Can empathy lead to better decisions in water usage?

As the climate in the Southwest becomes hotter and drier, water will become an ever more precious resource, demanded by people with competing interests.

Ranchers and farmers could see their livelihoods threatened by urban areas that scoop up more water as their populations swell. Shrinking lakes could mean fewer tourists and loss of jobs. So who wins?

An Arizona State University team has received a three-year grant to study how people collaborate — or not — on the complex decision of who gets how much water, and how using technology might affect their reactions. Empathy is the crux of the study. The researchers want to see whether participants can be coaxed into relinquishing power for the greater good.

The National Science Foundation awarded $449,000 to the interdisciplinary group in July. The scholars are from the School of Public Affairs, the W. P. Carey School of Business, the School of Social Work and the Decision Center for a Desert City. Erik Johnston, an associate professor in the School of Public Affairs and director of the Center for Policy Informatics, is the principal investigator.

About 300 students have taken part in the study so far, he said, and about 500 more will participate over the next three years. They interact individually or on teams using computers, with the researchers changing different aspects of the role playing to see what promotes empathy. Each session takes about 90 minutes. “There are a lot of values at play all the time, which is the heart of governance,” Johnston said.

The digital platform that delivers the interactive modules was created by Johnston and Ajay Vinze, associate dean for international programs at the W. P. Carey School of Business. Vinze, who studies the role of technology in human interaction, is a co-principal investigator for the study and also associate vice provost for graduate education at ASU.

They then paired their platform with the WaterSim estimator tool created by the Decision Center for a Desert City (DCDC), which set the stage for this work. “We created a mobile version of WaterSim that uses their underlying logic and their scientific reasoning behind it. When people are allocated water choices, the consequences they see have been scientifically derived from the research at DCDC,” Johnston said.

Water-use policy is a good example for interdisciplinary study, Vinze said. “These are complex and difficult challenges to address,” Vinze said. “In order to solve the big problems of the world, we need to look at them in an interdisciplinary way.”

Empathy is measured at the beginning and end of the sessions using a survey developed by Elizabeth Segal, a professor in the School of Social Work and another co-principal investigator. Vinze said that the interplay of empathy and technology is key. “Empathy is not a new concept, but the notion of ‘how does empathy change if I look through the lens of technology?’ is new,” he said.

Vinze and Johnston had already done some preliminary research on that. “If you understand where the other person is coming from, you’re likely to see the other person empathetically. If you feel more empathy, you’re more likely to put your own resources at risk for an outcome,” Johnston said. “We thought ‘This is simple. We’ll get them to walk a mile in another’s shoes.’

“But it wasn’t that easy. Everything we tried made the situation worse, with lower empathy outcomes and less likelihood of collaboration. “It’s very complex.”

The study participants play differing roles. For example, subjects might be a big city negotiating with a small city, with different levels of political clout. The game poses various scenarios for water usage, considering effects on variables such as jobs, sustainability, food scarcity and quality of life. “When the undergrads played, they got rid of all the pools. But they don’t look at the misery aspect of that,” Johnston said.

The model computes all the dimensions so participants can see the system-wide consequences of their decisions – a factor that could have profound real-life value, Johnston said. “There’s not a clean answer,” he said. “It helps to focus their attention on where there are conflicts: Do we have more sustainability in the future or more jobs now? Do we invest in food security or community pools? “They get to see the trade-offs between those decisions.”

Johnston said the team hopes that real policymakers can eventually use the models, which would put their decisions to the test. “This is an argument that we’ve been making for a while: What is the notion of professional use of data when everyone can find data that supports their own viewpoint?”

Mary Beth Faller
Marybeth.Faller@asu.edu
ASU News

With NSF award, DCDC expands scope, impact of ASU water research

SRP_reservoirs_LizMarquez_294

In the grips of long-term drought, the Colorado River Basin and the cities that rely on its water face unprecedented challenges and significant uncertainty with a warming climate and large-scale land-use change. They are developing new water-resource policies for a future of increasing uncertainty.

