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This course combines an overview of the science behind water and climate in the Western United States with a survey of the major legal, political, and cultural issues focused on this precious resource.

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MODULE 0. Course Introduction and Course Basics  
Lecture 1: How the Class Works
Lecture 2: Why Study Water in the Western US?
Lecture 3: Overview of the Water Cycle
Lecture 4: Major Physical Geography and Social Characteristics of River Basins in the Western US

MODULE 1. History, Politics, and Culture of Water Development in the Western US

Lecture 1: History of Water Development in the West
Lecture 2: Native American Tribes and Water
Lecture 3: Water Storage and Delivery Infrastructure
Lecture 4: The Prior Appropriation System
Lecture 5: Interstate Water Conflicts and Agreements
Lecture 6: Environmental Flows; Water and the Endangered Species Act

MODULE 2. Hydrology, Water Demand, and Climate in the Western US

Lecture 1: Climate in the Western US and Its Impact on Water Resources
Lecture 2: Water Quality, Aquatic Habitat, and Drinking Water
Lecture 3: Groundwater Resources
Lecture 4: Watershed Impacts
Lecture 5: River and Flash Flooding
Lecture 6: Water Demand for Agriculture
Lecture 7: Water Demand for Urban Areas
Lecture 8: Impacts of Climate Change in the Interior West

MODULE 3. Case Study: The Colorado River Basin
Lecture 1: Geographic and Physical Overview of the Colorado River Basin
Lecture 2: History of Development of the Colorado River Basin: The Era of Big Dams
Lecture 3: Climate and the Colorado River Basin: Past, Present, and Future
Lecture 4: The Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study
Lecture 5: Human Control vs. Natural Variability: The Grand Canyon Experimental Flows Program

MODULE 4. Controversial Water Issues in Depth and Course Conclusion
Lecture 1: Science, Management, and Reality: The Story of the California Bay Delta
Lecture 2: Doing More With Less: Water Conservation and New Supplies in Las Vegas
Lecture 3: A Growing Controversy: Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Supplies
Lecture 4: Understanding Water Quality Impacts: Boulder Creek Case Study
Lecture 5: The Water-Energy Nexus
Lecture 6: What Does the Future Hold? Climate Change, Growing Populations, and Solutions for the Future
Lecture 7: Course Conclusion


  • Anne Gold - Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences
  • Eric Gordon - Western Water Assessment


University of Colorado Boulder
CU-Boulder is a dynamic community of scholars and learners on one of the most spectacular college campuses in the country. As one of 34 U.S. public institutions in the prestigious Association of American Universities (AAU), we have a proud tradition of academic excellence, with five Nobel laureates and more than 50 members of prestigious academic academies.



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