Generating regionally integrative datasets to understand groundwater insecurities in the Colorado River Basin

Project leads: Akshay Mehra, Assistant Professor of UW Earth and Space Sciences, and Sameer Shah, Assistant Professor of UW Environmental and Forest Sciences

Data scientist: Vaughn Iverson

DSSG fellows: Yuanning Huang, Kimberly Kreiss, Maia Powell, and Aanchal Setia. Get the participant bios here.

The Colorado River Basin (CRB) is experiencing unprecedented water scarcity. Arguably, the CRB is an epicenter of North American water crises, and a microcosm of the environmental governance challenges we can expect to observe in the coming decades. Understanding the drivers for groundwater elevation change will inform interconnected hydrological dynamics and potential policy interventions to support communities, livelihoods, and broader determinants of well-being in the CRB. While water insecurity in the CRB has been covered extensively by the media, much of the existing focus has been on surface water resource decline (e.g., the depletion of Lake Mead). Little understanding exists of groundwater elevation change in the CRB, and more importantly, policy interventions that can support the integrative management of surface and groundwater (i.e., conjunctive water governance). This project will enhance the study of groundwater change dynamics in geographies experiencing significant water-related stressors.

First, we will deliver a regionally integrative dataset that includes Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment derived groundwater elevation data (i.e., derived from NASA’s GRACE and GRACE-FO missions), long-term climate data (i.e., including key climate variables), and land-use change data in the form of classified satellite imagery (i.e., documenting agricultural intensification). This comprehensive product will be made open-access and publicly available for analyses in the CRB. The utility in this dataset rests in its ability to identify associations between human land-use change, climatic change and variability, and water-stress. It will enable more nuanced, grounded research through qualitative research design to explicate context-specific, causal pathways for understanding groundwater depletion. Second, we aim to develop an open-source computational workflow that enables water-society researchers to create and deploy integrated datasets in their own research around the world. Such a workflow would be valuable for studying existing water crises elsewhere. Third, we will develop a diversified public engagement strategy to share our findings with diverse audiences including, policy-makers, and disadvantaged and Tribal communities of the CRB, as well as the academic community.