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Analysis of Arizona's Water Resources System

April 30, 2012

Author: Jesus R. Gastelum, Central Arizona Project

ABSTRACT An analysis of Arizona’s water resources system has been implemented. This study uses a qualitative system analysis approach to evaluate the most important components of the system: water supply, water demand, laws and regulations, stakeholders, decision makers, etc. Moreover, the investigation centres on some key components of the water resources system such as water conservation in active management areas (AMA), rural Arizona, population growth, and water rights transfers. This study provides insights on these important components, identifies factors that can be enhanced and offers suggestions for improving them. The overall goal of this analysis is to contribute ideas that will help to establish a more efficient and holistic programme to secure sustainable development of water resources.

For the full article.

Urban Heat Island Research in Phoenix

April 27, 2012

Urban Heat Island Research in Phoenix, Arizona: Theoretical Contributions and Policy Applications

Authors: Winston T. L. Chow, Dean Brennan, and Anthony J. Brazel

Department of Engineering, Arizona State University, Mesa, Arizona

School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona


Over the past 60 years, metropolitan Phoenix, Arizona, has been among the fastest-growing urban areas in the United States, and this rapid urbanization has resulted in an urban heat island (UHI) of substantial size and intensity. During this time, an uncommon amount of UHI-specific research, relative to other cities in North America, occurred within its boundaries. This review investigates the possible reasons and motivations underpinning the large body of work, as well as summarizing specific themes, approaches, and theoretical contributions arising from such study. It is argued that several factors intrinsic to Phoenix were responsible for the prodigious output: strong applied urban climate research partnerships between several agencies (such as the academy, the National Weather Service, private energy firms, and municipal governments); a high-quality, long-standing network of urban meteorological stations allowing for relatively fine spatial resolution of near-surface temperature data; and a high level of public and media interest in the UHI. Three major research themes can be discerned: 1) theoretical contributions from documenting, modeling, and analyzing the physical characteristics of the UHI; 2) interdisciplinary investigation into its biophysical and social consequences; and 3) assessment and evaluation of several UHI mitigation techniques. Also examined herein is the successful implementation of sustainable urban climate policies within the metropolitan area. The authors note the importance of understanding and applying local research results during the policy formation process.

Chow, Winston T. L., Dean Brennan, Anthony J. Brazel, 2012: Urban Heat Island Research in Phoenix, Arizona: Theoretical Contributions and Policy Applications. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 93, 517–530.


Our Future with Water: Three-part Film Series

April 27, 2012

Friday, May 4, 11 and 18, 7 p.m.

Water conservation is an important lesson to learn when living in the desert. The Tempe History Museum will host a three-part film series on what will happen to the future of water. Join the museum to enjoy these documentaries:

Blue Gold: World Water Wars. A film that reports on various powers trying to take control of the public’s water for personal profit. (Friday, May 4)

Tapped. A film examining the role of the bottled water industry (Friday, May 11)

The American Southwest: Are we running dry? A definitive look at how the water crisis affects the American Southwest (Friday, May 18)

Expert presenters will host each session with introductory remarks, the film screening and a question and answer period. Refreshments (including water) will be served.

In the News

April 24, 2012

San Diego Takes Water Fight Public: Fees and Anger Rise in California Water War

by Adam Nagourney and Felicity Barringer at The New York times

There are accusations of conspiracies, illegal secret meetings and double-dealing. Embarrassing documents and e-mails have been posted on an official Web site emblazoned with the words "Fact vs. Fiction." Animosities have grown so deep that the players have resorted to exchanging lengthy, caustic letters, packed with charges of lying and distortion.

And it is all about water.

Water is a perennial source of conflict and anxiety throughout the arid West, but it has a particular resonance here in the deserts of Southern California.

Read the article at The New York Times.

In the News

April 10, 2012

April 2012 The Morrison Institute launches a new series about Arizona's water future. The first in the series "Let's Talk Water" by Grady Gammage, is intended to prompt discussion about our state's essential resource.