Now, water managers and decision makers of cities of the Colorado River Basin will be able to take greater advantage of Arizona State University’s Decision Center for a Desert City (DCDC) thanks to a new $4.5 million National Science Foundation award.

The four-year award, the third made to DCDC in its 10-year history, brings the total NSF investment in the center to $18 million. It will allow ASU to expand the geographic scope of DCDC’s work beyond Phoenix to include cities dependent upon Colorado River water in states like Colorado, Nevada and California to explore transformational changes that will be necessary to sustain water supplies well into the future.

Decision Center for a Desert City, which is a research unit of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability at ASU, conducts climate, water and decision research, and it develops innovative tools to bridge the boundary between scientists and decision makers.

DCDC researchers work closely with the Decision Theater Network to engage stakeholders using models and simulations that visualize alternative futures and to promote dialogue about sustainability solutions.

“It is an unprecedented time to conduct this type of use-inspired research for the Colorado River Basin region,” said Dave White, director of Decision Center for a Desert City. “It comes with a greater sense of urgency and a greater sense of understanding of the scale and scope of the changes that are likely necessary to transition the cities and the region into a more sustainable state over the next several decades.”

The work of the center’s researchers is interdisciplinary, integrated across areas such as hydrology, water science, economics, anthropology, geography, policy and sustainability, White explained. A primary tool developed by DCDC is WaterSim 5.0, a “systems dynamics model” that can help drought-ravaged cities anticipate a range of possible future conditions and build capacity for sustainable water-resource management and climate adaptation. David Sampson, a research scientist with the center, developed the model.

WaterSim’s power lies in its ability to bring together the multifaceted issues faced by water users and suppliers and play out scenarios so to provide a clearer picture of what the future might hold. Until now WaterSim had integrated the needs and policies of the 33 cities that make up the Phoenix metropolitan area.

“At the center of everything is the question, ‘How do we make better decisions about the future and managing our resources in a sustainable way?’” said White, an associate professor in the School of Community Resources and Development in ASU’s College of Public Service and Community Solutions. To do that the center will conduct research across four integrated project areas.

One integrated project area will focus on the biophysical process models that simulate climate change, urbanization, land use and hydrological processes in the Colorado River Basin to produce a set of climate and land-use scenarios. The second integrated project area will focus on models of the social, economic and institutional considerations of the region, the third will focus on systems modeling and simulations and the fourth integrated project area will develop an inventory of transformational solutions to water governance.

The integrated project area teams will be led by co-investigators Kelli Larson (School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and School of Sustainability), Enrique Vivoni (School of Earth and Space Exploration), Michael Hanemann (W. P. Carey School of Business) and Amber Wutich (School of Human Evolution and Social Change).

“We are building on our strengths — water-resource management and climate-change adaptation — which we have been doing for 10 years now at DCDC,” White said. “Understanding how water is developed, supplied, delivered and managed and how those activities will be affected by climate change is central. We are building on the use of WaterSim and simulation modeling as a tool for science and policy integration and a tool for stakeholder engagement.”

Ray Quay, director of stakeholder relations at DCDC, leads the center’s efforts to connect university science with policy and decision-making.

White said a goal of the new NSF award is to explore alternatives that need to be considered to make the Colorado River Basin region more sustainable in an uncertain future.

“There is a growing sense that there needs to be a greater discussion about trade-offs,” he said. “The current system is set up based on legacy decisions, and we want to critically evaluate them. We want to inform a science-based public discourse about the situation as opposed to just accepting this as the way it is.”

Through the expanded use of DCDC and WaterSim, researchers will build a suite of robust alternatives for the cities that rely on Colorado River water to strengthen their positions and not be as vulnerable to unforeseen change.

“We want to get not only ahead of this current drought and crisis but to use this energy and opportunity to think about the next 30 years, or the next 100 years,” White said.

Skip Derra
skip.derra@asu.edu
480-965-4823
Media Relations

Understanding Agricultural Vulnerability in the Southwest

In the Southwestern United States, the agricultural sector has historically been the largest single demand for water and energy.

