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DCDC details decade of water research in Phoenix

Board Letter ASU Wrigley Institute News DCDC News

November 4, 2015

Dam in desert locationA paper authored by Decision Center for a Desert City researchers, published today in the journal Sustainability, synthesizes a decade of water research in the Phoenix metropolitan area. Titled "Decision-Making under Uncertainty for Water Sustainability and Urban Climate Change Adaptation," the paper explores human–environment dynamics, gaps in knowledge and practice, social learning and the evolution of an interdisciplinary research and boundary organization, which has enhanced adaptive and sustainable governance in the face of complex system dynamics.

"This research exemplifies the transdisciplinary approach advanced by ASU," says DCDC Director Dave White. "The knowledge generated here was developed by a team of social, behavioral, economic and sustainability scientists collaborating with biophysical scientists, engineers, a network of stakeholders and an internationally-recognized group of scientists and practitioners on our advisory committee."

In addition to White, the paper was authored by sustainability scientists Kelli Larson, Pat Gober and Amber Wutich.


Next City article on WaterSim


September 25, 2015

As uncertainty about water access in the West increases, the Decision Center for a Desert City at Arizona State University is connecting policymakers with research to make better resource management decisions for the future.

The DCDC has been conducting climate and water research in the Phoenix metropolitan area since 2004. Now, thanks to a $4.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation — the third made to DCDC by the NSF since its founding — the DCDC will expand its work beyond Arizona to other cities dependent on the Colorado River Basin in Colorado, Nevada and California.


The funding comes from the NSF’s Decision Making Under Uncertainty program. The DCDC and other groups receiving this funding aim to increase information available to decision-makers by developing analytic tools, facilitating interaction with researchers and bringing decision-makers together.

“We’re a boundary organization,” says Ray Quay, director of stakeholder relations at DCDC. “We try to bring science into public policy.” In Phoenix, the DCDC does this in part through collaborative research. Using satellite imagery, DCDC helped the city better understand how changes in water demand over time are related to changes in land use. The DCDC will now work to identify similar opportunities in Las Vegas and Denver, the first cities that will benefit from the expansion.

The DCDC also hosts “neutral convenings” in the Phoenix area where policymakers come together to discuss environmental concerns and solutions — topics that can ignite heated arguments in some places — and learn from one another in an uncharged space. For one such meeting, the DCDC brought together water managers from across the region with different viewpoints to discuss research and decision-making strategies about a potentially divisive issue: How should cities respond if an extended drought requires them to shift from using surface water to groundwater, what DCDC calls the “All Straws Sucking Scenario”?

“Arizona water is highly regulated, and water utilities are uncomfortable being open in discussion when an agency that regulates them is part of the discussion,” says Quay. DCDC was perceived to be an unbiased host.

Expanding into Denver and Las Vegas, the DCDC will conduct surveys of the general public and water managers to identify problems, areas where agencies feel they have answers to share and topics requiring regional discussion.

One of the organization’s primary research and education tools is WaterSim 5.0, which estimates water supply and demand for Phoenix and the 32 cities in its metropolitan area. Users can control as many as 53 inputs, including river runoff, percentage of wastewater reclaimed, population growth, and per capita water use, and then see the impacts of these decisions on water supply, water demand, and a variety of sustainability indicators.

David Sampson, WaterSim’s lead developer, says the tool was originally intended to help water providers with planning, but that the program isn’t yet perfectly suited for their needs. “The nice thing about WaterSim is that it’s an aggregate of all the cities,” says Sampson, “but the cities of course only work within their own [boundaries].” One goal with this round of NSF funding is to allow finer spatial parsing of WaterSim’s region, allowing water providers and managers to make finer-grain decisions. Sampson is also working to integrate a groundwater model that is based on supply rather than credits.

At present, WaterSim is primarily a tool for education and outreach, and the DCDC has also created a less complex educational model, an online version that has just five inputs. WaterSim can be used “to tell stories,” says Quay, by leading members of the public and elected officials in a guided discussion using the interface. “One story might be that there is no silver bullet.” As people better understand the complexity of the system, supplies and management, they see that “there really is no one solution under the uncertainty of climate change and drought,” says Quay.

