Secretary Salazar Launches New Regional Climate Science Center and Water Census at Meeting of Colorado River Basin Water Leaders


Contact: Joan Moody, DOI (202) 208-6416

PHOENIX, AZ—At a meeting of water leaders from the seven Colorado River Basin states in Phoenix today, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced that the Department of the Interior has chosen the University of Arizona as home base for a regional Climate Science Center and selected the Colorado River Basin for the launch of the first U.S. water census since 1978.

“The Colorado River Basin is ground zero for assessing the effects of climate change on our rivers and taking creative management actions to head off the related dangers posed to our water supplies, hydroelectric power generation and ecosystems,” the Secretary said. “We are with you for the long haul to protect our region and its water.”

The Southwest Climate Center is the fourth of eight planned regional Climate Science Centers—or CSCs--to be established by the Department. With the University of Arizona in Tucson as home base, the center will be led by a consortium of that school and others -- University of California, Davis; University of California, Los Angeles; Desert Research Institute, Reno; University of Colorado, Boulder; and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego.

“The consortium headed by the University of Arizona brings a wide range of scientific and impact assessment capabilities to the Southwest Climate Center because it includes institutions located in and familiar with the incredible diversity of ecosystems and human settlements and activities that characterize the U.S. Southwest,” the Secretary noted. The consortium is well versed in issues such as coastal management, drought and its impacts on people and the environment, water management in the Colorado and other Southwest rivers, and the impacts of exploding populations of bark beetles on western forests.

Selected through an open competition, the six universities announced today host the Southwest Climate Alliance, which has a combined world-class scientific expertise–including hundreds of faculty working on climate- and resource-related work essential for meeting the climate challenge. In addition to the six host institutions, the Southwest Climate Alliance also includes the following as partners: Arizona State University; Northern Arizona University; University of California, Merced; University of Nevada, Las Vegas; NASA Ames Research Center, Calif.; and the U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution, Tucson.

In addition to the climate center announcement, the Secretary told water leaders that today’s meeting also marked the launch of the Colorado River Basin Geographic Focus Study by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)—Interior’s scientific experts.

The study is part of the WaterSMART Water Availability and Use Assessment for the Colorado River Basin. It is planned as a three-year, $1.5 million effort that will provide an inventory of water supply and demand, including water needed to support ecosystems, and report on significant competition over water resources and the factors causing that competition. (The “SMART” in WaterSMART stands for “Sustain and Manage America’s Resources for Tomorrow.”)

“You can’t manage a resource that you don’t measure,” Salazar said. “The WaterSMART initiative is all about measuring our water supplies and how we use them. This water census will provide crucial information to water managers to improve our efforts to wisely balance competing demands.” 


The Department of the Interior previously announced:

Today’s announcement covered:

Announcements to come include:

The CSCs will serve as regional “hubs” of the National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center, located at the headquarters of Interior’s U.S. Geological Survey. USGS is taking the lead on establishing the CSCs and providing initial staffing. Ultimately, funds and staff from multiple Interior bureaus will be pooled to support these centers and ensure collaborative sharing of research results and data. Together, the CSCs and Landscape Conservation Cooperatives will assess the impacts of climate change that typically extend beyond the borders of any single national wildlife refuge, national park or Bureau of Land Management unit and identify strategies to ensure that resources across landscapes are resilient.


This Colorado River Basin Geographic Focus Study is part of the ongoing effort outlined in the WaterSMART Secretarial Order signed in February 2010. It reflects a national commitment to understanding water availability in the country and managing that resource for current and future generations. The last comprehensive assessment of water availability for our nation was in 1978 and it is overdue for a new one.

The USGS WaterSMART initiative will produce a water census for the nation, a new and on-going appraisal for water availability that links both water quality and quantity, tracks changing flow, use, and storage of water, as well as developing models and predictive tools to guide its decisions . A relatively new area of science evaluates how much water needs to be left in the streams to support important ecological values. This initiative includes a significant research and assessment effort to help wildlife managers characterize the flow needs for aquatic species and their habitat. Knowing our nation’s water “assets” and rates of use on an ongoing basis is crucial to wise management.

The USGS WaterSMART Colorado River Basin Geographic Focus Study will complement the River Basin Supply and Demand grant awarded for the Colorado Basin by the Bureau of Reclamation in 2010 and is one of three such studies on major river basins across the nation planned to begin this year. Future geographic focus areas will be identified through the application of criteria being developed as part of the implementation plan for the USGS strategic science direction focused on our nation’s water resources. A critical first step will be meetings with Colorado River Basin stakeholders to collaboratively develop a detailed scope for the effort.