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Moving Forward From Vulnerability to Adaptation: Climate Change, Drought, and Water Demand in the Urbanizing Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico

Edited by Margaret Wilder, Christopher A. Scott, Nicolas Pineda-Pablos, Robert G. Varady, and Gregg M. Garfin, Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy, The University of Arizona, 2012.

The Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy has released a casebook of studies of water resource vulnerability and adaption to the pressures of drought, urbanization and climate change on the communities of Tucson, Arizona; Ambos Nogales, straddling the border, and Puerto Penasco and Hermosillo, Mexico. A binational team of researchers collaborated for three years on these case studies. Written in English and Spanish, the report identifies the unique challenges and possibilities of each region for improving adaptive capacity in water resources.

The region surrounding the Arizona-Sonora border has been identified as highly vulnerable because of climate and socioeconomic characteristics to the combined stresses of rapid growth, climate change and industrialization. “Ensuring future water supply is the region’s highest priority challenge.” Each case study provides in-depth background on the community and region, the climate and its impacts, the water infrastructure and institutional capacity for adaptation. Each case study concludes with a section on implications for policy and planning that identifies the major challenges and opportunities unique to the case.

The publication was supported by the International Consortium for Adaptation in Drylands, a collaboration among researchers at the University of Arizona and the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM), and reports on research done under grants from NOAA and NSF.

Burning Our Rivers: The Water Footprint of Electricity

By Wendy Wilson, Travis Leipzig & Bevan Griffiths-Sattenspiel A River Network Report

The intent of this report by the River Network is to raise concerns about the amount of water used in electricity generation, so as to move the industry toward more efficient and less water intensive technologies. Toward this end, the authors have amassed a wealth of information about how much water is used in a whole range of electrical generation scenarios. Their central finding is “Based on the available published water-use information, we calculate that in 2009 the water footprint (WF) of U.S. electricity was approximately 42 gallons per kilowatt hour (kWh) produced.” From this number they estimate the water use of the average U.S. household embodied in energy use (39,829 gals.); compare it with the water use of the average U.S. household for all commonly considered household uses, such as toilet flushing (7,337 gals.); and conclude that the average household uses five times more water indirectly as energy than all direct household uses combined.

The authors attempt to include all “upstream” water uses, as well as in-plant use, such as water use in coal mining and transportation, as well as water used in coal-fired generating plants. They admit, however, that upstream data are scarce and their picture of total water use is incomplete. They make no attempt to calculate downstream impacts to water, such as thermal pollution and acidification, but the reader will find discussion of these issues as well. Although the report’s advocacy is clear, the presentation of the data and calculations is transparent and the multiple tradeoffs involved in comparing one technology to another acknowledged.

Last Water on the Devil’s Highway: A Cultural and Natural History of Tinajas Altas

Bill Broyles, Gayle H. Hartmann, Thomas E. Sheridan, Gary P. Nabhan, and Mary C. Thurtle University of Arizona Press, Tucson, 2012

Tinajas Altas, or High Tanks, is a series of natural rock basins where for hundreds of years the traveler could usually find water on the parched and treacherous trail, known as El Camino del Diablo, from the perennial Sonoyta River to Yuma on the Colorado River. The tanks, worn into the side of the rugged granitic Tinajas Altas Mountains by erosion, catch and hold water from the rare and unpredictable rain storms characteristic of this desert region. The rich history of Tinajas Altas testifies to how important sources of reliable water were to survival.

The authors of this entertaining and informative book bring together perspectives of archaeology, anthropology, history and natural history to paint a panorama, rich in detail and expressive of the area’s unique character. Chapters carry the reader from the geologic past to the experiences of the Native people; through the first Europeans to the Gold Rush and American expansion; up to the present day. It catalogs the area’s flora and fauna, and includes among the appendixes a table of Native American names and uses of plants of the Tinaja Altas region. Containing a wealth of maps, historical photos and other illustrations, Last Water on the Devil’s Highway offers readers a revealing look at a fascinating place.