Another story is that “it’s not just the system that’s complicated, but how people use the system and benefit from the system that’s complicated as well,” says Quay. Farmers value water differently than manufacturers, who value water differently than homeowners or environmentalists. “They all have different perspectives on what sustainability means,” says Quay. “Using this tool we can show how to maximize sustainability from all of these viewpoints, but that there’s no way to maximize sustainability for all of these viewpoints.”

Quay says it’s unclear how the DCDC will extend its modeling capacity to include other Colorado River Basin cities. It will depend on whether different regions will see a benefit, he says, and what types of modeling systems they already use.

The DCDC is working to create more educational modeling tools, though. Sampson is developing a scaled-down water supply and demand simulation for a traveling Smithsonian exhibition that will visit all 50 states in the next five years. Sampson and the DCDC will create a model for every state, with elements that look at climate change and human use.

“People can learn a little more about water decisions and water use and how that relates to climate change,” says Sampson. “Every state has a different challenge.”


By Jen Kinney

September 24, 2015

New City - The Works

The Works is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.

Managing Water for Irrigated Agriculture in the Central Arizona Desert


September 11, 2015

Farmers in arid central Arizona have always faced a formidable climatic challenge. The region around Phoenix receives a scant fraction of the annual rainfall needed to irrigate traditional crops like alfalfa and cotton, and summertime high temperatures make it the hottest metropolitan area in the United States. Nevertheless, infrastructure improvements and policy have made both booming urban development and exceptional agricultural yields possible in the Phoenix area over the last few decades. These developments, however, have also buffered farmers from directly experiencing signals of climate change.


This may now be changing. The severe drought conditions that have affected the West since the turn of the century have called into question the long-term reliability of the Colorado River system, which has underwritten regional growth. Some irrigation district managers are now reexamining expectations about how much water they can deliver to agricultural water users. For instance, one irrigation district manager said, “We have to plan for the future. If we know we’re going to have a dry year and I know the reservoirs are really low, if we think there’s going to be a shortage then we’ve got to do something, to either get more wells in or let the farmers know. We’re probably their best source of information.”

Monitoring future supply

Understanding how farmers and irrigation district managers use climate information has been a priority in research supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) at Arizona State University, in collaboration with the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Service. Irrigation district managers cannot rely solely on local forecasts for their decision making: some monitor stream gauges located on Colorado River tributaries more than a thousand stream-miles away. Many managers keep track of how policy decisions about reservoir management, energy production, and inter-sector water allocation may affect the quantity, quality, and cost of the water they access. An irrigation district manager explains, “We use NOAA, I use the ski reports a lot from Colorado because you can get all the averages and see what it’s done in the past week so you know if you’re gaining or losing snow.” In turn, these managers try to pass on this information to users, including farmers, whether through official channels or during informal meetings on ditch banks and in coffee shops.

Additional adaptation strategies

Improved information is only one part of the adaptation puzzle. Irrigation district managers are now thinking creatively about how to ensure that infrastructure is maintained to allow flexible adjustments between groundwater and surface water sources. During a water shortage, limitations on groundwater pumping capacity can be just as challenging as getting enough water for crops. Depending on the ownership and control of groundwater wells within a district, managers can strategize by running only the most efficient wells, ensuring that pumps in the same location aren’t running at the same time, and by making substitutions between local water allotments to keep operational costs even. Some are also engaging directly with water suppliers and utilities outside the region to ensure reliable and affordable access in the future. For the first time, in 2015, some central Arizona irrigation districts are volunteering to forgo a portion of their water allotment in the reservoir behind Hoover Dam as part of a multi-state experiment in extreme drought operations. Others have forgone groundwater pumping through water banking agreements.

Urbanization, competition for water and land, and volatility in agricultural policy, as well as energy and commodity prices, challenge efforts to further innovate in water practices. While farmers hope to continue contributing to the rural economy, they worry that their long-term viability will depend as much on how state and city managers value their presence and resource needs as it does on their own capacities to proactively respond to rapidly changing water supplies.

