Water Fellows

Photo courtesy of Meagan Schipanski, Soil and Crop Sciences, CSU, 2016 Water Fellow project: Improving Precipitation Use Efficiency in Dryland Cropping Systems

Each year CoWC funds a select number of Water Fellows through our CSU Competitive Grant Program. These awards provide a unique opportunity to accelerate progress in research, teaching, and engagement for faculty and research staff at CSU. Since 2013, we have funded 16 fellows on projects from diverse departments including Journalism and Technical Communication; Geosciences; Agriculture and Resource Economics; Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology; and a range of other disciplines.

Current Fellows 2020- 2021

Ryan Morrison  |  Assistant Professor, Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering

Toward understanding the global impacts of human activities on floodplain integrity

Floodplain integrity can be defined as the ability of a floodplain to support essential geomorphic, hydrologic, and ecological functions that maintain biodiversity and ecosystem services. Although it is clear that humans have globally altered floodplain integrity, robust methods for quantifying the overall impact of human activities on floodplain processes are lacking.

Through this research, Dr. Morrison will develop and apply a methodology to evaluate floodplain integrity by leveraging initial results from my previous work while collaborating with international researchers that provide additional expertise. Specifically, my objectives for this research are to: 1) Identify and compile global datasets that can serve as proxies to human impacts to major floodplain functions; 2) Develop and apply a methodology for assessing global floodplain integrity; and 3) Build stronger international relationships to expand his research network and leverage for future proposals.

To meet these objectives, Dr. Morrison will work with a student and international collaborators to co-host a workshop at the Water Resource Research and Documentation Centre in Perugia, Italy, where they will compile relevant large-scale datasets necessary to evaluate floodplain integrity. By quantifying reductions to floodplain functionality at broad scales, this work can help target management efforts towards the most impaired floodplains.

Blake Osborn  |  Water Resources Specialist, Colorado Water Center

Integrating low-tech, process-based restoration techniques to a degraded perennial stream system: A community-driven research model

Many of Colorado’s watersheds have been impacted by land-use patterns that negatively impact stream systems at the reach and watershed scale. Many rural Colorado economies and communities depend on these land uses, which include agricultural applications, resource extraction, and residential development. In some cases, these land uses have led to negative impacts on water quality and wildlife, and has significantly altered the stream system’s hydrology. Low-tech, process-based restoration offers a promising approach to improving these systems.

Dr. Osborn and partners have developed, and are currently implementing, a community-supported research collaboration between local water experts, Canon City High School, private landowners, local municipal water providers, and NGO’s. The project includes the creation of a new class at the local high school (developed specifically for this project), working with private landowners to restore a severely degraded and entrenched stream system, and applying new stream restoration techniques under academic research standards to quantify our efforts. The goal is to educate a new generation on Colorado’s complex water issues, increase hydrologic function of a degraded stream system, and provide academic research findings to help state water managers and the stream restoration community achieve multiple benefits.

Recent Fellows 2019- 2020

Yoichiro Kanno  |  Assistant Professor, Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology

Assessing gene flow of invasive brook trout to restore a meta-population of threatened greenback cutthroat trout in the upper Poudre River basin

Dr. Kanno will provide scientific support for a significant greenback cutthroat trout restoration in the upper Cache la Poudre basin. Spatial population structure and movement of this species in the upper basin are poorly understood, and this research will quantify trout movement, identify habitat features that impact gene flow, and determine whether altered flows in the river’s mainstem may hamper fish movement or isolate tributary populations.

Michael Ronayne  |  Associate Professor, Department of Geosciences

Numerical modeling of evolving recharge-discharge sources in a multi-aquifer system

Dr. Ronayne will study the hydrogeologic processes that control time-varying recharge within complex multi-aquifer systems. This research will examine how geologic heterogeneity impacts the alluvial-bedrock groundwater exchange, the conditions that give rise to unsaturated zones between the alluvium and bedrock, and the causes of aquifer “disconnect.”

