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Water Security: Research Challenges and Opportunities

September 10, 2012

In a recent article published by Karen Bakker in Science entitled,"Water Security: Research Challenges and Opportunities", she argues for enhanced integration between academic research and policy making for water sustainability.

Bakker goes on to make note of several promising efforts to improve the linkage between knowledge and action, "In addition, project-based funding should be complemented by the creation of long-term networks [e.g., Oxford University’s Water Security Network] and research units that bring together interdisciplinary researchers and practitioners on a longer-term basis (32), e.g., NSF’s Decision Center for a Desert City, which bridges science and policy to create analytical tools used in water decision-making."

The article illustrates the increasing impact of our work at Decision Center for a Desert City. Read the entire article at Science.

Karen Bakker is Director of the Program on Water Governance in the Department of Geography and Institute for Resources, Environment, and Sustainability at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC.


An estimated 80% of the world's population faces a high-level water security or water-related biodiversity risk (1). The issue of water security—defined as an acceptable level of water-related risks to humans and ecosystems, coupled with the availability of water of sufficient quantity and quality to support livelihoods, national security, human health, and ecosystem services (2, 3)—is thus receiving considerable attention. To date, however, the majority of academic research on water security is relatively poorly integrated with the needs of policy-makers and practitioners; hence, substantial changes to funding, education, research frameworks, and academic incentive structures are required if researchers are to be enabled to make more substantive contributions to addressing the global water crisis.

Student survey on Visualization for Water Planning Decision Support

August 27, 2012

Stephanie Deitrick, PhD student in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning at ASU and past DCDC Graduate Research Assistant, is currently recruiting people to answer questions on the influence of visual representation on decision-making. The survey will take 20-30 minutes to complete.

The results of the research may be published, but your name will not be used. Participants in this survey will have the opportunity to be entered into a drawing for Amazon gift cards ranging from $50-$80 each.

If you would like to help Stephanie with her research, please link to the visualization water planning survey and complete the questionnaire. Thank you from Stephanie for your assistance.

DCDC-Intel-CH2M Hill Collaboration

August 24, 2012

By Skip Derra at ASU News

CH2M HILL’s WaterMatch, a grassroots, goodwill initiative that promotes the reuse of municipal effluent for industrial and agricultural use, is expanding through collaborations with companies and universities around the world. Arizona State University and Intel are among the targets for this expansion in the U.S.

CH2M HILL, a program management, construction management and design firm located in Denver, developed WaterMatch as a free website that uses social networking and geospatial mapping to connect water generators with water users. "We are expanding WaterMatch and the grassroots water reuse revolution to promote progress through partnerships and projects on the ground," said Jan Dell, vice president at CH2M HILL. "We invite companies, municipalities and universities to join us in this effort."

CH2M HILL launched WaterMatch in 2011. Recognizing the importance of water reuse and the low rates of implementation around the world, corporations and universities are partnering with WaterMatch to promote reuse and sustainable water management through a variety of actions. WaterMatch has more than 21,000 potential water reuse sources and is growing daily.

ASU and Intel are working with local municipalities in Arizona and the U.S. Southwest to populate the WaterMatch map and associated wastewater treatment plant profiles. They also are conducting research into the uses and benefits of WaterMatch.

"Sustainable water management is a key focus at Intel," said Gary Niekerk, director of Corporate Citizenship at Intel. "We created the external collaboration with CH2M HILL‘s WaterMatch, ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability and ASU’s Decision Center for a Desert City to increase water sustainability in our local community." Niekerk added that Intel believes that technology can play an important role in addressing the world’s sustainability challenges.

The university program will leverage what is learned from successful pilot projects at Arizona State University and the University of California-San Diego.

"Our students are eager to engage on the critical issue of water sustainability in Arizona and work on a grassroots project," said John Sabo, director of Research Development at ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability. "It’s great to see the program our students helped to pilot expand globally."

Also helping to populate the map and grow the user base are SGS, a global inspection, testing, verification and certification company in Poland; British Water in the United Kingdom; and ConocoPhillips, working in Indonesia.