Working with the farming community

Farmers in this region come from a community shaped by generations of coping with extreme heat, and they are experiencing an extended drought. They are also literally losing ground to urban development. Many are apt to focus on what is familiar and near, depending upon strategies they have used in the past. For example, a third-generation farmer in the area explained, “The standing water table depth when my dad bought this farm was about 20 feet, and the last time we measured it was 25 feet to the water, so the depth to the water is very shallow. Right off the bat the thing that it tells you is that we are not pumping fossil water, it absolutely is rechargeable.” Farmers’ knowledge and experience comprise rich, site-specific detail, on a different scale and often with contrary implications compared to observations made by policymakers and researchers. Effective policy dialogs need to respectfully bridge these differences.

The past success of efforts to secure and diversify water sources may have created new, more obscure, vulnerabilities and interdependencies. Like generations before them, farmers today are independent entrepreneurs. Nevertheless, the outcomes of individuals’ decisions have never been more contingent upon each other: from maintaining local irrigation ditches and district wells, to balancing demands from major interstate water and energy generation infrastructure, farmers are not only needing to collaborate with each other, but also with others representing urban, energy, and ecological interests in Arizona and in neighboring states. It will take a continuing effort by all interested parties in central Arizona to learn to accommodate uncertainties in water supply and tradeoffs in water use decisions into the future.

Source: U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit

Story Credit:

Skaidra Smith-Heisters and Hallie Eakin, Arizona State University.

Banner Image Credit:

Hallie Eakin, Arizona State University

Can empathy lead to better decisions in water usage?


August 28, 2015

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

ASU News

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


August 25, 2015


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


Media Relations

Understanding Agricultural Vulnerability in the Southwest


August 20, 2015

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


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.


  • 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


March 2, 2015


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 |

Read the entire article at

NASPAA Article on Training Administrators Through Simulations


February 17, 2015

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.


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


February 3, 2015


Ray Quay


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.


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


January 24, 2015

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


School of Earth and Space Exploration

Joe Kullman


Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

Sarah Porter Named Director of Kyl Center for Water Policy


January 12, 2015

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


December 1, 2014

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.


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


November 3, 2014

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.

Water 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.

The Risks of Cheap Water


October 16, 2014

October 14, 2014 by Eduardo Porter of The New York Times.

This summer, California’s water authority declared that wasting water — hosing a sidewalk, for example — was a crime. Next door, in Nevada, Las Vegas has paid out $200 million over the last decade for homes and businesses to pull out their lawns.

DenverWater_2011CampaignIt will get worse. As climate change and population growth further stress the water supply from the drought-plagued West to the seemingly bottomless Great Lakes, states and municipalities are likely to impose increasingly draconian restrictions on water use.

Such efforts may be more effective than simply exhorting people to conserve. In August, for example, cities and towns in California consumed much less water — 27 billion gallons less —than in August last year.

But the proliferation of limits on water use will not solve the problem because regulations do nothing to address the main driver of the nation’s wanton consumption of water: its price.

"Most water problems are readily addressed with innovation," said David G. Victor of the University of California, San Diego. "Getting the water price right to signal scarcity is crucially important."

The signals today are way off. Water is far too cheap across most American cities and towns. But what’s worse is the way the United States quenches the thirst of farmers, who account for 80 percent of the nation’s water consumption and for whom water costs virtually nothing.

Adding to the challenges are the obstacles placed in the way of water trading. "Markets are essential to ensuring that water, when it’s scarce, can go to the most valuable uses," said Barton H. Thompson, an expert on environmental resources at Stanford Law School. Without them, "the allocation of water is certainly arbitrary."

Read the entire article at The New York Times.

Innovative Solutions for a Shrinking Water Supply


September 29, 2014

By Mariana Dale via The Republic | on September 28, 2014

Water scarcity is one of Arizona's most serious, ever-present problems.

