Transboundary Water Policy and the Colorado River

Transboundary Water Policy and the Colorado River


The Colorado River is considered the lifeblood of the American Southwest. 


A map of the southwestern United States in beige with the Colorado River and its tributaries highlighted in light blue. Shows the river flowing from Wyoming, south into Utah and Colorado, then in to Nevada, California, Arizona and New Mexico before reaching its terminus in the Gulf of California.

As one of the world’s most significant transboundary river systems, the Colorado River provides water to seven U.S. states, two Mexican states, as well as 30 Indigenous Tribes and Native nations. 

An aerial photo of the City of Phoenix at sunset.

The river supplies more than 40 million people with water, providing water to cities, farms, tribal communities, businesses and ecosystems in the basin. 

An image of Lake Mead showing a stark white water line where the depth of the lake has receded as a result of prolonged drought.

For the past two decades, the basin has faced significant drought and overuse triggering crises in governance and management. 

Since the early days of the Udall Center, researchers here have been studying water in the US-Mexico border region. 

In recent years, researchers have focused on how decision-making and governance matter in the basin, highlighting patterns in collaboration and conflict, and raising critical questions around equity, sustainability and restoration in the basin. 


Find a list of research outputs on this subject that have come out of the Udall Center in the last decade below.

Illustrative Colorado River decision-making and governance research publications

Beyond engagement: Enhancing equity in collaborative water governance
WIREs Water | August 2023
Elizabeth A. Koebele, Linda E. Méndez-Barrientos, Nikki Nadeau, Andrea K. Gerlak

Knowledge governance and learning: Examining challenges and opportunities in the Colorado River basin
Environmental Science & Policy | November 2021
Andrea K. Gerlak, Surabhi Karambelkar, Daniel B. Ferguson

Lesson learning in the Colorado River Basin
Water International | April 2021
Mariana Rivera-Torres, Andrea K. Gerlak, Katharine L. Jacobs

Scenario Planning: Embracing the Potential for Extreme Events in the Colorado River Basin
Climatic Change | March 2021
Andrea K. Gerlak, Katharine L. Jacobs, Amy L. McCoy, Season Martin, Mariana Rivera-Torres, Anna M. Murveit, Amanda J. Leinberger, Timothy Thomure 

Reimagining the Colorado River by exploring extreme events
Eos | November 2020
Katherine L. Jacobs, Amy McCoy, Season Martin,  Andrea K. Gerlak

Collaborative governance and stakeholder participation in the Colorado River Basin: An examination of patterns of inclusion and exclusion
Natural Resources Journal | 2020
Surabhi Karambelkar, Andrea K. Gerlak

Regional Water Institutions and Participation in Water Governance: The Colorado River Delta as an Exception to the Rule?
Journal of the Southwest | Spring-Summer 2017
Andrea K. Gerlak

Hydrodiplomacy and adaptive governance at the U.S.-Mexico border: 75 years of tradition and innovation in transboundary water management 
Environmental Science and Policy | October 2020
Margaret O. Wilder, Robert G. Varady, Andrea K. Gerlak, Stephen P. Mumme, Karl W. Flessa, Adriana A. Zuniga-Teran, Christopher A. Scott, Nicolás Pineda Pablos, Sharon B. Megdal

U.S.-Mexico Hydrodiplomacy: Foundations, Change, and Future Challenges
Science & Diplomacy | December 2019
Margaret O. Wilder, Robert G. Varady, Stephen P. Mumme, Andrea K. Gerlak, Nicolás Pineda Pablos, Christopher A. Scott

Resistance and Reform: Transboundary Water Governance in the Colorado River Delta
Review of Policy Research | January 2015
Andrea K. Gerlak

A Delta in Repair: Restoration, Binational Cooperation, and the Future of the Colorado River Delta
Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development | April 2013
Andrea K. Gerlak, Francisco Zamora-Arroyo, Hannah P. Kahler

Security, governance and institutions for transboundary waters publications

Transboundary Water Governance Scholarship: A Critical Review
Environments | February 2023
Robert G. Varady, Tamee R. Albrecht, Sayanangshu Modak, Margaret O. Wilder, Andrea K. Gerlak

Global Water Initiatives Redux: A Fresh Look at the World of Water
Water | October 2022
Robert G. Varady, Tamee R. Albrecht, Andrea K. Gerlak, Arin C. Haverland

The exigencies of transboundary water security: insights on community resilience
Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability | June 2020
Robert G. Varady, Tamee R. Albrecht, Andrea K. Gerlak, Margaret O. Wilder, Brian M. Mayer, Adriana Zuniga-Teran, Kacey C. Ernst, Maria Carmen Lemos