To tap into the energy and creativity of students, and offer them real-world learning experiences that support local community and economic development, WaterMatch is collaborating on a global WaterMatch Makers university program with Net Impact, a global nonprofit that supports a new generation of leaders who work for a more sustainable world.

US-Mexico Border Water and Environmental Sustainability Training Program - Final Presentations

August 23, 2012

On August 24, 2012, ten ASU students working on an NSF-funded summer research, cultural and educational experience called the US-Mexico Border Water and Environmental Sustainability Training (UMB-WEST) program will give their final presentations on their experience.

Participating students from the School of Earth and Space Exploration, School of Sustainability, School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, and the School of Life Sciences include: Dustin Pearce, Mariela Castaneda, Rudd Moe (WaterMatch/DCDC Sustainability Ambassador), Jill Brumand, Sarah Cronk, Jiachuan Yang, Kelsii Dana, Tiantian Xiang, Adam Schreiner-McGraw and Huntington Keith.

During the presentation, students will describe their research visits and field work in Sonora, Mexico, focused on water resources management and sustainability. This is a great way to find out about the program for folks interested in participating in summer 2013 or 2014.

Join us on August 24 at 10 am in ISTB4, Room 240. More information is available at: Hydrology Wikie and the ASU Explorers Blog.

In the News

August 20, 2012

  • AGU in Arizona. Our very own, David Sampson, is in the member highlight of the American Geophysical Union (AGU). Enduring drought conditions in the Southwest and increasing water demands for future water supplies in Phoenix are worrisome for water managers. David works on a water management and planning model for Phoenix that simulates the current and projected water supply as influenced by population, climate change, and water availability. By allowing water managers to examine "what-if" scenarios they will be able to ensure long term availability for the growing Phoenix population.
  • Don’t Waste the Drought. We're in the worst drought in the United States since the 1950s, and we’re wasting it. Via The New York Times.
  • Children draw their feelings about future of water. "The Science of Water Art: A Citizen Science Project" – a collaborative research project, featuring research by DCDC researcher Amber Wutich, brings together professionals, community members, college students and children to think about the role that water plays in each of our lives – will be on display Sept. 1-30 at ASU’s Deer Valley Rock Art Center.
  • ASU research on climate impacts of urbanization gains widespread attention. A recently published study by ASU researchers and colleagues at the National Center for Atmospheric Research has produced widespread interest in news media – from the Los Angeles Times to Terra Espana, the Spain internet outlet of a prominent Spanish-language media company. Via ASU News
  • $3M NSF award to launch alternative energy research, PhD program. A new effort at Arizona State University to educate and train students in renewable and solar energy is receiving backing by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Via ASU News
  • Evolution of ASU's commitment to sustainability. A cool timeline from the Global Institute of Sustainability.
  • Nine Straight Days of 110 or More: That’s Hot, Even for Phoenix. Hot is a relative term for people used to the scorching summer weather in this city built on land better suited for cactus than lawns. But nine straight days of excessive heat seem to have stretched even the most elastic tolerance levels to their limits. Via The New York Times
  • Want to know more about your Phoenix water and sewer Customer Services? Watch this!
  • Global Water Sustainability Flows Through Natural And Human Challenges. Water’s fate in China mirrors problems across the world: fouled, pushed far from its natural origins, squandered and exploited. In this week’s Science magazine, Jianguo "Jack" Liu, director of Michigan State University’s Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability, and doctoral student Wu Yang look at lessons learned in China and management strategies that hold solutions for China – and across the world. Via Science 360.

Children draw their feelings about future of water

August 15, 2012

By Judith Smith via ASU News featuring DCDC Researcher Amber Wutich, PhD.

Child's Drawing of The Science of Water
"The Science of Water Art: A Citizen Science Project" will be on display at ASU's Deer Valley Rock Art Center Sept. 1-30
"The Science of Water Art: A Citizen Science Project" – a collaborative research project that brings together professionals, community members, college students and children to think about the role that water plays in each of our lives – will be on display Sept. 1-30 at ASU’s Deer Valley Rock Art Center.

