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Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy
Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy

NOAA Climate and Societal Interactions Project

Adaptation, Conservation, and Planning in the Drought-prone Southwestern United States and Northwest Mexico

administered by the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy at the University of Arizona
supported by a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Program Office



Adaptation in water management is a greatly revered yet poorly understood goal and concept.

Assessments of the state of adaptation research suggest that there are a lack of studies that show how adaptation is actually being delivered and what the barriers to effective delivery are.

We propose to address this gap both theoretically and methodologically in the Arizona-Sonora region of the U.S.-Mexico

The NOAA Climate and Societal Interactions (CSI) research project launch marks the beginning of a two year interdisciplinary assessment of adaptation strategies in the Southwestern United States and northwest Mexico.

The CSI research project builds off of findings from our research with the NOAA-SARP project "Moving Forward: Adaptation and Resilience to Climate Change, Drought and Water Demand in the Urbanizing Southwestern United States and Northwestern Mexico." more >

The CSI project focuses on building adaptive capacity for water management in the transboundary region; understanding the role of climate information within governance networks; developing innovations in communicating climate science; and pilot development of a set of metrics for assessing adaptive capacity in arid and border regions.

The study sites include; Tucson; Ambos Nogales; Hermosillo; and the Delta/Upper Gulf of California.

cattlecracked clayirrigation canal

Project Study Area and Activies (2011-2013)


Dr. Margaret Wilder, the project’s principal investigator, with co-PIs Dr. Robert Varady and Dr. Gregg Garfin, have led project activities and fieldwork around the themes of institutional adaptive capacity in water management in diverse contexts in the Arizona-Sonora region of the U.S.-Mexico border. Carrie Presnall, who holds a M.S. degree in ecology and evolutionary biology, joined the research group in 2012-2013 as a research associate.

In the last two years, our team has been busy interacting with multiple and diverse stakeholders, carrying out fieldwork in Tucson, the Colorado River Delta, and the Upper Gulf of California, and completing major project activities. By June 30, 2013, we completed fieldwork in three study sites, including Tucson, Hermosillo, and the Upper Gulf of California. We will continue with our fieldwork in the Colorado River Delta during the next year.

We have 66 articles or other publications in print to date relating to this project, and eight articles in review or in press at this time. Journals include Global Environmental Change, Environmental Science and Policy, Environment (cover story for March 2012, and a second article in April 2012), the Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Geoforum, and others. Our team members played a lead role in the National Climate Assessment’s Southwest Climate Assessment. Gregg Garfin was editor-in-chief of the 420-page Assessment of Climate Change in the Southwest United States (link). Our research team made 78 presentations at local, regional, national, and international meetings.

In 2013, Dr. Gregg Garfin and Dr. Adrian Quijada published two editions of our online binational and bilingual climate newsletter, Transborder Climate: Adaptation without Boundaries. The newsletter is distributed to stakeholders who ask to subscribe and provides timely and regionally specific climate information and short feature articles for the Arizona-Sonora region (link).

Over the past two years, we conducted a total of 14 Transborder Webinars in our webinar series, involving 23 expert scientists/speakers from institutions from the U.S. and Mexico. Podcasts are accessible at our channel on YouTube (link). In addition, we were asked by a new stakeholder group—NextGen Sonoran Desert Researchers—to cooperate with them in offering a webinar series based on Arizona-Sonora research by young, graduate-level scholars. To this end, we provided training and use of the webinar series for the NextGen group.

Under the direction of Dr. Gregg Garfin, Dr. Julie Brugger continued fieldwork on a Tucson case study, conducting twenty-two semi-structured interviews with Citzens’ Water Advisory Committee (CWAC) members, Tucson Water staff, and City Council members.

In 2012-2013, Dr. Marcela Vásquez-León and research assistant Sasha Marley conducted a total of seven multiple-day fieldwork trips in Delta/Upper Gulf. The goal was to test and implement the survey instrument and create a video documentary. They completed in-depth interviews with institutional representatives and fisheries and agricultural resource users around adaptive capacity. Seventy surveys were completed by fishers and farmers in Santa Clara, San Felipe, and Mexicali Valley.

Dr. Laura López-Hoffman organized a workshop, Transboundary Water Resources Governance and Riparian Areas: Theories, Methods and Applications, with European researchers from the Riparia project on issues relating to transboundary riparian resource management in different global contexts. Several members of the NOAA CSI research team presented U.S.-Mexico border case studies from the NOAA CSI project, including Drs. Wilder, Varady, Garfin, Vásquez-León, Flessa, and López-Hoffman. Researchers shared their research findings, discussed methodological approaches, and made plans for a special journal issue on transboundary water management.