April 12, 2012 DCDC researcher Ray Quay, co-authored Opening Access to Scenario Planning Tools. In the face of increasing complexity and uncertainty, planners, public officials, and community residents need new tools to anticipate and shape the future. Opening Access to Scenario Planning Tools examines the current state of scenario planning and scenario planning tools that can help communities and regions prepare for that future through a variety of visioning, land use, transportation, and other planning efforts. Download the report.

April 12, 2012 Chicago Climate Action Plan a One NOAA Science Seminar Series. Abstract: Urban areas are responsible for 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions and cities are increasingly seen as the place where the solutions to climate change will be found. Chicago developed its Climate Action Plan in 2007 to outline the mitigation and climate readiness goals for the city. It has since been recognized as one of the leading plans in the country because of its scientific rigor, community involvement, and actionable targets.

April 10, 2012 Dot Earth: More on Extreme Weather in a Warming Climate via Andrew Revkin at The New York Times.

April 10, 2012 A Visualization of March Heat Breaking 15,000 Records in the U.S. via The Atlantic.

April 9, 2012 Volunteers Clean Up Tempe's 'A' Mountain via AZ Central.

March 22, 2012 Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) on Global Water Security. The ICA is based on a National Intelligence Estimate requested by Secretary Clinton to assess the impact of global water issues on U.S. national security interests. The report concludes that while wars over water are unlikely within the next ten years, water challenges – shortages, poor water quality, floods - will likely increase the risk of instability and state failure, exacerbate regional tensions, and distract countries from working with the United States on important policy objectives. Read the report.

April 17 Water/Climate Briefing

April 6, 2012

The Economics of Water Demand: The Dynamics of Water Use and Price


V. Kerry Smith, Regents Professor, W. P. Carey School of Business, Department of Economics

Doug Frost, Principal Planner, Water Services Department, City of Phoenix

Gary Niekerk, Director of Corporate Citizenship, Intel Corporation

When and Where:

Tuesday, April 17, 2012, 12:00-1:30pm

Decision Center for a Desert City

21 East 6th Street, Suite 126B, Tempe

Map: /dcdc/about-us/contact/

Lunch will be served. Please RSVP to


Price is often suggested as a simple straightforward tool to encourage people to be more efficient in how they use water. However, the economics of water demand are not that simple. Water is used for many purposes. Water is used to meet the basic necessity of life, consumption and hygiene. Water is used to create an atmosphere that suits our lifestyles, landscapes and pools, and perhaps long hot showers. Water is used for economic gain, from creating places attractive to customers to washing silicon chips. The sale of water is also used to finance the infrastructure and costs associated with making water available to a community. Each of these water uses has its own economic dynamics based on behaviors and motivation for water use which can vary among the consumers in each category. At the same time, the economics for each of these water uses are related, changes in one can affect the other. Thus, decision making about the price of water is not as clear as it may initially appear. The goal of this climate briefing is to increase the awareness of the complexities associated with the price of water by facilitating a discussion about the differences and relationships that exist in the economics of different water uses.

Download the flyer.

Arizona Climate and Water Resources Alliance Workshop

April 4, 2012

On April 4, 2012, Decision Center for a Desert City hosted the Arizona Climate and Water Resources Alliance Collaborative Workshop on Climate Extremes exploring extreme climate events and their regional implications for water management: floods and droughts. The purpose of this workshop was to build on research in atmospheric science, hydrology, and climate assessment performed by scientists at the University of Arizona, Arizona State University, and other partner institutions, in order to address issues related to extreme hydroclimatic events (e.g. droughts, floods), and to plan a larger meeting to discuss extreme events and their implication for flood and drought management with scientists and flood and water managers.