The project is part of a larger global ethnohydrology study that is starting its fifth year with a look at the role of water, climate change and health in several communities worldwide. The study is sponsored by ASU's School of Human Evolution and Social Change (SHESC).

The art facet of this study allows for a look into how climate change and water insecurity are viewed by younger generations, and gives a voice to children so that they may share their outlooks on this vital resource.

This study used a sample of fourth-grade classrooms across Arizona in collecting more than 3,000 drawings of children's perception of water today and in the future. The nine- to 11-year-olds were asked by their teachers to draw two pictures with the following prompts: 1) Please draw a picture showing water being used in your neighborhood; and 2) Please draw a picture showing how you imagine water will be used in your neighborhood 100 years from now.

The study was conceptualized in partnership with SRP and the Maricopa County Education Service Agency by Amber Wutich, associate professor in SHESC, and Alexandra Brewis Slade, professor in SHESC.

The exhibit is free with museum admission: $7 adults; $4 seniors, military and students; $3 children 6-12. Children 5 and younger are free.

Deer Valley Rock Art Center hours are 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. More information is available at or by calling 623-582-8007.

September 5 DCDC Water/Climate Briefing

August 13, 2012

Dynamics of Water in Urban Ecosystems

In our first Water/Climate Briefing for 2012-2013, DCDC sets the stage with a broad-based discussion of future topics related to this year’s theme: The dynamic role of water within urban ecosystems in relation to the management of cities and regions of Arizona. Our panelists will explore:

  • Effluent and Environmental Systems
  • Impact of Climate Change on Riparian Systems
  • Stormwater: Green Infrastructure Systems
  • Quantifying Water Use for Ecosystem Services
  • Water Use Within Public Features
  • The Impact of Environmental Stresses on Water Quality

We hope to provide opportunities for researchers, water resource managers, and the public to gain insight to the challenges of water within our urban places and ecosystems.


Dan Childers, Moderator and Professor, ASU School of Sustainability

Juliet Stromberg, Associate Professor, ASU School of Life Sciences

Aimée Conroy, Deputy Water Services Director, City of Phoenix

Sarah Porter, Executive Director, Audubon Arizona


Wednesday, September 5, 2012, 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]

Study Finds More of Earth Is Hotter and Says Global Warming Is at Work

August 8, 2012

By Justin Gillis via The New York Times

The percentage of the earth’s land surface covered by extreme heat in the summer has soared in recent decades, from less than 1 percent in the years before 1980 to as much as 13 percent in recent years, according to a new scientific paper.

The change is so drastic, the paper says, that scientists can claim with near certainty that events like the Texas heat wave last year, the Russian heat wave of 2010 and the European heat wave of 2003 would not have happened without the planetary warming caused by the human release of greenhouse gases.

Those claims, which go beyond the established scientific consensus about the role of climate change in causing weather extremes, were advanced by James E. Hansen, a prominent NASA climate scientist, and two co-authors in a scientific paper published online on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"The main thing is just to look at the statistics and see that the change is too large to be natural," Dr. Hansen said in an interview. The findings provoked an immediate split among his scientific colleagues, however.

Some experts said he had come up with a smart new way of understanding the magnitude of the heat extremes that people around the world are noticing. Others suggested that he had presented a weak statistical case for his boldest claims and that the rest of the paper contained little that had not been observed in the scientific literature for years.

The divide is characteristic of the strong reactions that Dr. Hansen has elicited playing dual roles in the debate over climate change and how to combat it. As the head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in Manhattan, he is one of NASA’s principal climate scientists and the primary custodian of its records of the earth’s temperature. Yet he has also become an activist who marches in protests to demand new government policies on energy and climate.

The latter role — he has been arrested four times at demonstrations, always while on leave from his government job — has made him a hero to the political left, and particularly to college students involved in climate activism. But it has discomfited some of his fellow researchers, who fear that his political activities may be sowing unnecessary doubts about his scientific findings and climate science in general.

