The University of Arizona

Water Research Without Boundaries

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A team of researchers at the UA and in Mexico are developing the kind of climate information communities on both sides of the border need to manage their water in the face of climatic uncertainties.
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The impacts of climate change transcend national boundaries.

That’s why Christopher Scott, assistant research professor of water resources policy at the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy at The University of Arizona and a team of researchers are developing the kind of climate information communities on both sides of the border need to manage their water in the face of climatic uncertainties.

An interdisciplinary team of researchers from the University of Arizona are working to develop regionalized water management strategies that build resilience to climate change and other stressors in southern Arizona and northern Mexico.

Credit: NASA

The goal is to bring together “research that represents the human sides” of climate change, Scott said, by completing two related water research projects focused on the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico.

The researchers primarily are looking at drought, the monsoon, and tropical storms in the region because each affect water supply, water quality, and water allocations to agriculture. The teams are also examining potential impacts of climate change, with an emphasis on drought and increases in demand for water due to increasing temperatures.

“Both projects deal with improving the use of climate information in decision-making processes, in particular decision making in water management,” said Gregg Garfin, deputy director of science translation and outreach at the UA’s Institute of the Environment and a member of both project teams. “Both projects examine the vulnerabilities of communities to climate change” in urban and rural areas.

The projects, Garfin said, exhibit particular strengths: they are binational, with substantial input from scientists in Mexico; they focus on complex issues that require an interdisciplinary approach, such as the nexus between water and energy uses; they examine the interface between management decisions and the flow of information to water managers and other decision makers; and they are designed to improve the links between research and management, both individually and together, on both sides of the border and between national and regional entities in Mexico.

“The projects are significant because the region is connected through climate, natural resources, and rapid population growth, factors which in many cases involve collaboration on solutions to thorny management issues,” Garfin said. “Yet, legal, institutional, economic, cultural, and language differences make it difficult to bridge the gap between countries.”

One of the projects, called Moving Forward, is specifically geared toward increasing the resilience of communities that are at risk for future water shortages. “A lot of times climate information is not even included in policy that deals with water allocation and how water shortages are shared,” Garfin said.

Funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Sectoral Applications Research Program, the project aims to change that by providing long-term water management plans for urban hotspots along the Arizona-Mexico border.

Researchers will pair up Arizona cities with similarly sized cities in Sonora, comparing Tucson to Hermosillo; Nogales, Ariz., to Nogales, Sonora; and Sierra Vista to Cananea. By doing this, the goal is to document and assess these communities’ long-term water supply strategies; assess their vulnerabilities to changes in supply and demand, with particular focus on vulnerabilities at the urban-rural interface; and identify opportunities for adaptive water management. Adaptive management is a systematic process for continually improving management policies and practices by using science-based decision making and learning from the outcomes of management decisions through an ongoing program of intensive monitoring and adjustment. The goal of adaptive management is to reduce uncertainties and vulnerabilities in management decisions.

The researchers also will investigate water issues associated with the tourism and retirement economy in the rapidly expanding city of Puerto Peñasco, Sonora.

The quarterly Border Climate Summary is produced by the Climate Assessment for the Southwest.

Credit: CLIMAS, The University of Arizona

The team produces a quarterly bilingual climate summary to brief decision makers on climate issues that are particularly important to the region and create dialogues between policy makers and managers and the experts who make predictions, Garfin said. They seek to refine the climate summary with input from urban water and resource managers.

The other project, Information Flows and Policy: Use of Climate Diagnostics and Cyclone Prediction for Adaptive Water-Resources Management Under Climatic Uncertainty in Western North America, is funded by the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research and is focused on assessing the risk of water supplies in both urban and rural areas.

The team has looked at the potential for extreme weather events like tropical cyclones and droughts to hit the area, the effect of rapidly growing populations, and the agriculture production risks climate change may bring to the North American Monsoon region—including south and southeastern Arizona, most of Sonora, and Baja California in Mexico.

The project is creating two-way communication between water and resource managers and the scientists assessing those resources.

Ultimately, the goals for both projects are the same: “We’re trying to get stakeholders thinking about long-term climate change,” Scott said.

Related Links

Adaptive Water Resources Management Under Climate Uncertainty project Web page
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Moving Forward project Web page
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Current and past issues of the Border Climate Summary
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