Eakin_IrrigationCanal2

Agriculture is vulnerable to climate change because of the direct dependence of farm production on rainfall, streamflow, and snowpack. In central Arizona and elsewhere in the West, irrigation and large-scale water storage and conveyance infrastructure (e.g., dams, canals) introduce additional complexity to the policy context.

While irrigated agriculture in central Arizona has been protected from year-to-year variability in precipitation through large investments in water infrastructure—such as the Hoover and Roosevelt dams and the Central Arizona Project aqueduct—the prospect of long-term shortage conditions on the Colorado River, or prolonged local drought, throw the future security of the agricultural water supply into question.

As central Arizona agriculture has become increasingly dependent on surface water infrastructure, groundwater infrastructure maintenance has often been put on hold, limiting the flexibility of response to surface water availability.

Farmers’ choices are affected not only by water rights and access, but also by increased pumping costs due to rising energy prices and insecurity of land tenure. Many farmers are now disincentivized from making irrigation efficiency improvements because they hold short-term leases on land owned by urban developers.

In the Phoenix metro area, a slowdown in the urban economy (especially housing construction) happened at the same time as an upsurge in farm commodity prices, shifting opportunity for expansion and associated water demand back to the agricultural sector.

Global increases in commodity prices underscore a growing concern that farmland is being lost while global food and fiber demands are still increasing.

Although market signals are critical in central Arizona farmers’ decisions, uncertainties and interdependencies potentially impede planning and responsiveness in the agricultural sector.

Authors

  • Hallie Eakin, Associate Professor, School of Sustainability, ASU
  • Rimjhim Aggarwal, Associate Professor, School of Sustainability, ASU
  • Abigail York, Associate Professor, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, ASU
  • Skaidra Smith-Heisters, Graduate Research Assistant, School of Human Evolution and Social Change and Decision Center for a Desert City, ASU

Download the policy brief.

As the River Runs Dry: The Southwest’s water crisis

lmarquez_LakePowell_LowWaterLevel_052914_296

The patroller stopped his water district truck and grabbed his camcorder.

“Here we go,” he said, sliding from the cab and pointing his lens at the fine spray of water and rainbow rising from pop-up sprinklers on the lawn of a low-slung ranch home.

“Thursday,” he spoke, recording the day as evidence. No watering allowed on Thursdays.

Welcome to the future, where every drop of Colorado River water is guarded and squeezed. Only here, in the city that gets 90 percent of its water from the fickle and fading river, the future is now.

The vast and highly urbanized Southwest, built on the promise of a bountiful river propped up by monumental dams, is up against its limits. Already tapped beyond its supply, the river is now threatened by a warming climate that shrinks its alpine source.

To support fast-growing urban populations in a time of dwindling supply, the Southwest is due for rapid and revolutionary changes.

A region that uses two-thirds of its water outdoors, and mostly for agriculture, will have to find ways of sharing and boosting efficiency — a shift that many experts believe will mean city dwellers paying to upgrade rural irrigation systems.

Cities such as Phoenix and Las Vegas, which have reduced their per-person water usage through better landscaping and appliances, will have to do better. They lag behind Los Angeles, whose growing population, by necessity, uses no more water than it did 40 years ago.

Water suppliers from Denver to San Diego will spend billions of dollars to squeeze more out of each drop, and to clean and use wastewater and salt water. It means a future of higher water bills, further promoting conservation.

By Brandon Loomis and Mark Henle, The Republic | azcentral.com

Read the entire article at azcentral.com.

NASPAA Article on Training Administrators Through Simulations

From Skittles to Governance: How Simulations can Train the Next Generation of Administrators

in Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration or NASPAA.

