Welcome to the Water Systems Analysis and Policy research group!

We study the impacts of design and policy choices on the performance of water infrastructure systems under changing conditions.  To do this we apply systems analysis methods to understand feedbacks in coupled human-hydrological systems, assess the role of design choices, and inform decision making.

We collaborate with research groups at ASU and beyond to apply interdisciplinary approaches to address pressing water resources and infrastructure challenges. We are part of the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment and the Global Institute of Sustainability at ASU. Our students are part of graduate programs in Sustainable Engineering and Hydrosystems Engineering and undergraduate programs in Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Current Projects

Balancing Local and Systemic Resilience in the Western Water Network

In this project our team will model a large component of the western regional water system to help facilitate planning for resilient water supply and usage at both local and regional levels. The construction of reservoirs, aqueducts, and pump systems has transformed the hydrological landscape of the American west. These feats of engineering have facilitated growth by moving water in space and in time. Consequentially, once separate river basins are now networked via water transfers and shared demand centers, here termed the Western Water Network. The creation of a regional water supply network generated benefits as water can be moved across basins to meet demands and water users can mitigate drought impacts with a portfolio of supplies. However, this connectivity also introduces new risks. Just as links in financial systems can reduce the risks of local shocks while raising the risk the system instability, interconnected water supply systems have tradeoffs between local and systemic risks. These tradeoffs are primed to shift as climatic change, demand shifts, and a renegotiation of operating rules play out in the coming years. This project will use a set of models to assess the tradeoffs between local (e.g. municipal or state level) and systemic (e.g. basin wide) resilience under recent and current rule structures and explore modifications to reduce the risk of failure under plausible future conditions. New knowledge of these tradeoffs will allow the deliberate choice of benefits and risks when re-designing operating rules and infrastructure. As interconnected river basins are not unique to the America West, lessons from study of the Western Water Network may be applicable globally. The project is funded by the NSF CAREER program for early career investigators (award 1942370).

Transition Dynamics in Integrated Urban Water Systems

Our group is collaborating with an all-star team of Marty Anderies at ASU, Aaron Deslatte at University of Indiana, Elizabeth Koebele at UNR, and George Hornberger at Vanderbilt to study Transition Dynamics in Integrated Urban Water Systems. The project is funded by the NSF program on Coupled Human-Natural Systems (award 1923880) and builds off pilot work funded by SESYNC. Urban water-supply systems consist of both physical infrastructure and policies that govern their use. These systems are designed to be adaptable to a wide range of supply and demand conditions. However, climatic and social shifts are placing new stresses on water-supply systems that require substantial changes, also called transitions, to maintain system performance. This research analyzes transitions across 12 large-scale urban water systems in the United States to achieve two goals: 1) to better document the interactions among various environmental and human factors that may prompt transition, and 2) to identify which infrastructure and policy design choices can foster practical transitions to increase sustainability. Knowledge relating design to outcomes is key because, while cities cannot control the dynamics of hydrological or human systems, they can alter design choices. Further, understanding proactive urban water transitions can offer general insights for other societal challenges where proactive transition is essential.

Cross-Scale Interactions & the Design of Adaptive Reservoir Operations

Our group is teaming up with David Yu at Purdue and Murugesu Sivapalan at University of Illinois in an NSF funded project (award 1913920) to improve the understanding and practice of adaptive reservoir operations. Reservoirs play a significant role in reducing risk of human impacts of floods and droughts by buffering streamflow variability. Forecast informed reservoir operations promise to maintain performance as conditions change by employing adaptive operations to further control streamflow variability. However, research shows that tight control of short-term variability in self-organizing systems can lead to cascading of fragilities in the long-run by suppressing information needed for adaptive capacity. Multi-purpose reservoirs are embedded in watershed systems that are self-organizing but also heavily engineered. Thus, it is unclear if changes to reservoir operations cascade through the hydrologic and socio-economic subsystems to generate unintended fragilities, particularly under changing climatic conditions. This raises three key questions: 1) How will a change in reservoir operations propagate through the partially-engineered, partially-evolving watershed system? 2) What characteristics of the hydrological or governance system affect this propagation? 3) What institutional design choices enable adaptive management? This research will address these questions through detailed studies of two cases in distinct hydro-climatic and governance regimes paired with stylized modeling to generalize findings beyond the two test cases.

Flood Aware: Community-Based Automated Information for Urban Flooding

Flood Aware is a multi-university project to assess the effectiveness of several real-time flood detection, reporting, and communication technologies for cities and local communities. The project is supported by the National Science Foundation's Smart and Connected Communities program (award 1831475). Our group will be developing urban hydrological models for Phoenix and Flagstaff to pilot the integration of a novel combination data sources (flood cameras, citizen science reports, traffic cameras, and social media) with traditional data and forecasts to provide real time flood alerts. We’ll be providing periodic updates on our project website: http://floodaware.net/

Completed Projects

Sustainable Strategies for Stormwater and CSOs Control in Ambos Nogales

While the cities of Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora (together the transboundary Ambos Nogales) are located on opposite sides of the US-Mexico border, the are both within the flood prone Nogales Wash watershed. Seasonal rainfall and extreme weather produce erosion, flooding, and water quality hazards that span the Ambos Nogales. Urbanization and increasing imperviousness have altered drainage patterns and exacerbated hazards. This project investigates a combination of green and grey infrastructure to mitigate these hazards and importantly treats the transboundary region as watershed system. The project is led by Francisco Lara Valencia in ASU’s School for Transborder Studies and it is funded by the North American Development Bank. Project partners include the USGS, ADEQ, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, University of Arizona, University of Arkansas, IMIP Nogales, Seeds/Semillas, and Nogales Watershed Design/Build.