The goals of this informal meeting:

  1. Foster dialogue among researchers and floodplain and water resources managers.
  2. Share the concerns of water professionals: What kind of dcisions do flood and water managers make? What data and information (e.g., resolution, lead time) needs exist among flood and water managers (given the current state of research)?
  3. Share the state of the science: present, assess, and discuss the scientific progress around projecting extreme events and assessing their implications on a regional level (flood as short-term extreme event, drought as long-term extreme event).
  4. Present a strategy for moving forward on science and planning for extreme events outside of the range of historical record: The ARkStorm project, in which scientists regional engineers, emergency managers, economists, and others collaborated to combine historic floods in a scientifically plausible way, in order to examine engineering and emergency management solutions that are fiscally sound and responsible. On the dry side: a "Joseph's Drought" project.
  5. Gain consensus on a short-term research strategy to address extreme events in Arizona, and identify elements needed for a long-term research strategy.
  6. Identify participants for larger meeting.

Southwest Climate Assessment Report Review

April 4, 2012

The Southwest Climate Alliance [SWCA] welcomes your comments on a DRAFT version of the "Assessment of Climate Change in the Southwest United States: A Technical Report Prepared for the U.S. National Climate Assessment".

The SWCA is a consortium of research institutions in the region, including NOAA Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (The Climate Assessment for the Southwest [CLIMAS], The California-Nevada Applications Program [CNAP], and the Western Water Assessment [WWA]) and the U.S. Department of Interior's Southwest Climate Science Center.

Written chiefly during late 2011, with revisions in early 2012, this report provides a snapshot of the current state of climate change information and knowledge related to the U.S. Southwest region. The region covers six states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah—an area that includes vast stretches of coastline, an international border, and the jurisdictions of nearly two hundred Native Nations.

Visit the Southwest Climate Assessment Report Review website.

NSF Leads Federal Efforts In Big Data

March 30, 2012

At a White House event, the NSF Director announced a new Big Data solicitation, $10 million Expeditions in Computing award, and awards in cyberinfrastructure, geosciences, training.

Researchers in a growing number of fields are generating extremely large and complicated data sets, commonly referred to as "big data." A wealth of information may be found within these sets, with enormous potential to shed light on some of the toughest and most pressing challenges facing the nation. To capitalize on this unprecedented opportunity--to extract insights, discover new patterns and make new connections across disciplines--we need better tools to access, store, search, visualize and analyze these data.

Read more at the National Science Foundation website.

DCDC Google Scholar Page

March 30, 2012

We've created a Google Scholar page for Decision Center for a Desert City publications. Google Scholar provides a review of Decision Center for a Desert City literature across many disciplines and sources, including theses, books, abstracts and articles. Google Scholar aims to rank documents the way researchers do, weighing the full text of each document, where it was published, who it was written by, as well as how often and how recently it has been cited in other scholarly literature.

You'll also find Google Scholar pages for DCDC researchers which provides a simple way for authors to keep track of citations to their articles. You can check who is citing your publications, graph citations over time, and compute several citation metrics. You can also make your profile public, so that it may appear in Google Scholar results.

Visit the Decision Center for a Desert City Google Scholar page.

Spatial Optimization Models for Water Supply Allocation

March 21, 2012

Authors: Alan T. Murray (1), Patricia Gober (2, 3), Luc Anselin (1), Sergio J. Rey (1), David Sampson (3), Paul D. Padegimas (1), Yin Liu (1)

in Water Resource Management, DOI 10.1007/s11269-012-0013-5


Fig. 1 Water sources by large providers in metropolitan Phoenix
Climate change is likely to result in increased aridity, lower runoff, and declining water supplies for the cities of the Southwestern United States, including Phoenix. The situation in Phoenix is particularly complicated by the large number of water providers, each with its own supply portfolio, demand conditions, and conservation strategies. This paper details spatial optimization models to support water supply allocation between service provider districts, where some districts experience deficits and others experience surpluses in certain years. The approach seeks to reconcile and integrate projections derived from a complex simulation model taking into account current and future climate conditions. The formulated and applied models are designed to help better understand the expected increasingly complex interactions of providers under conditions of climate change. Preliminary results show cooperative agreements would reduce spot shortages that would occur even without climate change. In addition, they would substantially reduce deficits if climate change were to moderately reduce river flows in Phoenix’s major source regions, but have little effect under the most pessimistic scenarios because there are few surpluses available for re-allocation.