Which is why students, researchers, professionals and creative thinkers are ­being challenged to raise awareness for an issue that the experts believe needs to be addressed now.

A $100,000 prize awaits the group that comes up with the most innovative ­campaign to push water scarcity into the forefront of public ­conversation.

lmarquez_LakePowell_LowWaterLevel_052914_500The Water Consciousness Challenge is the first phase of the New Arizona Prize offered by the Arizona Community Foundation in collaboration with The Arizona Republic and the Morrison Institute for Public Policy. Underwriting for the program comes from the Tashman Fund and the Lodestar Foundation.

The next phase of the competition will challenge entrepreneurs to create business-based solutions and products to reduce water use.

"The Valley has enjoyed water affluence for a long time because we had really great planning," said Megan Brownell, chief business development and brand officer at the Arizona Community Foundation, a Phoenix-based philanthropic organization. "It's now time to act so there won't be a conflict in 20 to 30 years."

The competition wants to create a public-service campaign that raises awareness about the challenges facing Arizona's long-term water supply so residents will feel an urgency to start working on them now.

If Arizonans don't change how they consume water and start brainstorming new solutions for dwindling supplies, shortages won't be a choice, they will be an unavoidable reality. Planning for the future of water now will help ensure there is enough water for future generations, Brownell said.

The message isn't new; it has been taught with puppets, posters, television spots, brochures and landscape-design classes for years.

But experts, researchers and industry workers agree that as long as taps gush clear,drinkable water, it's hard to keep water scarcity part of public conversation.

"One challenge is getting people to take ownership of their decisions and how they contribute to the demand side of the equation," said Dave White, co-director of Arizona State University's Decision Center for a Desert City, which studies water use and sustainability.

Continue reading at The Republic |

Spurring collaboration with Mexico: Developing UNAM and ASU Partnership


September 23, 2014

ASU has made it a priority to further its relationship with neighboring Mexico. ASU President Michael Crow has led two trips to Mexico in 2013 and 2014 to help deepen the growing ties between U.S., Mexico and other Latin American countries in education and innovation. Below is a quote from President Crow from ASU News about the importance of developing collaboration with Mexico:

Continue Reading

Dave White Lecture at Global Institute for Water Security


September 22, 2014

Dave White was invited to speak as a distinguished lecturer at the University of Saskatchewan's Breakthroughs in Water Security Research: The Global Institute for Water Security Distinguished Lecture Series on Wednesday, September 24, 2014.

Date: Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Time: 3:00pm in Arizona

Location: Neatby-Timlin Theatre, Arts 241, University of Saskatchewan

View the lecture:

Lecture Title

Envisioning the future of water governance: Linking decision-maker preferences, simulation modelling and scenario analysis to inform sustainability transitions."

Talk Abstract

DLSWhite Sept 24_225

The coupled effects of global climate change and population dynamics on water systems are widely considered to be among the greatest urban sustainability challenges facing humanity in the Anthropocene. Climate change impacts, including rising temperatures, changes in the amount and timing of local precipitation, and increased variability will very likely reduce renewable surface and groundwater supplies and diminish raw water quality, leading to widespread but uneven risks. Semiarid and arid regions will be particularly vulnerable. Meanwhile, the world’s urban population is projected to double in the next generation and much of this urban growth will occur in arid or semiarid environments. Climate impacts will amplify existing vulnerabilities in water-scare urban regions associated with inherent variability, cyclical drought, and extreme heat. Furthermore, the projected biophysical impacts of climate change are conditioned by and interact with land use changes, population dynamics, economic development, and water management decisions. Indeed, the non-climatic stressors on water resources may outweigh the climate impacts for some regions. Taken together, these interrelated pressures pose unprecedented challenges for urban sustainability. To address these challenges, there are growing number of scholars, policy-makers, and interest groups calling for transformational solutions to enable a transition towards urban water sustainability. An essential task for such transitions is to envision a sustainable future for water governance.

