WATER PROJECTS

ACTIVE PROJECTS

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THE MAKING OF INDUSTRIAL SNOW

The practice of wintertime weather modification (a.k.a., cloud seeding) has been occurring in the Intermountain West with remarkable consistency for a surprisingly long time, though its efficacy is hotly debated by atmospheric scientists and water managers alike. As overuse and climate change intensify water shortages, decision-makers in some river basins are increasingly turning to cloud seeding as an adaptation strategy. This project launches from two related puzzles: (1) Given that organized research on cloud seeding has been underway since the 1940s, why is still so poorly understood? And (2), If cloud seeding is still so poorly understood, then why is it being so enthusiastically pursued as a water supply solution?

Collaborators: CSM student Isabel Whitehead

Funding: Mines Undergraduate Research Fellowship

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THE POLITICS OF SCALE & KNOWING THE SUBSURFACE

Groundwater is a critical water supply, but groundwater knowledge is plagued by discrepancies among the scales at which decisions are made, the scales at which observations are available, and the scales at which models are produced. These scalar mismatches do not simply exist; rather, they have been actively produced over time by resource users, systems of governance, and scientific practice. Here, in one component of an interdisciplinary groundwater project focused on Arizona and Colorado, I unpack the processes by which these scalar discrepancies have come to be, their implications for groundwater governance and science, and how they might be reckoned with. Groundwater systems are an ideal space for examining the politics of measurement and monitoring because of their relative inscrutability, and because the groundwater modeling has received very little critical attention by scholars of environmental knowledge production.

Collaborators: R.Maxwell, L.Condon, S.Smith, B.Colby

Funding: National Science Foundation, Innovations in at the Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water Systems

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CLAIMING EXPERTISE IN THE CONTEMPORARY WATERSCAPE

Within the political struggles over water management in the American West and globally, a particular environmental narrative has begun to appear with increasing frequency: the story of the source-to-sea expedition, tracing the length of highly impacted river systems from their headwaters to the sea. In this project, we ask why this particular journey is being repeated over-and-over, and why stories about it are being told and re-told. We trace the evolution of these narratives in one of the world’s most storied river systems, the Colorado River, over the past century. We argue that this mode of environmental explanation has taken on political significance in recent decades for the ways that it attempts to re-scale river discourse and, in the process, redistribute river expertise.  

Collaborators: CSM students C. Ring & J. Clark

Funding: Colorado School of Mines Undergraduate Research Fellowships

PAST PROJECTS

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ASSEMBLING THE HYDRAULIC FRACTURING ENERGY-WATER NEXUS

This project explores how a novel and water-intensive method of energy production — high-volume hydraulic fracturing — has taken hold in a Western river basin that is over-appropriated, is managed via a water governance regime that did not anticipate hydraulic fracturing’s idiosyncrasies, and where public concern about dedicating freshwater to hydrocarbon production is high. I argue that hydraulic fracturing has come to exist, and persist, despite these countervailing forces because it is an ephemeral energy-water assemblage: it is always in motion, is tough to monitor, and emerges only to disappear and reemerge again. This shape-shifting capacity distinguishes “fracking” from better-known energy-water couplings such as the hydroelectric dam, with consequences for water governance.

Funding: Dean’s Research Award & CARTSS fieldwork grant, University of Colorado


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GROUNDWATER MODELING AND 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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CITIZEN SCIENCE GROUNDWATER MONITORING GUIDE

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