ASU researchers deliver watershed modeling workshop in Mexico

A team of Arizona State University researchers and students recently returned from Hermosillo, Mexico where they taught a two-day watershed modeling workshop at the University of Sonora.

The workshop, funded by the National Science Foundation, was attended by water stakeholders from Sonora, Mexico. The 75 attendees were invited to learn and experiment with hydrologic models and their utility for addressing the impacts of climate change on water resources. Leaders from government agencies in charge of water, environmental and agricultural management, along with researchers from three academic institutions comprised the majority of the attendees.

“Climate Change and the Water Resources of the Rio Sonora Basin,” the title of the workshop (translated to English), was the first of three participatory modeling workshops to be carried out as part of the project. The workshops are part of a joint project between ASU and Michigan Technological University, and builds on prior work at ASU and Michigan Tech in watershed research within Mexico and other developing countries.

“We prepared a series of hands-on activities that introduced the attendees to hydrologic models and their use for making water management decisions,” explained Enrique Vivoni, the project’s principal investigator at ASU and an associate professor with a joint appointment in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

The overall goal of the participatory watershed modeling, according to Vivoni, was to explore with participants alternative water management scenarios for water supply and flood control of the Rio Sonora, in the face of forecasts from climate change. Do they want to manage hazards and availability through new reservoirs? If so, where should these be located? If not, what other management alternatives – reforestation or conservation areas, aquifer storage and recovery, etc. – would they like to explore with the aid of hydrologic modeling tools?

Vivoni’s research group prepared 25 laptops with various software programs and had participants use these for different hydrologic analyses and modeling activities. ASU participants led several discussions and activities, and included: Agustin Robles-Morua, a postdoctoral researcher in the School of Earth and Space Exploration; Kelsii Dana, a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in Geological Sciences; and Mariela Castaneda, an undergraduate student pursuing two bachelor’s degrees in Earth and Environmental Studies and in Sustainability.

Dana introduced the participants to HEC-HMS hydrologic modeling software and its potential application in the Rio Sonora. HEC-HMS is distributed by the Army Corps of Engineers and is used to model the physical processes of a watershed, such as precipitation inputs and the resulting runoff outputs. She wrote step-by-step tutorials for the workshops and walked the participants through participatory modeling exercises.

“Delivering my portions of the workshop helped me learn how to teach computer-related material effectively in a group setting,” says Dana. “The best part of the experience was interacting and networking with water stakeholders from all over Sonora. Everyone is really invested in the water future of the state and there were a lot of great discussions.”

Castaneda, who helped with registration logistics, software tutorials and translation issues, agreed that the best part of the experience was interacting with participants from a variety of backgrounds in an international setting.

“As an undergraduate student, I don’t have the science expertise that the other organizers have so I feel very fortunate to be on board with an international research project such as this. But I would say my background in Earth and Environmental Studies and Sustainability helped me understand the concepts around which the workshop was developed,” says Castaneda.

“This was a very successful, well-planned and executed workshop that engaged the participants greatly in the topic area and provided hands-on experiences with hydrologic modeling. Two follow-on workshops scheduled for May 6 and June 17 will be conducted with the same participants to discuss additional scenarios, including water demand, climate change and ecosystem conservation alternatives,” says Vivoni.

An outcome of the series of participatory modeling workshops will be to assess the effectiveness of modeling tools. The team plans to determine if models of varying levels of sophistication can affect participants’ knowledge about water resources in the Rio Sonora. They also intend to look at the roles modeling tools play in regions with sparse data and resources but major future challenges related to water.

For more information, visit the ASU Hydrology page at