Past Fellows 2018-2019

Melinda Laituri  |  Professor, Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability

Examining Extreme Cities: Seeking Solutions for Water Management in the 21st Century

According to the UN World Water Development Report (2018), by 2050, at least one in four people is likely to live in a country affected by chronic or recurring shortages of freshwater and cities are growing by 60 million people each year.

Within this context, Dr. Laitui and colleagues examine extreme cities — urban environments on the bleeding edge of climate change, socio-economic inequality, and with limited access to basic resources. Using the hydro-social cycle, we study an extreme city, Tijuana, Mexico, located on the US-Mexico border. The hydro-social cycle is a framework to examine water from a holistic perspective. It is diagramed to assess the existing water resource availability, the current water policy for water management, and the city context for demand and need.

Extreme cities are characterized by stark inequality in residents’ access to resources, as well as spatial differentiation by race, class, gender, and exposure to environmental harms. Extreme cities result from rapid population growth coupled with unplanned urban development and inadequate public infrastructure to serve marginal communities.

Chris Myrick  |  Professor, Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology

Addressing Non-Salmonid Fish Passage in Semi-Arid Regions

Rivers worldwide provide important habitat for a wide variety of fish ranging in size from less than an ounce, to well over 100 pounds. A common thread between these and most other riverine fishes is that they rely on the ability to move freely between the habitats they need for spawning, feeding, or avoiding harsh environmental conditions such as droughts or floods.

The rivers that flow through semi-arid regions serve another purpose – they provide water for agricultural and urban needs, for power generation, and, in some cases, for recreation. In order to manage the rivers for these purposes and to minimize loss of life and property during flood events, resource managers often rely upon the presence of instream structures such as dams or diversions. Unfortunately, these can serve as barriers to the migration of fishes and other aquatic organisms.

The ecological connectivity of rivers can be restored to some degree by well-designed fish passage structures. This project was designed to allow Dr. Myrick, a Colorado fish passage researcher, to interact and work with fish passage researchers from other semi-arid regions who specialize in the passage of non-salmonid fishes, to explore possible similarities between fish passage needs and approaches in Australia’s Murray-Darling River system and those of Colorado’s Eastern Plains.

Learn more about the impactful research our grantees have accomplished in these issues of Colorado Water.

The two FY19 Water Fellows produced articles on their project accomplishments published in the January 2020 issue of Colorado Water.
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Fellows Archive

Jesse Burkhardt  |  Assistant Professor, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics

From Information to Prices: What Drives Residential and Commercial Water Demand?

Dr. Burkhardt and graduate student Matthew Flyr evaluated the determinants of commercial water demand in Fort Collins, Colorado. They present evidence that firms are more responsive to one period lagged average price than marginal price. We also find notable differences in price responsiveness across different categories of businesses. The findings in this paper are particularly important as water utilities consider how to maintain revenue while coping with limited water supplies and increasing commercial demand.

Kelly Curl  |  Associate Professor, Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture

Integrating Green Infrastructure within Land-Use and Water Planning

The integration of land-use planning and water planning is a critical need as our urban, exurban, and rural environments continue to be developed. The installation of green infrastructure within the planned communities can be a social, economic, and environmental benefit for our larger ecosystems and overall increased groundwater recharge. This research study focused on the benefits of Native Grass landscape installed in the Bucking Horse neighborhood of Fort Collins, Colorado.

Yoichiro Kanno  |  Assistant Professor, Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology

Stream Fish Conservation in Extreme Habitats

Habitat degradation and loss is a primary cause for imperilment of freshwater biota, and thus inventorying and monitoring stream habitat is paramount to aquatic sustainability. Traditionally, stream habitat has been characterized using a tape measure and other devices on foot, which prohibits sufficient spatial coverage in an efficient manner. In this study, Dr. Kanno and colleagues tested the utility of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV: a.k.a. “drone”) in mapping two streams in Colorado. The technology allowed spatially continuous mapping of stream habitat, and features such as substrate and channel drying could be identified on photographs. The use of UAV can be a powerful tool for characterizing stream habitat beyond local pools and riffles without sacrificing resolution at such a local scale.