Authors

Erik Johnston, Center for Policy Informatics, Arizona State University
Dara Wald, Center for Policy Informatics and Decision Center for a Desert City, Arizona State University

For the past six years we have worked with the NSF-supported Decision Center for a Desert City at Arizona State University to create educational experiences using the WaterSim Platform. This model, based on water demand and supply in the Phoenix Metropolitan area, was developed to help stakeholders deliberate on and explore the consequences of urban water planning decisions in central Arizona. The user-interface allows participants to adjust various parameters—population growth, climate change, agricultural water use, urban development, and residential water use—and receive instant feedback on their decisions.

CPI_IMG_9270_296We believe that only through experiencing the realities of complexity, uncertainty and human behavior, can modern public administration challenges be understood.

In teaching game theory to students in the School of Public Affairs, we describe the concepts of “mutual best responses” and “dominant strategies,” but it is only when the students participate in a 1-2 hour game theory tournament, does the nuance of strategic interaction hit home.

During the 20-30 rounds of games—where Skittles are the currency—students play in pairs, in groups, single rounds and repeated interactions, and in cooperative and not-so-cooperative arrangements. In response to game play, the most common phrase we hear is, “That is not how they were supposed to behave.” Within minutes it becomes clear that, as in real-life public administration challenges, knowledge is useful, but the essential component is experience, particularly multiple experiences with varying outcomes. However, there are limits to the use of Skittles.

To address more sophisticated challenges, we have developed an interactive, collaborative simulation to provide an environment for students to experience the challenges of modern public administration, including complex systems that illustrate the interplay of policy, infrastructure, climate uncertainty, and multiple interdependent stakeholders.

Read the entire article at NASPAA.

Planning for Demand Uncertainty in Integrated Water Resource Management

Author

Ray Quay

Journal

Journal at American Water Works Association 107:2, Volume 107, Number 2, February 2015, ISSN 2164-4535.

Because water supply and demand face equally uncertain futures, a strategy that considers their relationship and anticipates a range of possible future scenarios for these two fundamental aspects of water use might be the wisest approach for water resource managers.

Abstract

RayQuay_Sept2012_reducedUncertainty has been a driving factor in water resource planning for several decades, particularly in arid regions and in those with a high degree of interannual variability in precipitation.

In the last few decades, anticipatory governance has emerged as an approach for planning under conditions of high uncertainty.

In shifting from a predict-and-plan approach, water resource managers are anticipating a wide range of futures, developing response strategies, and adapting to anticipated changes as needed.

The uncertainty of water supply has been the primary focus of such efforts primarily because of the potential for long-term drought and climate change.

Until recently, water-demand estimating and forecasting have been viewed with greater certainty than water supply, with a focus on revenue projections, infrastructure capacity planning, and how demand can be reduced in the long term and quickly during drought.

However, water-demand estimating and forecasting have high levels of uncertainty, particularly in the longer time frame, and thus can also benefit from anticipatory governance. Integrated water resource planning is an approach that brings the uncertainty of water demand and supply into a common anticipatory governance framework.

Read and download the entire article at American Water Works Association.

Vivoni Awarded Leopold Leadership Fellowship

Congratulations to DCDC researcher, Enrique Vivoni, who was awarded a Leopold Leadership Fellowship!

Vivoni2010_296Arizona State University hydrologist Enrique Vivoni has been awarded a Leopold Leadership Fellowship –– a prominent North American program focused on communicating environmental science to a wide audience.

He becomes one of 20 Leopold Leadership Fellows for 2015 selected for their outstanding scientific qualifications, demonstrated leadership ability, and strong interest in sharing their knowledge beyond traditional academic audiences.

The Fellows will receive two weeks of intensive communication and leadership training in how to deliver information about their research to journalists, policymakers, business leaders and the public.

Vivoni is an associate professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. He is internationally recognized in the fields of distributed hydrologic modeling, ecohydrology of semi-arid regions, North American monsoon studies and integration of engineering tools for advancing hydrologic science.

Water in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico is a contentious issue that traverses disciplinary boundaries. Vivoni’s research activities focus on the intersection of hydrology and its allied disciplines – ecology, meteorology and geomorphology – for improving understanding of water resources in this region.

