Science in Action: The Colorado River Basin Study

Sunrise on the Colorado River at Lee's Ferry, Arizona.

Sunrise on the Colorado River at Lee’s Ferry, Arizona. Photo: L. Reynolds

By Lindsay Reynolds

The Colorado River supplies water to people and ecosystems in 9 western states in the US and Mexico, including almost 5.5 million acres of irrigated lands and nearly 40 million people1. The Colorado, with headwaters in the snowy Rocky Mountains and a path through some of the most arid regions in North America, is one of the most intensively managed river systems in the world. For many years now, research scientists have been warning of impending water shortages in the basin2,3. Last week, the non-profit conservation group American Rivers named the Colorado the most endangered river in the nation. Population growth in combination with limited water and the potential effects of a changing climate are leading down a road to a very dry future. Continue reading

If a fish could write your water bill

Would these fish approve your water bill? Photo of Rio Grande chub (Gila pandora) courtesy of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

By Lauren Kuehne

A few months ago, I wrote a blog post Why the mayor wants you to have a green lawn: The dark side of water conservation where I “exposed” the open secret of declining support for water conservation programs. Water districts and utilities end up with a big problem when conservation – to put it bluntly – starts cutting into revenues generated by water consumption, forcing a rise in rates for the same water. This leads to bewildered and betrayed consumers and increasingly strapped public utilities who literally can’t afford conservation. At the end of that article, I promised a follow-up post on water rate structures (aka, what you see on your monthly bill) that utilities can use which promote conservation and meet revenue-for-infrastructure needs. It’s taken me a while to follow up, partly because every time I started researching and writing about water rate structures I found myself inexplicably dozing off. Luckily, once I sat down to it, the breakdown isn’t that complicated, so I am hopeful that it’s possible to stay awake for the exciting conclusion (yes, there is one!). Continue reading

Dam good science? Searching for the human dimension in ecology

Chinle Wash, AZ

Chinle Wash, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, AZ. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Reynolds, 2005

By Lindsay Reynolds, PhD

The first seminar I took in grad school was taught by a senior ecologist and the topic of the seminar was very broad, something like “issues in ecology.” During one of our (no doubt) invigorating discussions, the professor commented that when he started out as an ecologist (thirty plus years ago), if you had any kind of human dimension to your research or studied human impacts on natural systems you were considered a hack. These days, you’re considered a hack if you don’t incorporate the human dimension, on some level, in your research.

Whether your study systems are influenced by recent changes in atmospheric carbon or annual cattle grazing, incorporating the human factor can be very challenging! And yet, it is absolutely essential in order for our ecology to be relevant. Continue reading