The results obtained from the developed spatial optimization model reflecting regional cooperation in water supply management across the Phoenix metropolitan area demonstrate the insights possible from a modeling based analysis approach. It is foreseeable that the introduction of demand management strategies will be necessary in the face of future climate change, but also it is possible to significantly reduce deficits in some cases. By taking full advantage of all the water that is available as well as establishing cooperation between water districts, as opposed to the practice of conserving surpluses for future use but not distributing extra water when available to those districts in need, it is possible to stretch the available supply of water to ensure that the impacts of water shortages are minimized.

In every scenario, the results pointed to clear benefits of regional cooperation, whether it is the complete avoidance of deficits over a period of time (Scenarios 1 and 2), to a reduction of total deficits across the region (Scenarios 3 and 4). Effective policy implementation could lead to the employment of a trading strategy that embodies the benefits demonstrated in this paper. It is clear in each scenario presented in this paper that Phoenix and its ability to transfer water either in from or out to other districts appears inevitable. As the largest city in the region by almost four times, it will clearly be an important factor in water resource management. While it is assumed in this paper that water transfers are possible by simply recharging subsurface aquifers by one district and pumping out water by another, there may be a need for conveyance infrastructure to successfully implement an effective water sharing strategy in the region. Whether it be by manmade infrastructure or natural aquifers, in the case of the Phoenix metropolitan region, it is obvious that the city of Phoenix must be completely intertwined with the water network of the region.

The linear program presented in this paper is a foundation for effective water management and is, in the form presented, adaptable to accommodate different weighting schemes. While it may be possible to re-allocate water across the region in a more equitable manner than weighting by population of each provider district, it is evident that as it stands, this model is effective for demonstrating the potential gains of any region with multiple, independent water providers, through optimal water re-allocation. The potential to change the weighting mechanism will be important for future work, which may include a cost structure for transfer transactions, measures of social benefit achieved by water re-allocation, or economic gains related to water availability. Decision rules about who does and does not share access to relevant conveyance infrastructure may also be included in future applications. While different potential decision rules and weighting mechanisms will likely vary by application, the foundation for multi-district water re-allocation modeling presented here clearly demonstrates the potential benefits of such a system.


This article is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. SES-0345945, Decision Center for a Desert City. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

(1) GeoDa Center for Geospatial Analysis and Computation, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, Arizona State University

(2) School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, Arizona State University

(3) Decision Center for a Desert City, Arizona State University

Observatories for Integrated Water Basin Science

March 21, 2012

An Eos FORUM article by L. Douglas James, via Eos, Vol. 93, No. 10, 6 March 2012.

For more than 30 years, with the last 20 years at the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), I have been immersed in community efforts to focus water resources research on growing societal needs. Past strategies have stumbled, but creative thinking on basin function offers a way out. The following ideas are mine and are not necessarily shared by NSF. Read more here: Eos, Vol. 93, No. 10, 6 March 2012.

In the News

March 7, 2012

  • Winter precipitation levels were dryer than normal in West & Southeast via NOAA.
  • The first big thing to hit Phoenix since light rail via PURL.
  • Arizona GOP Lawmakers Want Control of Energy Policy via AZCentral.
  • WRRC Interview with Tom Buschatzke, via Arizona Water Resource.
  • Metropolitan Water Policy in the Wet and Dry Sunbelt, video of Robert Lange, WRRC Keynote Speaker via WRRC.
  • Farmers and Conservationists Working Together in the Colorado River Basin via National Geographic NewsWatch.
  • NASA What Doesn't Stay in Vegas: Sprawl via NASA Explorer.

In the News

March 1, 2012

Math and Climate Research Network Workshop

March 1, 2012

ASU Professors Alex Mahalov and Eric Kostelich bring their Math and Climate Research Network Workshop to DCDC on March 5-7, 2012. The Math and Climate Research Network links researchers across the US to develop the mathematics needed to better understand the Earth's climate.