International river basin organizations, science, and hydrodiplomacy
Environmental Science & Policy | May 2020
Anita Milman, Andrea K. Gerlak

Explaining and Measuring Social-Ecological Pathways: The Case of Global Changes and Water Security
Sustainability | November 2018
Thomas Bolognesi, Andrea K. Gerlak, Gregory Giuliani

Unraveling transboundary water security in the arid Americas
Water International | December 2018
Tamee R. Albrecht, Robert G. Varady, Adriana Zuniga-Teran, Andrea K. Gerlak, Rafael Routson de Grenade, América Lutz-Ley, Facundo Martín, Sharon B. Megdal, Francisco Meza, Diego Ocampo Melgar, Nicolás Pineda, Facundo Rojas, Rossi Taboada, and Bram Willems

Water security: A review of place-based research
Environmental Science & Policy | April 2018
Andrea K. Gerlak, Lily House-Peters, Robert G. Varady, Tamee Albrecht, Adriana Zúñiga-Terán, Rafael Routson de Grenade, Christina Cook, Christopher A. Scott

Governing a shared hidden resource: A review of governance mechanisms for transboundary groundwater security
Water Security | November 2017
Tamee R. Albrecht, Robert G. Varady, Adriana A. Zuniga-Teran, Andrea K. Gerlak, Chad Staddon

The nexus: reconsidering environmental security and adaptive capacity
Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability | August 2016
Rafael de Grenade, Lily House Peters, Chris A. Scott, Bhutan Thapa, Megan Mills-Novoa, Andrea K. Gerlak, K. Verbist

Modes and Approaches of Groundwater Governance: A Survey of Lessons Learned from Selected Cases across the Globe
Water | September 2016
Robert G. Varady, Adriana A. Zuniga-Teran, Andrea K. Gerlak, Sharon B. Megdal

Many Faces of Security: Discursive Framing in Cross-border Natural Resource Governance in the Mekong River Commission
Globalizations | February 2016
Andrea K. Gerlak, Farhad Mukhtarov

Who Governs Internationally Shared Watercourses? Clearing the Muddy Waters of International River Organizations 
International Environmental Agreements | June 2013
Susanne Schmeier, Andrea K. Gerlak, Sabine Blumstein

Science-policy processes for transboundary water governance
Ambio | March 2015
Derek Armitage, Rob C. de Loë, Michelle Morris, Tom W. D. Edwards, Andrea K. Gerlak, Roland I. Hall, Dave Huitema, Ray Ison, David Livingstone, Glen MacDonald, Naho Mirumachi, Ryan Plummer, and Brent B. Wolfe

Transboundary groundwater governance in the Guarani Aquifer System: reflections from a survey of global and regional experts
Water International | January 2014
Zachary P. Sugg, Robert G. Varady, Andrea K. Gerlak, Rafael de Grenade

‘Ways of knowing’ water: integrated water resources management and water security as complementary discourses
International Environmental Agreements: Politics Law and Economics  | April 2015
Andrea K. Gerlak, Farhad Mukhtarov

Climate Change and Transboundary Waters: A Study of Discourse in the Mekong River Commission
The Journal of Environment and Development | July 2014
Andrea K. Gerlak, Susanne Schmeier

Epistemic forms of integrated water resources management: towards knowledge versatility
Policy Sciences | June 2014
Farhad Mukhtarov, Andrea K. Gerlak

River Basin Organizations in the Global Water Discourse: An Exploration of Agency and Strategy
Global Governance | June 2013
Farhad Mukhtarov, Andrea K. Gerlak

Adaptation in a transboundary river basin: linking stressors and adaptive capacity within the Mekong River Commission
Environmental Science and Policy | January 2013
Tanya Heikkila, Andrea K. Gerlak, Andrew Bell, Susanne Schmeier

Exploring the Textured Landscape of Water Insecurity and the Human Right to Water
Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development  | March 2012
Andrea K. Gerlak, Margaret Wilder

Conflict and Cooperation along International Rivers:  Crafting a Model of Institutional Effectiveness
Global Environmental Politics  | February 2012
Ramiro Berardo, Andrea K. Gerlak

Water Resources Data and Information Exchange in Transboundary Water Treaties
International Environmental Agreements  | December 2010
Andrea K. Gerlak, Jonathan Lautze, Mark Giordano

Hydrosolidarity and beyond: can ethics and equity find a place in today's water resource management?
Water International | June 2011
Andrea K. Gerlak, Robert G. Varady, Olivier Petit, Arin C. Haverland

Hydrosolidarity and International Water Governance
International Negotiation  | 2009
Andrea K. Gerlak, Robert G. Varady, Arin C. Haverland