He will highlight recent research that utilizes a participatory, mixed-method approach, including survey questionnaire, scenario analysis, and simulation modeling, to construct distinct, coherent, plausible, and desirable governance scenarios of the Phoenix, Arizona USA region in 2030. Four scenarios provide stakeholders and policy makers with distinct options for future water governance regimes, while the approach integrates normative values and preferences with dynamic models to inform sustainable policy making. The first scenario, Technical Management for Megapolitan Development, based on the stakeholder survey, describes a future in which water experts negotiate and acquire more water so Phoenix can continue to grow. The second scenario, Citizen Councils Pursue Comprehensive Sustainability, was selected using the sustainability appraisal. This scenario describes a future where watershed-like councils use policy instruments to reduce water use as part of a comprehensive approach to sustainability that includes integrated policy making for water, energy, food, and urban planning. Experts Manage Limited Water for Unlimited Growth is the third scenario, selected using plausibility indications, and describes a future where water experts struggle to provide for a growing population without restricting water use or acquiring new water sources. Water governance reflects a classic "muddling through" approach. The final scenario, Collaborative Governance Prioritizes Local Water Security, selected using the water security governance analysis, is a future in which water is very central to decision making. In this scenario, committees of water managers, scientists and citizens collaborate to secure water and reduce consumption to ensure the long-term viability of the metropolitan region.

Each of the four scenarios was input into WaterSim 5.0 to determine their systemic impacts under different climate scenarios. The suite of models resulted in 270 separate model runs for the 75 year simulation period for each of the 33 water utilities and the four constructed synthetic scenarios plus one base scenario.

Our approach then allows for normative scenarios to interface with a dynamic simulation model, which during stakeholder engagement activities can provide feedback to participants on the impacts of their priorities, particularly on the availability of surface and groundwater for future generations and the distribution of burdens and benefits of water and water governance. Stakeholders can then modify or dictate preconditions for their priorities and, if necessary, select new scenarios. This type of iteration and feedback with differing levels of stakeholder involvement is critical in transdisciplinary research generally and for participatory scenarios that inform transitions in particular.

The scenarios in this study can be considered boundary objects, which allow for knowledge exchange between different actors related to their opinions, values, and preferences regarding all or parts of the water system. In this capacity, the scenarios present different water governance regimes with different power arrangements in a way that is comprehensible to broad audiences. For the Phoenix region, the scenarios can also facilitate conversations with other regions about water governance. Bounding the governance regime to the Phoenix region is a necessity of the scenario construction process that does not necessarily reflect the governance or hydrological reality. In the future, Phoenix will be negotiating for water with other state and regional actors, particularly those with rights to the Colorado River. By selecting a scenario to guide transition activities, Phoenix will have a boundary object with which to communicate its priorities to its partners on the Colorado River. Such efforts could contribute to further coordination of sustainable water governance across the Southwest.

World Water Monitoring Day


September 18, 2014

via EPA

Did you ever stop to wonder how we get our information on the condition of our Nation's streams, lakes, estuaries, and coastal waters? Or whether these waters are safe enough to swim in, fish from, or use for drinking or irrigation purposes? Monitoring provides this basic information.

lmarquez_riparianSunriseThe responsibility to monitor water quality rests with many different organizations. States and federal agencies have leading monitoring roles. Utilities, universities, watershed organizations and even individual citizens also monitor chemical, physical, and biological conditions in our waters.

World Water Monitoring Day is an international education and outreach program that builds public awareness of the importance of protecting water resources around the world by engaging people to conduct basic monitoring of their local water bodies.

World Water Monitoring Day is officially celebrated on September 18, but monitoring and educational events can take place any time between March 22 and December 31. During this time, people of all ages throughout the world community will have an opportunity to monitor the quality of their local watersheds and enter the results of their efforts into an international database. Simple monitoring kits are available for purchase by anyone interested in participating. These kits can be ordered at any time. For more information, visit World Water Monitoring Day.