It is generally accepted in the scientific community that the world is undergoing a significant change in its climate. The issues and problems of the science that seeks to understand the earth's climate, and how it is changing, have a significant mathematical dimension. The Mathematics and Climate Research Network (MCRN) is a virtual organization of leading researchers in mathematics and geosciences whose mission is to establish a new area of applied mathematics tailored to the needs of climate research.

The network consists of researchers at "nodes" across the US, together with several collaborating government and university labs and centers in the US and beyond. Network researchers have a collective expertise that cuts across the relevant areas of applied mathematics and climate science. They will collaboratively lead a group of postdoctoral research fellows, graduate and undergraduate students to create a cadre of strong mathematicians with the interdisciplinary expertise required to analyze problems that have their origin in climate issues.

MCRN is funded by an award from the National Science Foundation's Division of Mathematical Sciences, and is administered through the Renaissance Computing Institute.

In the News

February 22, 2012

  • Climate change takes back seat to decision-making in water security says ASU researcher Patricia Gober via ASU News.
  • Get the basics on WaterSense during the EPA's "WaterSense 101" webinar from 3-4pm EST tomorrow, Feb 23. Register here.
  • Local Phoenix Artist, Matthew Moore, going back to the "Roots" of urban development.
  • How public perception of light rail influences its economic benefits, via Atlantic Cities.
  • Tracking How the World Guzzles Water via Green-A NY Times Blog About Energy and the Environment.
  • Harness the power of green infrastructure; view EPA's newly revamped green infrastructure website.

Land cover modification scenarios

February 22, 2012

DCDC Publication

Land cover modification scenarios and their effects on daytime heating in the inner core residential neighborhoods of Phoenix, AZ, USA

Authors: Ariane Middel (1), Anthony Brazel (2), Bjoern Hagen (2), Soe Myint (2)


This study addresses simulations of summertime atmospheric heating/cooling and water use at the local scale in Phoenix, Arizona – a city in the arid Southwestern United States. Our goal is to consider various climate effects by the manipulation of land coverage within census tracts at the local scale. This scale refers to horizontal areas of approximately 102–104 m on a side and to measurement heights in the inertial sublayer above the urban canopy and its roughness sublayer. The model we use for this scale is the Local Scale Urban Meteorological Parameterization Scheme (LUMPS) after Grimmond and Oke, 2002. We calculate different scenarios using the LUMPS model to determine the interplay of water use and summer diurnal variations of atmospheric heating and cooling processes for selected census tracts in Phoenix. First, we simulate xeriscaping within the census tract neighborhoods by transforming green spaces into soil. The second scenario simulates an infill and Brownfield development scenario, increasing density and impervious surfaces while at the same time decreasing soil. Third, we reduce barren soil and impervious surface areas to simulate a green city. With LUMPS we can understand the optimization of water use and at the same time the maximization of the cooling potential within the local scale area as a whole, dependent on varying the total surface cover fractions. In urban planning, LUMPS can be used as scenario based tool to design pedestrian-friendly sustainable development in desert climates where land coverage is tailored to reduce UHI effects and to induce more comfortable daytime temperatures.

Discussion and Conclusion

Our scenario-based local-scale model approach can assist planners in making better-informed decisions on UHI mitigation strategies. The results of the scenario-based model runs indicate which urban design is best for a particular location – a challenging decision, especially in desert cities like Phoenix where water supply is crucial for a sustainable future. These findings could be used as a basis for specific policy approaches to UHI management. In 2006, the Downtown Phoenix Urban Form Project was started to shape future growth and create a more integrated, pedestrian oriented, and sustainable downtown through form-based codes (City of Phoenix, 2008). The regulating plan developed by the Urban Form Project suggests urban design principles to mitigate the UHI effect and to create a more comfortable and sustainable downtown environment. The proposed strategies are based on urban form principles regarding street and building proportion, open space, vegetation, building design, and building materials. One of the measures is the "connected oasis", a plan connecting existing and new public spaces through a green street network.