News Items

New Book Outlines Unique Challenges Climate Instability Poses to Southwest
UA News | May 2, 2013

Climate Change Report Forecasts Major Impacts for the Southwest
UA News | January 15, 2013

New Study of the Border Region Takes a Look at Water
an interview with Project PIs Margaret Wilder, Robert Varady, and Gregg Garfin
Arizona Illustrated | May 10, 2012

New Report Puts Hard Facts in the Hands of Water Policymakers
interviews with Robert Varady and Margaret Wilder
Tucson Weekly | May 3, 2012

See also:

Water Vulnerability Plagues US Border Region
Western Farm Press | April 23, 2012

Water Vulnerability in U.S. Border Region
Homeland Security News Wire | April 18, 2012

Team Identifies Water Vulnerability in Border Region
UA News | April 16, 2012

UA Leads Binational Climate Change Study
UANews | October 13, 2011


List of Project Publications | June 2013 (pdf)


Introduction and Summary
| November 2011 (pdf)

Summary Fact Sheet
| July 2012 (English pdf) (Spanish pdf)


Casebook from NOAA-SARP Study
Moving Forward from Vulnerability to Adaptation | March 2012 (pdf 25.7 MB -- see individual chapters on project website)


Garfin, G.M., P. Romero Lankao, R. G. Varady. 2012 (in press online). Editorial: Rethinking integrated assessments and management projects in the Americas. Special issue of Environmental Science and Policy. (doi:10.1016/j.envsci.2011.12.010)

Gerlak, A. and M. Wilder. 2012. Exploring the textured landscape of water insecurity and the human right to water. Environment, 54:2, 4-17. (article permalink)

McEvoy, J., and M. Wilder. 2012. Discourse and desalination: Potential impacts of proposed climate change adaptation interventions in the Arizona–Sonora border region. Global Environmental Change, 22:2, 353-363. (doi: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2011.11.001)

Pineda-Pablos, N., C. A. Scott, M. Wilder, A. Salazar-Adams, Rolando Díaz- Caravantes, L. Brito, C. Watts, J. L. Moreno, L. Oroz, and C. Neri, 2012. Hermosillo, ciudad sin agua para crecer: Vulnerabilidad hídrica y retos frente al cambio climático. In Moving Forward from Vulnerability to Adaptation: Climate Change, Drought, and Water Demand in the Urbanizing Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico, M. Wilder, C. Scott, N. Pineda, R. Varady, and G. Garfin, eds. Tucson: Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy, University of Arizona. (pdf)

Romero-Lankao, P., M. Borbor-Cordova, R. Abrutsky, G. Günther, E. Behrenz, and L. Dawidowsky. 2012 (in press online). ADAPTE: A tale of diverse teams coming together to do issue-driven interdisciplinary research. Special issue of Environmental Science and Policy. (doi: 10.1016/j.envsci.2011.12.003)

Scott, C.A., R.G. Varady, F. Meza, E. Montaña, G.B. de Raga, B. Luckman, and C. Martius. 2012. Science policy dialogues for water security: Addressing vulnerability and adaptation to global change in the Americas. Environment, 54:3, 30-42. (article permalink)

Varady, R.G., C.A. Scott, M. Wilder, B. Morehouse, N. Pineda Pablos, and G.M. Garfin, 2012 (in press online). Transboundary adaptive management to reduce climate-change vulnerability in the western U.S.–Mexico border region. Special issue of Environmental Science and Policy. (doi: 10.1016/j.envsci.2012.07.006)


Managing Demand and Rethinkng Supply (ppt)
Presentation by Margaret Wilder, PI
Project Launch Workshop | October 2011 | Tucson, Arizona

Building Adaptive Capacity for Water Management in the U.S.-Mexico Border (ppt)
Presentation by Margaret Wilder (on behalf of several co-authors)
IHD Planet Under Pressure Conference | March 2012 | London, U.K.

New Directions in Adaptive Capacity and Resilience in Arid Regions (pdf)
Poster by JCorreia, SKelly, HBruckner, SMarley, MWilder, GGarfin, MVásquez-León, and RVarady
Adaptation Futures Confererence | May 2012 | Tucson, Arizona


Transborder Climate: Adaptation without Boundaries (link)


Transborder Climate Webinar Series, 2012-2013 (link)


Project Team

Lead Agency

The University of Arizona (USA)

Principal Investigator

Margaret Wilder, Associate Professor, Center for Latin American Studies and School of Geography and Development, and Associate Research Professor, Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy

Co-Principal Investigators

Robert G. Varady, Deputy Director and Research Professor, Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy

Gregg M. Garfin, Deputy Director for Science Translation and Outreach, Institute of the Environment, and Assistant Specialist and Assistant Professor, School of Natural Resources and the Environment

University of Arizona Investigators

Diane Austin, Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology
Karl Flessa, Department of Geosciences
George Frisvold, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics
Laura López-Hoffman, School of Natural Resources and the Environment/ Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy
Christopher Scott, School of Geography and Development / Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy
Marcela Vásquez-León, Center for Latin American Studies / Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology
Gigi Owen, Climate Assessment for the Southwest, Insitute of the Environment


Luís Brito-Castillo, Northwest Center for Biological Research (Mexico)
Francisco Lara Valencia, Arizona State Universtiy
Maria Carmen Lemos, University of Michigan
Bradfield Lyon, International Research Institute for Climate and Society
Laura Norman, U.S. Geological Survey
Nicolás Pineda, El Colegio de Sonora (Mexico)
Patricia Romero-Lankao, National Center for Atmospheric Research

Researcher Associates

Julie Brugger, Carrie Presnall, and Adrian Quijada


Conducted by

The University of Arizona (UA)
Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy
Climate Assessment for the Southwest
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administraton (NOAA)