’ Resilience to Socio-Ecological Change in Central Arizona. [Poster]
  • Manikandan Vijayakumar, CGS, Sustainability, Collaboration and Uncertainty: A Scenario-­‐based Evaluation of Water Issues for Desert Cities Using Computer Simulation. [Poster]
  • Jacelyn Rice, CGS, Actual vs. perceived amounts of de facto wastewater reuse in the Continental United States. [Poster]
  • John Quinn, REU, The future of water in the desert: Convergence and divergence between decision makers and students. [Poster]

The AAAS is an international non-profit organization dedicated to advancing science around the world by serving as an educator, leader, spokesperson and professional association.

The Decision Center for a Desert City (DCDC) at Arizona State University (ASU) was established in 2004 by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to advance scientific understanding of environmental decision making under conditions of uncertainty.

Survey Results on Water Resource and Land Use Planning in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area

February 7, 2013

In the report, Views and Activities among Municipal Water Managers and Land Planners: Stressors and Strategies for Resource Management in Metropolitan Phoenix, AZ, DCDC Co-PI Kelli Larson presents 2010 survey results aimed at understanding water resource and land use planning activities across municipalities in the greater Phoenix region.


Since land use and land cover (e.g., vegetation) affect water demand, and since water use and conservation affect the condition and management of land use and land cover, a primary objective of this research is to explore the potential for integrated planning across sectors. With special attention to land-water connections under climate variability and urbanization, we focus on planning strategies within and across sectors.

Here, we present the results from two sets of survey questions. First, we explore how professional views about water resource stressors and management strategies converge and diverge among water resource managers (WRMs) and land use planners (LUPs) (i.e., to what extent do these two groups hold similar or different perspectives from one another). Second, we examine the degree to which water managers and land planners are engaging in integrated planning by asking them the degree to which they consider both issues in their decision making (i.e., water issues in land planning and land issues in water management) and the extent to which they are involved in planning activities in the other sector (i.e., WRMs in land planning and LUPs in water management).

Continue reading and download Views and Activities among Municipal Water Managers and Land Planners: Stressors and Strategies for Resource Management in Metropolitan Phoenix, AZ.

klarson_150Kelli Larson, Ph.D. is a DCDC Co-PI and an Associate Professor in the Schools of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and Sustainability at Arizona State University and a Senior Sustainability Scientist at the Global Institute of Sustainability. Dr. Larson's areas of interest include human-environment interactions, water resource governance, and social aspects of sustainability.