Our modeling approach complements the Urban Form Project by quantifying the optimal vegetative coverage to mitigate UHI effects and create a more comfortable pedestrian-friendly environment. Although our results may suggest recommendations for land coverage within neighborhoods to minimize water use and heating, the model cannot specify the spatial arrangement of land cover fractions. To determine the urban design within neighborhoods more precisely, a micro-scale model would have to be employed. Another application of our scenario-based model results are Climate Action Plans, a policy tool urban planners use to minimize heating. As of 2009, over 141 local jurisdictions and states have already developed Climate Action Plans to mitigate and adapt to global climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for possible climate change threats and risks.

Increasingly, Climate Action Plans do not only focus on greenhouse gas emissions, but also address adaptation measurements such as UHI maps, green urban design, and water conservation. Future research may include the development of additional mitigation scenarios such as changing the mean albedo of the land cover fractions or the albedo of individual surfaces such as roof tops and impervious surfaces. To refine the densification scenario, the manipulation of average building heights would be beneficial. We also envision a greater number of variables for land cover fractions, e.g., pervious pavements, and leaf indices for trees and plants native to the Sonoran Desert. To enhance the application of the model, the integration of the model into a geographical information system (GIS) would allow for the correlation of spatial analyses of temperature variations with other relevant geodata.

1 Decision Center for a Desert City, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA

2 School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA

AAAS - Scientists Offer Passionate, Innovative Ways to Engage the Public on Climate Change

February 20, 2012

The plenary session of the AAAS conference in Vancouver moderated by Frank Sesno, was held before a packed ballroom of more than 1400 participants and webcast live, was billed as a way for scientists to explore new ways of getting their messages out to the public. If science isn’t enough to convince people that warming is a real "planetary emergency," the panelists asked, what can researchers try next?

AAAS Plenary 2012 - Scientists Offer Passionate, Innovative Ways to Engage the Public on Climate Change

2012 AAAS Annual Meeting

February 8, 2012

Graduate students from the Decision Center for a Desert City's Community of Graduate Research Scholars will present their research at the AAAS Annual Meeting in Vancouver on February 19. They will be accompanied by DCDC Co-PI Margaret Nelson and DCDC Associate Director, Dave White. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), is an international non-profit organization dedicated to advancing science around the world by serving as an educator, leader, spokesperson and professional association.

DCDC Graduate Research Assistant, Lauren Keeler, will have the opportunity stand in on behalf of DCDC Researcher Dr. Arnim Wiek in a session on climate change visualization and communication, entitled, Beyond Climate Models: Rethinking How To Envision the Future with Climate Change.

Lauren will be speaking for a few minutes on ASU's Decision Theater and the ability of tools like it to engage people in thinking about climate change and future uncertainty. She will also speak about the need to merry such tools with strong stakeholder engagement processes in order to bring our research closer to relevant decision making scales.

After Lauren's presentation, she will facilitate a breakout group discussion on the potential for decision theaters to improve climate change communication and knowledge among decision makers and the general public.

DCDC Graduate Research Assistants participating in the February 19 AAAS General Poster Session include:

Rebecca Neel, DCDC Graduate Research Assistant
Status, Family, Sex, and Good Neighbors: Landscaping Conveys Personality

