Towards Water Sensitive Cities in the Colorado River Basin: A Comparative Historical Analysis to Inform Future Urban Water Sustainability Transitions
Many population centers in the American West rely on water from the Colorado River Basin, which has faced shortages in recent years that are anticipated to be exacerbated by climate change. Shortages to urban water supplies related to climate change will not be limited to cities dependent on the Colorado River. Considering this, addressing sustainable water governance is timely and critical for cities, states, and regions facing supply shortages and pollution problems. Engaging in sustainability transitions of these hydro-social systems will increase the ability of such systems to meet the water needs of urban communities. In this paper, we identify historical transitions in water governance and examine their context for three sites in the Colorado River Basin (Denver, Colorado, Las Vegas, Nevada, and Phoenix, Arizona) to provide insight for intentional transitions towards sustainable, or “water sensitive” cities. The comparative historical approach employed allows us to more fully understand differences in present-day water governance decisions between the sites, identify past catalysts for transitions, and recognize emerging patterns and opportunities that may impact current and future water governance in the Colorado River Basin and beyond.