Climate-change skeptics routinely accuse Dr. Hansen of manipulating the temperature record to make global warming seem more serious, although there is no proof that he has done so and the warming trend has repeatedly been confirmed by other researchers.

Scientists have long believed that the warming — roughly 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit over land in the past century, with most of that occurring since 1980 — was caused largely by the human release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels. Such emissions have increased the likelihood of heat waves and some other types of weather extremes, like heavy rains and snowstorms, they say.

But researchers have struggled with the question of whether any particular heat wave or storm can be definitively linked to human-induced climate change.

In the new paper, titled "Perception of Climate Change," Dr. Hansen and his co-authors compared the global climate of 1951 to 1980, before the bulk of global warming had occurred, with the climate of the years 1981 to 2011.

They computed how much of the earth’s land surface in each period was subjected in June, July and August to heat that would have been considered particularly extreme in the period from 1951 to 1980. In that era, they found, only 0.2 percent of the land surface was subjected to extreme summer heat. But from 2006 to 2011, extreme heat covered from 4 to 13 percent of the world, they found.

"It confirms people’s suspicions that things are happening" to the climate, Dr. Hansen said in the interview. "It’s just going to get worse."

The findings led his team to assert that the big heat waves and droughts of recent years were a direct consequence of climate change. The authors did not offer formal proof of the sort favored by many climate scientists, instead presenting what amounted to a circumstantial case that the background warming was the only plausible cause of those individual heat extremes.

Dr. Hansen said the heat wave and drought afflicting the country this year were also a likely consequence of climate change.

Some experts said they found the arguments persuasive. Andrew J. Weaver, a climate scientist at the University of Victoria in British Columbia who reviewed the paper before publication, compared the warming of recent years to a measles outbreak popping up in different places. As with a measles epidemic, he said, it makes sense to suspect a common cause.

"You can actually start to see these patterns emerging whereby in any given year more and more of the globe is covered by anomalously warm events," Dr. Weaver said.

But some other scientists described the Hansen paper as a muddle. Claudia Tebaldi, a scientist with an organization called Climate Central that seeks to make climate research accessible to the public, said she felt that the paper was on solid ground in asserting a greater overall likelihood of heat waves as a consequence of global warming, but that the finding was not new. The paper’s attribution of specific heat waves to climate change was not backed by persuasive evidence, she said.

Martin P. Hoerling, a researcher with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who studies the causes of weather extremes, said he shared Dr. Hansen’s general concern about global warming. But he has in the past criticized Dr. Hansen for, in his view, exaggerating the connection between global warming and specific weather extremes. In an interview, he said he felt that Dr. Hansen had done so again.

Dr. Hoerling has published research suggesting that the 2010 Russian heat wave was largely a consequence of natural climate variability, and a forthcoming study he carried out on the Texas drought of 2011 also says natural factors were the main cause.

Dr. Hoerling contended that Dr. Hansen’s new paper confuses drought, caused primarily by a lack of rainfall, with heat waves.

"This isn’t a serious science paper," Dr. Hoerling said. "It’s mainly about perception, as indicated by the paper’s title. Perception is not a science."

Read the entire article at The New York Times.

Has Surface Water Quality Improved Since the Clean Water Act?

July 31, 2012


V. Kerry Smith and Carlos Valcarcel Wolloh

Department of Economics

W. P. Carey School of Business

Arizona State University

June 2012

JEL No. Q50,Q53


On the fortieth anniversary of the Clean Water Act this paper reports the first quantitative assessment of the aggregate trends in water quality in the U.S. using a single standard over the years 1975 to 2011. The analysis suggests that fresh water lakes for the nation as a whole are about at the same quality levels as they were in 1975. In short, viewed in the aggregate, nothing has changed. An assessment of the factors influencing the aggregates also suggests that water quality appears to be affected by the business cycle. This result calls into question the simple descriptions of the change in environmental quality with economic growth that are associated with the Environmental Kuznets Curve. Download the paper at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Researchers pioneer game-changing approach for drought monitoring

July 31, 2012

by Nikki Cassis via ASU News

Droughts are more than simply climate phenomena. They can have profound social, environmental and economic impacts, and can also be a major threat to food security throughout the world. Though much progress has been made in monitoring droughts and understanding their causes, there is still a strong need for better precision in both the monitoring and forecasting of droughts.