Do people use their lawns to look sexy, high status, and family friendly? Previous research shows that recycling and taking public transportation, among other behaviors, can convey a less positive or desirable image, which may prove a barrier to behavior change. We extended this research to examine the image that landscaping portrays for a sample from Phoenix, Arizona, where water resources are scarce and homeowners’ landscaping options range from the water-intensive (grass lawns) to more water-conserving (desert plants and rocks). We hypothesized that owners’ grass or desert landscape choices are seen to convey very different personalities. Across three samples, participants rated the personality characteristics of a new homeowner on dimensions of agreeableness, being a good neighbor, status, sexual attractiveness, family orientation, creativity, prosociality, environmentalism, Big Five personality ratings, and positivity. Participants were randomly assigned to read that the person in question chose either a desert or a grass lawn for their new home. Inferred motivations for choosing desert or grass were also measured. We found consensus among participants that a desert landscape conveys a lower-status, less sexually attractive, family-unfriendly image–suggesting that even among those who might see people with desert landscaping as fine neighbors, they still perceive those individuals to be lower status and not family-oriented. Perceived motivations largely corroborated perceived attributes: Whereas aesthetic preference was perceived as the primary motivation for choosing either a desert or lawn landscape, secondary motivations differed. Desert landscaping was perceived to be more motivated by environmentalism, money savings, and ease of maintenance, whereas grass landscaping was perceived to reflect a desire to interact with one’s neighbors and to raise a family. Our choice of lawn may thus convey much to our neighbors about both our own quality as a neighbor and community member. To the extent that landscaping paints the image of a relatively unfriendly, low-status, unsexy or child-averse person, inferences may prove a barrier to encouraging native landscape adoption, as making such a choice might not only incur a financial cost in the value of the home, but a concurrent cost in self-image.

Lauren Withycombe Keeler, DCDC Graduate Research Assistant

Selecting and Assessing Distinct Scenarios for Sustainable Water Governance Strategies

Sustainable water governance strategies and policy need to be guided by a comprehensive vision of a sustainable water system and account for uncertainty through robust performance against a spectrum of distinct future scenarios. Climate and water science in general have made significant progress over the last years in understanding the complexity of regional climate-water systems, progress well exemplified by the work of the Decision Center for a Desert City (DCDC) at Arizona State University. This success has been demonstrated through the development of sophisticated system dynamics models elaborated further by including energy and econometric models, such as the WaterSim model from DCDC. However, dynamic models in general, and WaterSim in particular, have been limited in their application and not fully utilized for policy-making and governance. Reasons for this limited applicability include: dynamic water-climate models are not generally used to construct distinct, recognizable futures scenarios (such as the IPCC stress scenarios); water-climate models are still evaluated on their ability to forecast the future which limits their scope and potential to guide planning; results of the model are often not evaluated against a comprehensive set of criteria; and finally, dynamic models are often not used to their full potential in a constructive way, to develop future pathways and strategies. To address these deficits in water-climate models and enhance the usability of the WaterSim model, plausible future scenarios were constructed based on stakeholder and decision maker input and output from WaterSim that includes external social and natural factors of uncertainty (e.g., long-term drought, growth, and climate change). Results include a set of 5 distinct, recognizable future scenarios that identify critical key factors and policies that serve to guide decision-making related to water and conceptualize the systemic consequences of water management and mismanagement beyond groundwater overdraft. The scenarios explicate the possible impacts of climate change as well as resource management and economic development decisions at the municipality and metropolitan scales in Central Arizona. In this way, the scenarios contribute to further scientific and political dialogue regarding water management in the face of climate change and close the gap between scientific knowledge about climate change impacts and the adaptive capacity of decision makers.

Gretchen Hawkins, DCDC Graduate Research Assistant

Distributed Hydrologic Modeling of the Beaver Creek Watershed: A Platform for Land Cover and Climate Change Assessments

Watershed management is challenged by rising concerns over climate change and its potential to interact with land cover alterations to impact regional water supplies and hydrologic processes. The inability to conduct experimental manipulations that address climate and land cover change at watershed scales limits the capacity of water managers to make decisions to protect future supplies. As a result, spatially-explicit, physically-based models possess value for predicting the possible consequences on watershed hydrology. In this study, we apply a distributed watershed model, the Triangulated Irregular Network (TIN)-based Real-time Integrated Basin Simulator (tRIBS), to the Beaver Creek basin in Arizona. This sub-basin of the Verde River is representative of the regional topography, land cover, soils distribution and availability of hydrologic data. As such, it can serve as a demonstration study in the broader region to illustrate the utility of distributed models for change assessment studies. Through a model application to summertime conditions, we compare the hydrologic response to two sources of meteorological input: (1) an available network of ground-based stations and (2) weather radar rainfall estimates. Comparisons focus on the spatiotemporal distribution of precipitation, soil moisture, runoff generation, evapotranspiration and recharge from the root zone at high resolution. We also present a preliminary analysis of the impact of vegetation change arising from historical treatments in the Beaver Creek to inform the hydrologic consequences in the form of soil moisture and evaportranspiration patterns with differing degrees of proposed forest thinning. Our results are discussed in the context of improved hydrologic predictions for decision-making under the uncertainties induced by combined climate and land cover change.