In Arizona, the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) is tasked with providing stewardship of the State's precious and limited groundwater resources through active management and enforcement of the Arizona Groundwater Code. The Department's Hydrology Division engages in a wide variety of data collection activities in support of public needs, such as the Assured and Adequate Water Supply and Recharge Programs, Drought Monitoring Program, well drilling and well impact assessments, and in support of hydrologic studies such as groundwater modeling and water budget development.

There is a continuing need to provide better hydrologic data in many parts of the State and to devote more attention to ensuring that activities are coordinated so that the information gathered and products produced are made widely available within the Department and to the public. This will ensure that pertinent and recent data and results are used whenever possible, reduce redundancy, and increase communication.

There is also a need to collect additional data in areas of the state subject to rapid change, such as developing areas or areas sensitive to change. To these ends, the Department has formed an internal Hydrologic Monitoring Committee to review our data collection activities, adjust the activities to meet program needs (reaching Active Management Area (AMA) goals such as safe yield, development of groundwater water budgets, and models), and to ensure a proper flow of information within the Department and between the Department and outside agencies and the public.

The Department currently collects data concerning:

  • Groundwater levels
  • Groundwater use in AMAs and INAs
  • Spring locations and surface water diversion points
  • Crop types and uses
  • Land subsidence
  • Gravity changes and aquifer storage changes
  • Aquifer water quality

Many of these activities are concentrated within the Active Management Areas of the state, as called for by the Groundwater Code. Recently, the Department has focused more attention in the rural areas of the state in recognition of rapid planned development in those areas and to support the Rural Water Shed Initiative, the statewide drought monitoring program, and the adjudication process underway in the Gila and Little Colorado River watersheds.

Check out the History of Water Management in Arizona.

PepsiCo's New Water-Modeling Tool


September 4, 2014

PepsiCo Unveils New Water-Modeling Tool at World Water Week


September 3, 2014

Today at the Stockholm International Water Institute's annual World Water Week, PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP) announced the company's latest Water Report and unveiled Hydro-BID, a ground-breaking data management and modeling tool developed in partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) that estimates the availability of freshwater in water-scarce regions throughout Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC).

WorldWaterWeekFlag_Stockholm_296The IDB's Hydro-BID is an open-source modeling tool that has the potential to forecast water availability and supply in the LAC region under virtually any climate, population and land use scenario. To date, the tool has projected water supplies in Brazil, Peru, Haiti and Argentina, and is expected to impact more than three million people across the LAC region by 2017.

PepsiCo Foundation's $5 Million grant to IDB's AquaFund is contributing to fund pilot projects, in partnership with the governments of Switzerland and Austria, in five countries and will reach approximately 500,000 beneficiaries by the end of 2015. While some projects are aimed to improve access to safe water and sanitation services for scattered communities in extreme poverty, other projects like Hydro-BID present an unparalleled effort to develop a suite of watershed modeling tools that could be applied worldwide.

In addition to aiding countries with water budgeting and water-resource planning, Hydro-BID helps policymakers and communities prepare for floods and droughts. "Contrary to popular belief, floods and droughts are foreseeable phenomena that governments and communities can prepare for," said Dr. Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm, Hydrologist and Water Resources Engineer at IDB. "Not only will Hydro-BID help communities prepare for natural disasters, but it will also help public utility and water managers get a better handle on water planning and budgets. Through the support of partners like the PepsiCo Foundation, the IDB is able to develop and implement innovative solutions and approaches like Hydro-BID that will forecast water availability, aid infrastructure projects, and drive local and regional economic goals."

As a global food and beverage company dependent on water-intensive agricultural activities, PepsiCo seeks to drive water efficiency in its operations and throughout its supply chain, as part of the company's public commitment to help protect and conserve global water supplies. In fact, water stewardship is a critical component of PepsiCo's approach to sustainable business development—what it calls "Performance with Purpose"—and one way the company strives to "future-proof" the business in today's competitive, resource-scarce world.

"Water is a critical global resource and few challenges are as significant as the global water crisis," said Dan Bena, Senior Director, Sustainable Development and Operations Outreach at PepsiCo. "Water is also a central part of our business, and we know that we need to be water stewards in order to sustain our business and the communities of which we are a part."