Ellen Wohl  |  Professor, Department of Geosciences

Toward a Quantitative Estimate of Organic Carbon Storage in River Corridors of the United States

Rivers transport substantial volumes of terrestrial organic carbon stemming from soils as well as vegetation. They also store organic-rich sediment in floodplains and throughout river networks. For this research study, emphasis was placed on evaluating organic carbon losses from river ‘pipes’ as a result of gas exchanges, determining stream metabolism, as well as assessing sediment storage which is a dynamic part of the global carbon cycle. The field sampling revealed significant spatial heterogeneity in organic carbon concentrations, with higher values representing abandoned channels or wetlands. Specifically, river corridors within prairie regions had considerable stocks of organic carbon in floodplain soil.

Meagan Schipanski  |  Assistant Professor, Department of Soil and Crop Sciences

Improving Precipitation Use Efficiency in Dryland Cropping Systems

Dryland agriculture (i.e. non-irrigated crop production in arid and semi-arid regions) represents 44% of the global agricultural land area and more than 90% of wheat production in the United States. The spatial extent of dryland agriculture is anticipated to increase over time. In the western U.S., large areas are experiencing reductions in available irrigation water due to climate change and the redirection of water to rapidly growing urban areas. In addition to increased demand for water, the frequency and intensity of both droughts and intense rainfall events are expected to increase in the region as climate change progresses. Utilizing a long-term cropping systems experiment, Dr. Schipanski and colleagues analyzed the relationships between crop rotation diversity and soil moisture dynamics to increase our understanding of the aggregation process and linkages to wind erosion susceptibility.

Ryan Bailey  |  Assistant Professor, Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering

Developing a Framework for Simulating the Fate and Transport of Salinity Species in the Lower Arkansas River Valley, Colorado

The Lower Arkansas River Valley (LARV) in southeastern Colorado is a key resource for stakeholders in southeastern Colorado due to its valuable agriculture production. Because of a rising water table due to excessive irrigation and canal seepage, much of the soil-aquifer system in the valley has become salinized, thereby negatively impacting crop yield. High groundwater salinity loading to the Arkansas River stream network also impacts downstream areas, with saline river water diverted for application on irrigated fields. The overall aim of this project is to develop a numerical modeling framework capable of simulating the transport of salt ions within the stream-aquifer-soil system, so that current conditions of salinity can be assessed and possible remediation strategies in the region can be explored. This overall aim will be accomplished by the following specific objectives:
1- Collecting field data at multiple scales to enable small scale model testing; and
2- Developing a comprehensive salinity module that can be coupled with the UZF-RT3D model and that accounts for equilibrium chemistry and precipitation-dissolution processes;
3- Preliminary application of the coupled model at the large scale (~500 km2)

Ed Hall  |  Assistant Professor, Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability

Uniting Water Related Research Expertise in Latin America at CSU

The main purpose of this effort was to unite expertise in water-related research being conducted in Latin America by researchers at CSU. CSU has a rich history of participating in cutting edge research and development projects on water-related issues around the world including Latin America. In particular, CSU has existing diverse expertise working with communities in Latin America to address a wide range of water-related challenges. In addition to our research expertise, there are five or more study abroad programs being offered in the region.

At the time of this proposal, there was little to no coordination among researchers or research projects and no public face that highlighted our diverse water-related expertise and existing research and educational collaborations in Latin American.  In March of 2015, in collaboration with Jorge Ramirez, Dr. Hall organized a session on water-related topics in Latin America at Hydrology Days held in the Lory Student Center (March 23-25th, 2015). The session was well-attended and included a broad range of topics covering, climate, hydrology, ecology, and social science related to water quality and quantity in 6 different countries across Latin America.

