Arizona communities must cooperate to achieve water sustainability, say ASU engineers

September 15, 2015

Mapping the “water footprints” and “virtual water trade” of Arizona municipalities reveals some potentially big challenges for parts of the state’s largest metropolitan area under a forecast of continuing drought and reduced Colorado River allocations to Arizona.

Looming water cuts mean problems for agricultural towns and newer bedroom communities, but these water-scarcity problems will be shared throughout Arizona through knock-on economic effects. Phoenix area water dependency The network graphic shows net virtual water dependency by Phoenix-area municipalities on their neighbors, in both labor (commuters) and commodity (food and other goods) categories. Phoenix is the most dependent, and Buckeye is the biggest supplier of virtual water within the metropolitan area. Download Full Image

If development is curtailed on the edges of Phoenix, core communities and industries will feel the impact through a squeezed commuting labor supply. But the metro area’s cities and towns could meet this challenge with a spirit of neighborly cooperation in managing water resources.

The details are spelled out by Richard Rushforth and Benjamin Ruddell in their recent paper in the research journal Sustainability, “The Hydro-Economic Interdependency of Cities: Virtual Water Connections of the Phoenix, Arizona Metropolitan Area.”

Ruddell is an associate professor in the Polytechnic School, and Rushforth is a doctoral student in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment. Both schools are part of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University.

“Your economic sustainability can be closely intertwined with your neighbor’s water sustainability,” explained Ruddell, who is also a senior sustainability scientist with ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability. “The strongest connections to Arizona’s cities are close to home, with neighboring communities that share the same aquifers and river supplies. Because of these close connections, you can take a big hit to your water supply chain, even if your home city isn’t directly affected by a drought.”

The lesson provided by the research is that there are imbalances in the hydro-economic relationships between various regions and municipalities that will place unequal burdens on some communities during droughts — but everyone feels the indirect impacts through the network of connections.

Core communities such as the city of Phoenix would need more water to supply homes and farms if they didn’t outsource that water use to their nearby neighbors. But Phoenix will be impacted if its neighbors suffer from drought — even if Phoenix has planned for water sustainability and has no problems of its own with water supply.

Arizona's communities need to protect themselves by working together with their neighbors on water supply problems, and by diversifying their water supply chain to avoid excess exposure to risk of drought in any one location, such as California, the Lower Colorado River or neighboring communities that share the same water supply, Ruddell said.

Applications of this data to solve municipal water management problems are detailed in a second paper recently published in the journal Sustainability, “Water Footprint of Cities: A Review and Suggestions for Future Research,” authored by a team of researchers including Ruddell and Rushforth.

The research conducted to reveal the water resource connections among Arizona cities is motivated by the goals of the Central Arizona–Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research program led by ASU researchers. The program is supported by the National Science Foundation to study the urban ecology of the Phoenix metropolitan area and the surrounding Sonoran Desert region.

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


Humanity 101 events to examine social injustices

September 15, 2015

Are we losing our humanity? This is the question that Arizona State University's Project Humanities has continually raised through meaningful discussions and activities.

This fall, Project Humanities presents a series of events — as part of its Humanity 101 initiative — showing that although injustices still exist, we are far from losing our humanity. The series will include guest speakers, educational workshops and community outreach activities that pose reflective questions and analyze current cultures. Humanity 101 events calendar. Download Full Image

The Humanity 101 series will also focus on creating solutions through events such as Hacks for Humanity, a 36-hour hackathon that brings together developers, artists, students and community members to create technology solutions that address pressing social needs.

Project Humanities is also spreading social awareness through its student arm, the Project Humanities Students’ Initiative. The initiative makes connections through service projects, shared goals and events hosted through Project Humanities.

“We are the facilitator of conversations between diverse groups of people,” said Abigail Graham, president of the student initiative and a secondary education sophomore. “We bring together ... and challenge people across the humanities and other disciplines to connect with one another and rethink their perspectives through conversations that we generally don’t get to have on a daily basis.”

“It seems almost impossible these days for people to truly dialogue about sensitive issues facing our society," said Sarah Tracy, Project Humanities partner and a professor at ASU's Hugh Downs School of Human Communication. "ASU’s Project Humanities provides a safe, smart and supportive context for people to hear about and authentically discuss the issues that make a huge difference on our quality of life, but are too rarely hushed, sugar-coated or shot down in other venues.”

On Sept. 23, Tracy is lecturing on how one woman’s compassion toward a gunman saved a Georgia school from a would-be mass shooting in 2013.

Visit the fall 2015 calendar for a full listing of events. Events are free and open to the public unless otherwise noted.

For more information about ASU Project Humanities, visit or call 480-727-7030.

Lisa Robbins

Editor/publisher, Media Relations and Strategic Communications