A hallmark of his research achievements has been the collaborative studies of the shared water resources between the U.S. and Mexico.

“I am honored to be chosen as a Leopold Fellow and I look forward to serving as a focal point for water resources issues in the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico,” Vivoni said. “The leadership skills developed through the Leopold Leadership program will be useful for addressing societal needs related to water resources sustainability.”

The Leopold Leadership Program, based at Stanford University’s Woods Institute for the Environment, is a competitive fellowship for outstanding academic environmental scientists who are actively engaged in outreach to decision-makers and the public about their work. Each year, the program selects up to 20 midcareer academic environmental scientists as fellows.

The program was founded in 1998 to fill a critical gap in environmental decision-making: providing the best scientific knowledge to government, nonprofit and business leaders, and the public, to further the development of sustainable policies and practices.

The list of 2015 Fellows is below, and more information about the program is available at Leopold Leadership.

Written by Nicole Cassis

Media Contacts
Nicole Cassis
602-710-7169
School of Earth and Space Exploration

Joe Kullman
480-965-8122
Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

Sarah Porter Named Director of Kyl Center for Water Policy

January 7, 2015

Sarah Porter named inaugural director of Kyl Center for Water Policy at Morrison Institute

Following a national search, natural resource expert and Audubon leader Sarah Porter has been named the inaugural director of the new Kyl Center for Water Policy at Morrison Institute.

“I am so excited to join the new center and help it succeed in finding collaborative solutions to address our state’s water challenges,” said Porter, who had been with the Audubon Arizona since 2006, including as executive director since 2010.

She will begin her new job at Morrison Institute for Public Policy on Jan. 20.

“We couldn’t be more pleased with having Sarah take charge of the Kyl Center as Arizona seeks new and innovative ways and strategies to settle water claims, develop sound water policy through consensus and better educate the general public about water resources and choices,” said Thom Reilly, director of Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University.

Porter has a broad understanding of both Arizona and regional water issues, having directed Audubon’s Western Rivers project, a multi-state initiative to raise awareness of the challenges to Colorado River sustainability, as well as protecting and restoring flows for critical habitats and communities.

“It’s all about securing Arizona’s water future through collective and inclusive input from a diverse roster of agency leaders, elected officials, policy makers and stakeholders. Sarah understands that,” Reilly said, noting Porter’s nonpartisan and collaborative successful initiatives at Audubon.

The Kyl Center, named after retired U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl in recognition of his statesmanship and continued leadership on water issues, was officially launched in November after a $1 million gift from the Morrison family. The Kyl Center is housed at Morrison Institute, which is part of the ASU College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

Kyl, who is actively involved in the center, including the selection process for the director post, said he was pleased by the choice of Porter.

“I was very impressed by the quality of all the candidates who expressed interest in the position, and particularly impressed by Sarah’s credentials, energy and dedication to collaboration – all of which are needed in making the center the success we all want and need it to be,” Kyl said.

Morrison Institute last month announced the addition of two senior research fellows to help with the research component of the Kyl Center for Water Policy: Kathleen Ferris, executive director of the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association; and Rhett B. Larson, an associate professor of law in the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at ASU. Both are attorneys.

Porter also is an attorney, having graduated from Harvard University with a bachelor’s degree and obtaining her juris doctor from Arizona State University (ranking third in her class). She clerked for federal appellate Judge William Canby and was a litigator for Brown & Bain; Coppersmith Gordon Schermer Owens & Nelson, PLC; and Osborn Maledon PA.

She said she left her law career in 2006 for Audubon because she wanted to contribute to a collaborative effort to address Arizona’s natural resource challenges. She will now dedicate that focus to the Kyl Center.

Arizona Water Challenge

Check out recent interviews with DCDC researchers Dave White and Ray Quay.

November 30, 2014

Phoenix Channel 12 News, Sunday Square Off with Brahm Resnick discusses Arizona’s water future with his panel including DCDC director, Dave White, policy analyst Jocelyn Gibbon, and 12 News’ Dr. Matt Pace.