A team led by Arizona State University researchers seeks to enable the move from a reactive to a more proactive approach to droughts, by developing new capabilities to conduct global drought monitoring using satellite detection of water stress and hydrologic models applied at regional scales.

Under the direction of ASU hydrologist and DCDC researcher Enrique Vivoni, a contingent of ASU researchers is leading a group from NASA Ames, California State University at Monterey Bay, and a nonprofit research and development organization, known as Planetary Skin Institute (PSI), in integrating multi-resolution, remote sensing-based drought indices into an online, cloud computing-based visualization platform.

Vivoni’s research group was selected for a NASA project in the Earth Science Applications: Water Resources competition, which specifically sought projects able to leverage NASA capabilities to advance their skill to monitor, identify, assess, predict and respond to water resource deficits. The NASA project led by the ASU team will build on a concept prototype seeded by PSI.

"ASU’s portfolio of earth and space research has enabled us to compete at NASA for new efforts in the application of hydrologic remote sensing and informatics," explains Vivoni, an associate professor in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration. "We are really excited to be leading a multi-institutional project to develop drought monitoring tools. These will have applications in semiarid regions with large agricultural regions across the world, including in Arizona.

"We have selected to use a water stress index to conduct drought monitoring specifically in drought-prone areas of northwest Mexico and northeast Brazil given their critical importance," adds Vivoni. "To do so, we will expand the capabilities of a cloud-based geospatial platform to incorporate drought products using remote sensing data and hydrologic model outputs. We hypothesize that the cloud-based platform will be a game-changing approach for drought monitoring, assessment and prediction at a range of scales."

Teji Abraham, chief development officer for PSI, considers "the drought products from this project very complementary and important for the Open Innovation program that PSI is partnering with Brazil's Ministry of Science, Technology, & Innovation – especially for timely risk management given the propensity of drought in northeast Brazil. In collaboration with this group of partners, PSI also intends to extend this new approach in the future to other countries in Asia and Africa that are particularly susceptible to drought."

Drought products

The drought products will be spatial maps provided approximately every two weeks that will show drought severity over the two countries of interest (Brazil and Mexico) at high resolution (4 to 8 kilometers) and over the globe at lower resolution (16 to 32 km). The drought maps will be derived from satellite remote sensing observations, specifically the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor on board the Earth Observing System Aqua and Terra satellites. These will be complemented with auxiliary data such as irrigation sectors, river basins, stream networks, reservoirs, political boundaries, temperature and precipitation, among others.

This data will be integrated into a cloud-based platform, called Drought ALERTS (short for Automated Land change Evaluation, Reporting and Tracking System). This global visualization system will overlay standard maps with scientific products related to natural resources management for near real-time global detection of water stress at multiple resolutions.

Targeted at national water managers, irrigation districts, policymakers and scientific communities, Drought ALERTS is designed to engage stakeholders and decision-makers in local to regional problems concerned with natural resources and risk management and will provide timely detection of drought events on a global basis with a high degree of accuracy.

"This innovative platform will utilize remote sensing products from low-Earth orbiting satellites to produce drought indices. It will help form the basis for resource allocation decisions and it will be refined over time as we find ways to make it better reflect the needs of decision-makers and others who use the information," says Vivoni.

"PSI sees this as an important step forward in globally scaling drought monitoring capabilities. In partnership with PSI’s regional partners, we expect this project to help bridge the gap between scientists and decision makers by integrating drought data products into a decision planning environment that enables the data to be analyzed in context for making holistic decisions," adds Abraham.