Julia C. Bausch, DCDC Graduate Research Assistant

Half Full?: Buffering Central Arizona Farmers from Signals of Environmental Change

Climate change and population growth have far-reaching implications for stressed water resources in the arid American Southwest. This poster explores the impact of current water regulations on the adaptive behaviors of farmers in Arizona. In 1980, Arizona passed what is considered the most comprehensive and progressive water management policy in the country, the Groundwater Management Act (GMA). The GMA was intended to reduce overdraft of groundwater resources, particularly within the agricultural sector, which uses seventy percent of the state’s water supply. Currently, Arizona is in the midst of drought, yet Arizona farmers have increased the area planted in cotton and alfalfa, both water-intensive crops, in response to high commodity prices. We hypothesized that Arizona farmers do not perceive signals of environmental change due to a mismatch between the institutional environment and emergent threats to future water availability, potentially making agriculture a major vulnerability to Arizona’s water supply in times of water scarcity. Using a mixed methods approach, including institutional analysis, statistical analysis of agricultural census data, and semi-structured interviews, we assess what factors affect farmers’ decision-making about water use in Central Arizona. Interview participants included farmers, water managers, water lawyers, and scholars. The results of our study reveal that farmers are buffered from signals of environmental change in four ways: 1) Technologically: Irrigation buffers farmers from dependence on and awareness of precipitation. 2) Geographically: Arizona farmers are physically distant from their water sources, reducing awareness of environmental change. 3) Economically: water is currently abundant and affordable for farmers. 4) Politically: To protect its Colorado River allocation from usurpation by Nevada and California, Arizona has adopted a policy of consuming all of its annual allocation, making water conservation in central Arizona a secondary concern. Given the reality of buffers, if there is public interest in farmer’s participation in adaptation to water scarcity, we should more closely consider how signals of change are communicated in the agricultural sector.

Geetali Dudhbhate, DCDC Graduate Research Assistant
An Empathy-Driven, Decision-Making Game To Guide Water Sustainability Related Policy Outcomes

As the economy and the business environment has become more diverse and competitive, at both the individual and organizational levels our use of natural resources exceeds our need. The greed for natural resources has troubling consequences in terms of worldwide economic health and quality of life. It is very challenging to find out how people will collectively behave given the problem of resource sustainability. This research will integrate technology with empathy so as to make the problem less intrusive and will primarily focus on water resources. Focus will be on the development of a decisional game which is based on a series of scenarios and the associated rules, roles and responsibilities for the participants. This game will simulate decisional orientations, approaches and outcomes for policy makers and other stakeholders who contribute to water and other urban climate adaptation issues. Individual participants will take the role of specific water providers and thereafter the game roles of participants will be swapped. The research will test how water providers cooperate under conditions of climate change. Purpose is to test empathy through changing participation levels and to check if it can lead to positive policy options. This game will leverage WaterSim(developed by the NSF funded DCDC at ASU). WaterSim links knowledge about water supply and demand under current and future climate conditions at the water provider level. WaterSim will be adapted and linked to our computer mediated environment such that the results from our study will provide a richer understanding of decisional implications and policy options for addressing water sustainability issues.

Lessons from ASU's Decision Center for a Desert City

January 25, 2012

On January 27, 2012 from 11:30-12:45pm, Dave White, Associate Director of DCDC, will give a talk on Advancing Theory and Methods for Boundary Organizations at the Interface of Science and Policy: Lessons from the ASU Decision Center for a Desert City.

The School of Public Affairs colloquium will be held in UCENT 822A at the Downtown Phoenix campus on 411 North Central Avenue in Phoenix.