The University of Arizona

Background | CLIMAS


In the western US, growing populations, limited resources, and recent drought have placed increased pressure on water resources, prompting many water managers to seek out and utilize climate-related data to better understand the effect that climate variability, and increasingly, climate change has on water supplies. Pertinent climate-related data and research do exist, but this scientific information must be accessible and relevant for decision-makers in order for it to be useful in planning efforts. This requires that climate scientists, resource managers, and decision-makers are effectively working together to connect scientific knowledge to planning and policy in urban areas.  This collaborative process includes the participation of many types of experts with different knowledge backgrounds and outcome goals. Increasingly, these interactions are being recognized to be much more complex than simply passing information from one group to another.

Despite advancements in understanding how climate information has been utilized in water resources planning and the development of research models to asses this process, only a small amount of research has actually assessed the outcomes of such interactions. In particular, little is known about what prompts acceptance and interest in climate data by water managers, how the data are used throughout the planning process, and what actual policy outcomes result from the use of climate data. More specifically, unanswered questions include: What processes and interactions have contributed to the integration of climate data in water management? What contributes to more or less successful interactions between scientists and planners? How do experts from different fields understand problems related to climate and water resources and come together to address common concerns?

Through a comparative study of three urban areas that have begun examining the impacts of climate on water resources (Denver, CO; Seattle, WA; Tucson, AZ), we are assessing and evaluating the process of making climate science relevant for decision-making. Fundamentally, we are interested in better understanding how climate science is translated into actual policy requirements or planning standards based on the integration of climate information into water management. Our emphasis is on the processes related to the creation of a knowledge base, enhancement of effective outreach efforts, and strengthening of research partnerships is central to this project.  Through this project, we will create methods and informational products for sustaining and enhancing these science-to-action efforts among water managers in the western US.  From the lessons learned in this project, we hope that these methods and approaches will be applicable to other regions and sectors that are impacted by climate variability and climate change. 

Project Team

Jennifer Rice
Assistant Professor, Department of Geography
University of Georgia
(706) 542-2910

Dan Ferguson
Program Director, Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS)
University of Arizona
(520) 622-8918

Connie Woodhouse
Associate Professor, School of Geography and Development
University of Arizona