Current drought monitors, such as the US drought monitor, rely on assembling precipitation data from rain gauges throughout a region about once every week. The US drought monitor is a great resource that has improved US-based efforts with respect to what was available even five years ago; however, this can lead to large errors in developing countries as instrument networks there are sparse or inconsistent. Remote sensing products provide an alternative view of drought by making inferences based on vegetation status and land surface temperature.

Drought ALERTS, and similar products, could serve as the backbone of national drought monitoring in many developing countries to improve drought detection, awareness and decision-making capabilities. For example, the study areas in northwest Mexico and northeast Brazil are currently undergoing severe multi-year droughts affecting agricultural production. These advances can yield significant cost savings through reduced risks across several water demand sectors including food production and security, hydropower generation, and natural ecosystem services.

End users

The end users will range from local- to country-level decision-makers that are involved in water, land and natural resources management. Vivoni and his collaborators have partnered with a large irrigation district in Mexico and a federal emergency management agency in Brazil that are interested in drought forecasts.

"The Yaqui Valley Irrigation District in Sonora, Mexico is a major producer of wheat. The Center for Monitoring of Natural Disasters in Brazil is a new agency in charge of nation-wide alerts. Both of these institutions – and others that will join as the program develops – will have access to tailored scientific products related to drought," explains Vivoni.

Users will be able to query, visualize and plot metrics that explore the different dimensions of drought, including the precipitation and temperature forcing and the vegetation response. Summary statistics, such as drought duration and intensity, will be provided to help them gauge the level of the threat.

Drought monitoring is but the first step in a larger vision. Vivoni intends to expand this drought effort into a hydrological risk monitoring platform that also deals with floods, landslides, erosion potential, etc. to provide a more complete picture of global water excess and water limitations.

"Eventually, the drought monitor will also help our undergraduate and graduate students interact, query and explore real-time remote sensing data that describe changes in the hydrological cycle over their regions of interest. By bringing research products into classroom activities, our student learning experiences will be enriched," adds Vivoni.

Global Warming Makes Heat Waves More Likely, Study Finds

July 13, 2012

by Justin Gillis of The New York Times

July 10, 2012

Some of the weather extremes bedeviling people around the world have become far more likely because of human-induced global warming, researchers reported on Tuesday. Yet they ruled it out as a cause of last year’s devastating floods in Thailand, one of the most striking weather events of recent years.

A new study found that global warming made the severe heat wave that afflicted Texas last year 20 times as likely as it would have been in the 1960s. The extremely warm temperatures in Britain last November were 62 times as likely because of global warming, it said.

The findings, especially the specific numbers attached to some extreme events, represent an increased effort by scientists to respond to a public clamor for information about what is happening to the earth’s climate. Studies seeking to discern any human influence on weather extremes have usually taken years, but in this case, researchers around the world managed to study six events from 2011 and publish the results in six months.

Some of the researchers acknowledged that given the haste of the work, the conclusions must be regarded as tentative.

Continue reading the article at The New York Times.

DCDC Leadership Transition

July 3, 2012

This year marked several significant milestones in leadership and administration for Decision Center for a Desert City (DCDC). In a planned transition phased in over the past year and a half, Dave White assumes the role of Principal Investigator and Director. Dave has been with DCDC since its inception; first as senior project personnel in DCDC I, then as co-PI and Associate Director for DCDC II.

Founding Director and PI Patricia Gober stepped down to assume a new position as Professor, Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, University of Saskatchewan. Gober, however, maintains a research faculty appointment with Arizona State University and continues to contribute to DCDC as senior project personnel.

Charles Redman, Founding Director of the School of Sustainability, continues his role as co-PI and co-Director, positions he has held since DCDC was established.

Additionally, Kerry Smith, Regents Professor, W. P. School of Business, and Kelli Larson, Associate Professor, School of Sustainability and School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, have been added to the Executive Committee, which also includes, along with White and Redman, co-PIs Margaret Nelson, Associate Dean at Barrett, The Honors College, and Craig Kirkwood, Professor Emeritus, W. P. Carey School of Business.

