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CAP partners with ASU on NASA grant for Colorado River Study

The Colorado River is one of the most engineered watersheds in the world with three major tributaries and ten major regulating reservoirs.

NASA satellite
The ASU/CAP team will use data collected from
“MODIS” onboard NASA’s Aqua Earth-observing
satellite mission. Credit: NASA/GSFC

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 agriculture and to produce 4,180 MWh of hydroelectric power.

Thanks to a $1 million grant from NASA’s Earth Science Division, an interdisciplinary team of ASU researchers will work with Central Arizona Project on 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 US Geological Survey, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other entities.

This project builds on work previously performed for CAP by Enrique Vivoni and his ASU team, exploring the response of the Colorado River Basin to future climate changes. The end goal of the project is to incorporate new modeling products, tools and enhancements into the existing modeling and analysis framework used by the CAP Colorado River Programs department. This data will be shared with other Colorado River Basin stakeholders to inform decision making regarding the future of the Colorado River as a major water supply to the West. The data may also be used as CAP continues to work on its Climate Adaptation Plan.

Mohammed Mahmoud, CAP senior policy analyst and co-investigator on the grant team, will provide expertise on the Colorado River management system and on climate and land use change scenario planning processes.

“The work produced by this project will be beneficial not only to CAP, but to many of our partners in the Colorado River Basin,” says 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 Dr. Vivoni and his team at ASU.”

Similar to CAP’s Climate Adaptation Plan released earlier this year, this effort demonstrates CAP’s commitment to enhancing its resiliency against the effects of future climate change.

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, which supplies the majority of the state’s current renewable water.

“Water management is a pressing issue for Arizona,” says 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.”

The Colorado River basin 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,” says 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.”

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.

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