How do people come to understand environmental change?  What kinds of knowledge matter?  How do decision-makers grapple with uncertainty?  And how do these knowns and unknowns shape processes of environmental governance?   



As groundwater use has surged globally and computing power has grown, groundwater modeling has become a regular feature of subsurface-oriented governance. Our improved ability to “see” underground with models has not, however, generated epistemic consensus on the inner workings of subsurface systems. Here, I ask how and why that is the case. I pursue this line of inquiry in the context of groundwater governance in the American West. Specifically, I trace a decade of groundwater modeling at the heart of a protracted and legally influential groundwater dispute in the state of Colorado to show how models served as mathematical spaces for competing subsurface stakeholders to test and contest opposing visions of groundwater flows, rights, and responsibilities. Drawing from the Science & Technology Studies literature on global climate modeling, I argue that groundwater models are more than simulations of subsurface systems; they are tools of “world building” that embed, enact, and also circumscribe subsurface politics.

Funding: University of Colorado Chancellor's Fellowship and Office of University Outreach

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In 2011, the state of Colorado did not have statewide groundwater monitoring requirements for areas of oil and gas development, so I wrote a guide for people with domestic water wells who wanted to track the quality and quantity of their groundwater. It has two goals: to provide citizen scientists interested in studying their own groundwater resources with the tools to do so, and to contribute to an evidence-based policy discussion at the intersection of oil, gas, and water. 

Coauthor: M. Williams, University of Colorado

Funding: University of Colorado Office of University Outreach

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four corners energy-water nexus 

It isn't easy to know what's going on underground, especially when it comes to questions of whether and how groundwater and surface water systems connect with each other.  In this project, I joined with several collaborators to gather hydrologic data about rivers and water wells in the Four Corners region in an effort to sort out whether groundwater pumping from coalbed methane production intercepts groundwater that would usually feed local rivers.  Our data sets a baseline that can be monitored for change over time.  

Coauthors: M. Williams, K. Nydick, G. Gianniny, J. VanSickle

Funding: U.S. Bureau of Land Management & U.S. Forest Service