Stephanie Malin  |  Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology

When Water Rights Ebb into Energy Development: Unconventional Oil & Gas Development and Changes to Water Allocation in Northern Colorado

Unconventional O&G production’s demand for potable water intersects with demands for water from agriculture (dominant) and municipal uses (growing) in northern Colorado. Farmers, ranchers, and ditch companies play pivotal roles in mediating land and water access and use, though their economic power is limited by their structural dependency on volatile natural resource markets. Due to its ability to pay exponentially higher rates for water, the unconventional O&G industry has a substantial and significant impact on access to water markets in northern Colorado. This was the case especially in relation to renting/purchasing shares of water in northern Colorado, particularly during ‘dry years’ when junior rights holders and non-rights holders may compete fiercely for access to water to run their operations. As industry drives up these prices, they become the most competitive and rational buyers for municipalities, such as Greeley, and other institutions, such as ditch companies, who are able to lease their water or infrastructure for O&G production (especially in ‘wet years’ or under ‘free river’ conditions).

Corporations’ individualized approaches to water acquisition vary, as do their interactions with landholders, owners, and water rights holders, which Dr. Malin identifies as two distinct strategies. In many ways, ditch companies act as bridges between the agricultural sector and the unconventional O&G industry. Or, perhaps more accurately, they have the power to broker whether and when water will flow through their ditches and into/out of their reservoirs, connecting agricultural production directly with unconventional oil production in Weld County.

Ashley Anderson  |  Assistant Professor, Department of Journalism and Technical Communication

Floods, Communication, and Climate Change: Exploring the Role of Media Use and Interpersonal Discussion in Connecting Water-Related Extreme Weather Events to Perceptions about Climate Change

A growing body of scholarship is investigating how extreme weather events shape people’s perceptions of climate change. These weather events are tangible and local experiences that make climate change more personal rather than an abstract and distant concept. As a result, climate change communication efforts have successfully used local television weathercasters to raise awareness about climate change during extreme weather events. Less studied is how people talk about climate change in the context of extreme weather events. Also not as highly studied is how people use social media to discuss these issues, even though online media platforms such as Facebook are highly used by opinion leaders to discuss climate change and energy issues. In this project, Dr. Anderson examined the broad research question: How does communication use during the September 2013 flood event in Colorado play a role in how people perceive, discuss, and seek information about climate change?

Several conclusions can be made about the strategic communication of climate change based on this study. Coloradans were more likely to hold the perception that global warming influences flooding after the historical flood event in September 2013, suggesting that individuals make the connection between major weather events and global warming. Extreme weather events are most likely to draw a mental connection to climate change among audiences when the event is more recent. While most individuals did not create posts about the event in their social media feeds, the majority did read about the event in social media sources. This provides evidence of a set of opinion leaders who use social media sources to communicate about the issue. In addition, several of these social media users also consider themselves to be an activist or advocate on an issue. This feeling of efficacy is an important precursor to other important beliefs and climate change action. Understanding who these individuals are provides an understanding of how they may be discussing climate change and extreme events in other areas of their lives.

Dale Manning  |  Assistant Professor, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics

Storage, Markets, and the Inter-Temporal Allocation of Colorado Water

Currently, a large body of literature explores the optimal use of scarce water resources, but little work exists investigating the specific interactions of storage and markets. Dr. Manning’s project investigates the value of increased storage and optimal reservoir release under a variety of allocation institutions—namely, allocation using a competitive market and Prior Appropriation Doctrine (PAD). The Colorado-Big Thompson (C-BT) system, being one of the most studied water projects in the country, provides an excellent case study for analyzing storage and markets because it is highly important to the agro-economy of northern Colorado, has ownership and lease information readily available, and has low transaction costs associated with leasing or selling shares in C-BT water.

Initial results indicate that trade is highly valuable in the C-BT system whereas inter-annual storage is not. The average simulated present value of water usage over the next 50 years is $707 million dollars with efficient leasing markets. Restricted trade scenarios meant to mimic Prior Appropriation Doctrine are estimated to be 96.5% and 72.9% of that value. By comparison, changes in storage have very small effects on present value estimates. In the worst-case scenario, when trade is restricted such that 85% of water use is designated to agriculture (consistent with current water use in Colorado), deadweight loss is large. The results also suggest that liberalized water markets may help ameliorate potential losses under predicted changes in climate and water availability. The same is not true for additional inter-storage, which has a small effect on value under reduced inflow scenarios.