The Columbia Water Center has sponsored a number of interdisciplinary workshops for students to address different facets of the global water crisis. Stay tuned for more information on upcoming programs.

Prior workshops include:

Spring 2011 – Climate-Informed Water Allocation in the Delaware River Basin (in partnership with the Delaware River Basin Commission)

In the spring of 2011, six engineering undergraduates began working with Columbia Water Center Director Upmanu Lall on a climate-informed water allocation project for the Delaware River. The project is taking place in conjunction with the Delaware River Basin Commission.   Climate change and variability pose significant threats to urban water supplies. Given that regional supplies are close to fully allocated, and new storage construction is complicated by ecological issues, the choices for adaptation often appear limited. In addition, along the Delaware River, effective incorporation of climate information into water allocation decisions may require collaboration among many communities and agencies. Not only is there a great discrepancy in size and sophistication of communities and water management systems, but there is also the lack of an appropriate forum for shared climate-water analysis and planning. In spite of these obstacles, there is strong evidence that climate information could not only improve the efficiency of water use over the short-term, but also lead to innovative approaches to water management emphasizing conservation and redistribution.   This project will focus on understanding the obstacles to incorporation of climate information by water managers along the Delaware River system and identifying opportunities for how this information can be utilized.   Student work will focus on three areas: 1) Reviewing and analyzing the large amount of water and climate data the Columbia Water Center has assembled on the Delaware River Basin including water allocation decision processes; 2) Using this data to develop basic climate models for the region; 3) Analyzing how other river basin organizations, such as the South Florida Water Management District and the Western Water Association, are incorporating climate information and facilitate collaboration in their river basin work to identify best practices that may apply to the DRBC using both primary and secondary sources.

Spring 2009 – Ecosystem Management (a partnership with the National Park Service’s Gateway National Recreation Area

Tanya Heikkila, the Associate Director of the Columbia Water Center, is leading a group of students from SIPA’s Masters of Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy program in a spring workshop project, titled “Gateway’s Long-Term Ecosystem Management Options under Changing Climate Conditions.” The workshop teaches students how to integrate their understanding of natural science, social science, policy studies, and management in a problem-solving exercise, while working with a real-world client – the National Park Service’s Gateway National Recreation Area. Throughout this project, the students will be in contact with the general superintendent of the park and other park staff. The students will be analyzing the implications of climate change for the future management of the park. This multi-step project will include developing a conceptual model of climate change’s effect on Gateway and examining how other water-front regions are addressing climate change. Students will use the information gathered from this research to develop a report that discusses environmental policy implications for the park. The students’ research and recommendations will be used to inform future management plans in the park.

Fall 2008 – Water Security in Asia (a partnership with The Asia Society)

In the fall of 2008 Columbia Water Center partnered with the Asia Society to offer Columbia students an exciting research opportunity. In the form of an independent study under the supervision of Columbia professor Tanya Heikkila, eight students were able to work directly with esteemed researcher and author Dr. Saleem H. Ali of the University of Vermont and the Asia Society, contributing research to a taskforce report which addressed water-related issues across Asia.

As a part of the program, the students produced a report which articulated challenges in water security deriving from changing climate conditions across Asia. They culled information from many sources in hopes of identifying connections between security challenges and water problems in countries across the continent.

With the intended taskforce audience including members of the United Nations, local governments, international organizations and private corporations, this program offered students the opportunity to do research that will have the potential to directly impact policy decisions. The students also hailed from diverse backgrounds themselves, bringing together specialists in engineering, policy, environmental issues, global water challenges, and security threats in Asia. In this and future projects, the students have the benefits of the resources of partnering groups like the Asia Society as well as of the Earth Institute and Columbia University.

This program highlights the Columbia Water Center’s continuing commitment to interdisciplinary education. It is the first of many outside partnerships that will give students the opportunity to put their academic skills into action in real-life contexts.