Dave White is Associate Professor of Community Resources and Development at Arizona State University. He is also co-director of the Decision Center for a Desert City (DCDC), Senior Sustainability Scientist with the Global Institute of Sustainability, and affiliate faculty with the Consortium for Science, Policy, and Outcomes.

His work focuses on understanding and enhancing the linkages between science and policy for environmental decision making. He has developed and studied processes, outcomes, and institutional forms of boundary organizations for the co-production of knowledge and decisions; identified divergent perspectives between stakeholder groups at the science-policy nexus; and tested competing methods for gathering information on sensitive topics from decision makers. This work has contributed to the development and refinement of new tools and techniques for collaborative environmental decision making such as the DCDC WaterSim model. White is the author of more than two dozen articles about the interactions of science and society published in journals including Science and Public Policy, Environmental Science and Policy, Environment and Behavior, and Society and Natural Resources. He is a recipient of the ASU President’s Medal for Social Embeddedness. White received his PhD in Forestry from Virginia Tech in 2002.

DCDC II is one of four National Science Foundation (NSF) funded programs studying Decision Making Under Uncertainty. The NSF is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. DCDC is a research center administered by the Global Institute of Sustainability.

For additional information about Decision Center for a Desert City, please read our most recent annual report to the National Science Foundation.

DCDC Research Article Chosen for Collection on Desertification and Drought

July 2, 2012

June 17th marked the United Nations World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought.

In 1994, the United Nations General Assembly declared the 17th of June the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought to promote public awareness of the issue, and the implementation of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in those countries experiencing serious drought and/or desertification, with particular emphasis on Africa.

Working with editors and authors, Routledge Taylor & Francis has compiled a list of over 80 leading articles from 50 academic journals to support this United Nations World Day.

One of the articles chosen for the collection on drought is a 2010 paper published by DCDC researchers and colleagues from the City of Phoenix Water Service Department: Pat Gober, Anthony J. Brazel, Ray Quay, Soe Myint, Susanne Grossman-Clarke, Adam Miller, and Steve Rossi. Using watered landscapes to manipulate urban heat island effects: How much water will it take to cool Phoenix? Journal of the American Planning Association 76(1):109-121.

The articles are free to access for a limited time and cover a wide range of topics and subject areas. View the article collection today.

Colorado River Sustainability

June 27, 2012

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

June 20, 2012

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.

Dust Storm Swallows City. Pretty much self-explanatory when you live in the Phoenix metro area.

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

June 14, 2012

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

June 5, 2012

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'

June 4, 2012

Sander van der LeeuwSander 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

June 4, 2012

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


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


Freshwater 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.

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(1) School of Sustainability, ASU

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

Navajos and Hopis Concerned Over Water Deal With Feds

May 14, 2012

Via AZ

The house where Dixie Ellis lives with her mother is perched on a mesa above town. It is a steep hike up the hill from Lake Powell, the second-largest man-made reservoir on the continent, and an easier walk up Arizona 98 from the Navajo Generating Station, one of the country's largest coal-fired power plants.

"Tourists ask me about it," Ellis said, nodding at the three 774-foot smokestacks that rise into the northern sky from the power plant less than 3 miles down the hill. "I tell them we don't even have running water or electricity. They can't believe it."

Ellis' mother, 96-year-old Sally Young, signed over part of her grazing lease to allow construction of the plant more than 40 years ago, one of hundreds of families that gave up land for a promise of jobs and a stronger economy. Her family said she was also promised water and power, promises that apparently never made it on paper.

"Other people are benefiting from it, but we're not getting anything," said Pearl Begay, Ellis' daughter. "No lights, no running water, just the smokestacks."

The power plant has emerged as an issue in a proposed water agreement between the federal government and the Navajo and Hopi tribes. The government has offered the Navajos an extra allotment of water if they will ensure that leases are renewed for the plant site and for a mine near Kayenta that supplies coal to generate electricity.

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