ASU awarded NASA grant for study on Colorado River water management

By

Karin Valentine

An interdisciplinary team of researchers at Arizona State University has received a $1 million grant from NASA’s Earth Science Division to provide long-range scenarios for water management for the Colorado River Basin. 

“Water management is a pressing issue for Arizona,” said Enrique Vivoni, principal investigator of the project and professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment. “This grant will assist in helping local, state and federal entities with their drought contingency planning.”

Arizona depends heavily on the Colorado River Basin, the drainage area of the Colorado River that includes parts of seven states in the U.S. and the country of Mexico and supplies the majority of the state’s current renewable water.

With this grant, the team will provide a comprehensive evaluation of climate and land-use changes and how these impact the Colorado River Basin. Data collection for the study will involve Earth-observing satellites as well as ground data from the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other entities.

The Colorado River is one of the most engineered watersheds in the world with three major tributaries and 10 major regulating reservoirs. In the U.S. and Mexico, the river supplies more than 40 million people with renewable water in nine states, 22 Native American nations and 22 national parks and refuges. It is also used to irrigate 5.5 million acres of agricultural land and to produce 4,180 MWh of hydroelectric power.

This crucial water resource is currently under threat from rising demands linked to population growth and economic activities, as well as declining amounts of available streamflow and reservoir storage.

“The focus on a major freshwater source in the Colorado River Basin and how it impacts stakeholders highlights how and where we want to target NASA Earth observations and science to meet our freshwater management challenges,” said Bradley Doorn of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate Earth Science Division. “We are focusing on advancing the use of satellite observations and hydrologic modeling to monitor and assess local and regional water quality and quantity for improving water resource decisions.”

For this grant, ASU has partnered with Central Arizona Project (CAP), Arizona’s largest resource for renewable water supplies. CAP brings water from the Colorado River to central and southern Arizona via aqueducts, tunnels, pumping plants and pipelines.

Mohammed Mahmoud, a senior policy analyst at CAP and co-investigator on the grant team, will provide expertise on the Colorado River management system.

“The work produced by this project will be beneficial not only to CAP, but to many of our partners in the Colorado River Basin,” said Mahmoud. “We are fortunate to have been a selected recipient of this grant. This is a testament to the quality and importance of the work in the submitted proposal, which was made possible by our continued partnership with professor Vivoni and his team at ASU.”

In addition to Vivoni and Mahmoud, the interdisciplinary team includes ASU co-investigators Theodore Bohn of the School of Earth and Space Exploration, Dave White of the School of Community Resources and Development and director of the Decision Center for a Desert City, Giuseppe Mascaro of the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, and graduate students Kristen Whitney of the School of Earth and Space Exploration and Zhaocheng Wang of the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment.