Measuring water security

adriana zuniga : November 29, 2016 10:08 pm : Blogs

Measuring water security and adaptive management in the arid Americas: A workshop deliverable

By Adriana Zuniga (November 29, 2016)

Workshops are usually very useful events where participants gather together to learn from each other and strengthen their social networks, which often lead to fruitful collaborative projects. In just a few days, participants learn about their colleagues’ research activities increasing their knowledge and expanding their horizons. However, there are seldom tangible outputs or deliverables from this type of events. Participants frequently travel to the host institution to attend a series of talks and social events, and leave promptly afterwards back to their hometowns to resume their busy daily lives and make up for their absences.

But this was not the case for the workshop/writeshop titled “Metrics and Measurement of Adaptation: Advances in Water Research in the Arid Americas” that was held on October 1-3, 2014 at the University of Arizona. This workshop was organized by the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy with funding from three of their grants – sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI), and the International Water Security Network (IWSN). Approximately 30 participants from the U.S., Mexico, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil attended this three-day event. One of the goals of this workshop was to develop a synthesis article on the metrics of adaptation for submission to a high-impact journal. But after subsequent correspondence, rough drafts, submissions, revisions, and proof-reads, a set of fourteen essays was published. This set of essays composes a special issue of the high-impact journal Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability titled “Environmental Change and Assessment” (volume 21) that was edited by Gregg Garfin, Margaret Wilder, and Robert Merideth.



Prof. Robert Varady

Water security and adaptive capacity of water management institutions are considered key to improving water resources use and management worldwide, yet these concepts are difficult to measure and compare across different contexts.  In this workshop, prominent keynote speakers – Maria Carmen Lemos and Diana Liverman – emphasized the importance of developing metrics to measure water security and institutional adaptive capacity while acknowledging the challenges of doing so. The special issue examines progress in developing and applying metrics. The series of essays that developed from this workshop address this complex topic in a context-setting and concise way.

The essays include:

  1. Metrics: Moving beyond the adaptation information gap by Wilder M.
  1. Adaptive management and water security in a global context: definitions, concepts, and examples by Varady RG,  Zuniga-Teran AA, Garfin GM, Martín F, and Vicuña S.
  1. Towards joint consideration of adaptive capacity and water security: lessons from the arid Americas Kirchhoff C,  Lara-Valencia F, Brugger J, Mussetta P, and Pineda-Pablos N.
  1. The nexus: reconsidering environmental security and adaptive capacity by de Grenade R, Scott C, House Peters L, Thapa B, Mills-Novoa M, Gerlak A, and Verbist K.
  1. Advancing metrics: models for understanding adaptive capacity and water security by Lemos, MC, Manuel-Navarrete D, Willems B, Diaz Caravantes R, and Varady RG.
  1. Conceptualizing urban water security in an urbanizing world by Romero-Lankao P and Gnatz DM.
  1. Towards characterizing the adaptive capacity of farmer-managed irrigation systems: learnings from Nepal by Thapa B, Scott CA, Wester P, and Varady RG.
  1. Developing and applying water security metrics in China: experience and challenges by Sun F, Staddon C, and Chen M.
  1. Assessing and measuring adaptive capacity: the experiences of African countries in developing meaningful metrics for water management by Nkhata B and Breen C.
  1. Paradise lost? The difficulties in defining and monitoring Integrated Water Resources Management Indicators by Petit O.
  1. Drought plans: a proxy measurement of public water supply security in England by Cook C.
  1. Institutional attributes for adaptive capacity in federal rivers: moving from principles to indicators by Garrick DE and De Stefano L.
  1. Metrics of water security, adaptive capacity, and agroforestry in Indonesia by van Noordwijk M, Kim Y-S, Leimona B, Hairiah K, and Fisher LA.
  1. Metrics for assessing adaptive capacity and water security: Common challenges, diverging contexts, emerging consensus by Garfin G, Scott CA, Wilder M, Varady RG, and Merideth R.


This is an extraordinary outcome of a workshop that capitalized the expertise of researchers from different countries. In this set of concise essays (approximately 2,000 words each), readers can find the current state of knowledge of what it entails to measure water security and adaptive management from different perspectives. This contribution advances our understanding of what it means to be water-secure while adapting to uncertain future conditions.

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Scenario Planning Workshop 2016: Hermosillo, Mexico

admin : April 28, 2016 10:08 pm : Blogs

Scenario Planning for Future Water Security in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico

By Adriana Zuñiga-Terán, América Lutz-Ley, Yulia Peralta, Robert Varady, and Christopher Scott


Hermosillo, Mexico

Hermosillo, the capital of the northern Mexican state of Sonora, has 725,000 inhabitants and is a large, expanding economic and political powerhouse in the region. The city, which has seen a 50 percent population increase since 1995, is critically short of water, reaching deep into its rural hinterland to meet its growing needs.  This search for water often encroaches on local, rural, traditional, and frequently indigenous ways of managing its water and land resources, and restricts development of the local and regional economy.

The earliest large-scale approach to “secure” water supplies for Hermosillo was through the construction of the Abelardo L. Rodriguez dam, built in 1948 during the administration of the powerful bureaucracy of the Ministry of Hydraulic Resources (SRH). The dam was intended to provide water in the long-term for the fast-growing city. However, water mismanagement combined with a prolonged drought led to the drying up of the dam’s reservoir at the end of the 1990s. In response, several measures were taken by the local water authorities, such as imposing scheduled rationing of supply, or tandeo, throughout the city; the drilling and installation of groundwater wells around the perimeter of the urban area; and the purchase of water from ejidos (communal agricultural lands) in rural communities of nearby watersheds. More recently, the city initiated a scheme to transfer about 30 million cubic meters of water from the neighboring Yaqui River basin through the Aqueduct “Independencia,” which aroused  opposition and anger from agricultural producers and Yaqui native people in the basin. All these approaches taken by the municipal water managers have been surrounded by a sense of distrust from the public, social conflict, allegations of corruption and lack of

transparency in decision making, and uncertainty in the long-term impacts on the social-ecological systems of the affected basins. With a water utility that was decentralized from the state government and started operations in the 2000’s decade, Hermosillo has yet to solve its most pressuring issues of long-term water supply, self-sustainable water tariffs, wastewater treatment, and other water quality issues.


Abelardo Rodriguez Dam, 2014

In a recent approach to help come to grips with future needs and available resources, the municipality has turned to the expertise nurtured by the Lloyd’s Register Foundation (LRF)-funded International Water Security Network (IWSN) and the leverage provided by the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI)-supported AQUASEC Center of Excellence for Water Security.

At El Colegio de Sonora (COLSON) in Hermosillo, a team led by IWSN-IAI researchers and practitioners Drs. Nicolás Pineda and Rolando Díaz, is working with local water officials to devise artful, negotiated solutions to contested futures. Aiding the initiative are three University of Arizona (UA) associates, all at the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy in Tucson, Arizona: Dr. Adriana Zuñiga-Terán, an IWSN-supported postdoctoral research associate; América Lutz-Ley, a Colegio de Sonora graduate and UA PhD candidate; and Yulia Peralta, also a UA PhD student. All three receive support from IWSN and IAI and work under the supervision of IWSN-IAI researchers Christopher Scott and Robert Varady.


El Colegio de Sonora

One approach to facing an uncertain future is to adapt strategies developed by IWSN-IAI–leveraged expert, Ralph Marra, a hydrologist and retired chief planner for Tucson Water, the water utility in the city of Tucson, Arizona. Marra, who has done similar work with IAI partners in Mendoza, Argentina, relies on a strategy known as scenario planning. Via a series of carefully-planned workshops with key decision-makers and stakeholders, Marra offers his experience in water management and guides participants through exercises designed to confront possible future scenarios—from improbably dire situations to equally unlikely sanguine ones. This technique, which relies on science-policy dialogues and durable communities of practice, has gained currency and is used by numerous cities in the United States and elsewhere. This type of scenario planning is one of several engagement tools used by AQUASEC in several semi-arid regions in the Americas: Sonora, Mexico; Mendoza, Argentina; and Arizona, USA.