Arizona Water Supply: How Worried Should You Be?

Amid a depleted water supply and a historic drought, will Arizona run short of water?

Phoenix Channel 12 News, Sunday Square Off with Brahm Resnick discusses Arizona’s water future with his panel including DCDC director, Dave White, policy analyst Jocelyn Gibbon, and 12 News’ Dr. Matt Pace.

Can Arizona Create Water: Why big ideas might not work

The water forecasters say Arizona’s water supply will run short of demand in the near future. The ‘Sunday Square Off’ panel debates whether the big ideas to create more water would really work.

Phoenix Channel 12 News, Sunday Square Off with Brahm Resnick discusses Arizona’s water future with his panel including DCDC director, Dave White, policy analyst Jocelyn Gibbon, and 12 News’ Dr. Matt Pace.

Arizona Water Challenge: Myths, reality of how to conserve.

The Sunday Square Off panel debate the myths and reality of how to conserve water in an era when supply won’t meet future demand.

SundaySquareOff_Nov30_2014

Phoenix Channel 12 News, Sunday Square Off with Brahm Resnick interviews former Arizona senator, Jon Kyl Kyl on AZ water challenge: Get to work now

Resnick and Kyl discuss how the State must act now to ensure a sufficient water supply in the future.

November 20,2014

Steve Goldstein interviews Ray Quay on KJZZ. The Role of Irrigation in Arizona

This week, Phoenix has been the host city for the Water Resource and Irrigation Conference. Irrigation has been a method for bringing water to Valley homes for decades.

Parched Cities Share Water in West

October 30, 2014 Parched Cities Share Water in the West by Jim Carlton of the Wall Street Journal. University access or subscription required.

A recent agreement by this city and Tucson, Ariz., highlights a growing trend in the drought-plagued Southwest: water agencies sharing resources to stretch limited supplies rather than going it alone.

Phoenix, which gets more water than it can store from the Colorado River, has agreed to send some of its surplus to Tucson, which needs it to lower pumping costs. In return, Tucson will give up part of its share of Colorado River water to Phoenix when needed. The deal finalized in early October comes despite long-standing rivalries between Arizona’s two largest cities.

“Any rivalry between Phoenix and Tucson is so 10 years ago,” Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said in an interview.

CAP_RiparianPreserve1Water transfers between agencies have been picking up across the West in the wake of a drought that has ravaged the region for much of the past 15 years. During Texas’ severe drought in 2011, more than 1.7 million acre feet of water were transferred between users, compared with an average of 150,000 annually between 2007 and 2009, according to a 2012 report by the Western Governors Association and Western States Water Council. An acre foot is 326,000 gallons, or about the amount of water used by a family of four in a year.

In August, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California agreed to send treated water to Sierra Madre, Calif., as part of a deal with the Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District to ease that city’s water shortage. Metropolitan, based in Los Angeles, will get repaid double what it sent in untreated water, as well as the right to buy water from the smaller agency though 2035.

“This is ushering in an era of cooperation where, typically in the past, each player has watched out and protected its own rights,” said Dave White, co-director of the Decision Center for a Desert City at Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz.

Read the entire article at the Wall Street Journal. University access or subscription required.

See below for additional interviews regarding this agreement.

October 21, 2014

“Sustainability: Phoenix-Tucson Water Agreement.” Dave White interview on Arizona Horizon.

Program Description: Phoenix and Tucson have entered an agreement for Phoenix to store its excess Colorado River water in Tucson. The agreement is of mutual benefit to both cities. Arizona State University associate professor Dave White, who heads the Decision Center for a Desert City and studies water management decisions, will discuss the agreement.

Watch the Arizona Horizon interview with Dave White

October 3, 2014

Listen to DCDC director Dave White discuss the new water agreement between Phoenix and Tucson which could lead to similar arrangements between other Western cities, in response to drought conditions. Uncommon collaborations will be vital in the future.

Listen to Dave’s comments on KJZZ.