On April 8 and 9, 2016, at the invitation of the Hermosillo water utility, Aguas de Hermosillo, Marra and the three IWSN-IAI-supported UA social scientists traveled to Hermosillo (five hours south of Tucson; see map) to conduct two facilitated, bilingual scenario-planning workshops with local water managers, stakeholders, and IWSN-IAI scientists Pineda and Díaz and their team. The first workshop was hosted by COLSON and was attended by approximately 60 persons from that institution, as well as from the state water agency and the local water utility, Agua de Hermosillo (AguaH). The second workshop was held at the facilities of AguaH and was attended by 20 water professionals from that organization. Aiding the simultaneous translation and the overall facilitation of the workshops was Javier Mejia, a master’s student at El Colegio de Sonora.


Simultaneous translation. Javier Mejia (left) and Ralph Marra (right)

This event offered a rare opportunity to step inside an important water-related decision theater to observe the progress of a real-world scenario-planning exercise whose outcome could help determine the future of Hermosillo’s water crisis. The exercise revealed a glimpse of what scenario planning is and suggested some potential benefits this approach could bring to water management in Hermosillo.

Should the local water utility decide to pursue this type of strategic planning, the overall effort would take approximately six months, during which there would be a series of two workshops, separated by a period of two months. In this process, a selected group of stakeholders would come together to provide their individual perspectives to the water issues of the region, and together visualize at least four future scenarios with a timeframe of the next 30 years. These scenarios would attempt to consider the breadth of possible outcomes, including best-case and worst-case scenarios.

Once the scenarios are identified, the stakeholders, with the help of the facilitators, would identify the set of robust and low-regret action plans and programs that could be implemented within the next five years (and that would respond to all of the four scenarios). This way, no matter how the future unfolds, the water utiliy would have action plans in place that are designed to respond to a variety of future conditions.


The director of Agua de Hermosillo, Renato Ulloa (left) and colleague at the scenario planning workshop

This type of planning approach originated in the private sector and is currently used by most of the top Fortune-500 companies. The approach is basically a qualitative study on the potential range of possible futures and enables organizations to do long-term planning that is not based on specific projections. This approach is now being used in the public sector to better prepare for contending with uncertainty.

The two Hermosillo workshops in which IWSN-IAI-supported researchers Zuñiga-Terán, Lutz-Ley, and Peralta recently participated, introduced the concept of scenario planning to municipal and state water officials, and to the local academic community. This event also reached the general public through the local media. A local radio host, Bertha Yañez, for the program “La Conversada” featured in the leading station Radio Sonora, interviewed Zuñiga-Terán, Lutz-Ley, and Peralta about the scenario planning approach and its potential benefits to water management in the city.

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admin : June 6, 2013 1:18 am : Publications

Scott, Christopher A., Francisco Meza, Robert G. Varady, Holm Tiessen, Jamie McEvoy, Gregg M. Garfin, Margaret Wilder, Luis M. Farfán, Nicolás Pineda Pablos, Elma Montaña. 2013. Water security and adaptive management in the arid Americas. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 103(2): 280-289, doi:10.1080/00045608.2013.754660.

Scott, Christopher A., Robert G. Varady, Francisco Meza, Elma Montaña, Graciela B. de Raga, Brian Luckman, and Christopher Martius. 2012. Science-policy dialogues for water security: Addressing vulnerability and adaptation to global change in the arid Americas. Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development 54(3): 30–42.

Silva, Daniel, Francisco J. Meza, and Eduardo Varas. 2010. Estimating reference evapotranspiration (ETo) using numerical weather forecast data in central Chile. Journal of Hydrology 382 (1–4 ): 64–71.

Meza, Francisco, and Daniel Silva. 2009. Dynamic adaptation of maize and wheat production to climate change. Climatic Change 94(1): 143–156.

Silva, Daniel O., Francisco J. Meza, and Eduardo Varas. 2009. Use of mesoscale model MM5 forecasts as proxies for surface meteorological and agroclimatic variables. Ciencia e Investigación Agraria 36: 369–380.

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