Real-world understanding, research and training, and collaborative partners who connect resources are valuable catalysts that strengthen the ability of a community to act to secure their water future. Our work is focused throughout the seven Colorado River Basin states, bi-nationally across the Basin into Mexico, and with 30 Native American Tribes, helping communities be more resilient and building an exchange of transformative ideas globally with other arid and semiarid regions.
Featured Programs and Projects
The integration of land use and water management requires innovative approaches and partnerships. The Babbitt Center works closely with governmental organizations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), academic institutions, and business leaders to address challenges and to harness opportunities. We conduct research and develop tools, promote best practices, provide training, and facilitate partnerships to guide informed decision making for sustainable management of land and water resources.
Colorado River Basin Map
The Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy produced an updated Colorado River Basin Map in partnership with the Center for Geospatial Solutions. This map showcases the geography and hydrography of the Colorado River Basin, corrects inconsistencies represented in contemporary maps of the region, and provides water managers, tribal leaders, educators, and other stakeholders with an updated resource as they confront critical issues related to growth, resource management, and sustainability.
Growing Water Smart
Historically, planning for water resources and land use have been conducted separately. Yet, where and how we build greatly impacts water supply and demand and the quality of water that supports our ecosystems. The Growing Water Smart program helps community leaders integrate water and land use planning to further the sustainability and resilience of their community. Multidisciplinary community teams of key decision-makers and personnel, such as elected officials, planning commissioners, water resource managers, land use planners, and economic and community development come together in facilitated work sessions to: 1) set a workshop intention, 2) evaluate current water smart policies and practices, 3) develop community water efficiency goals, 4) make the case for water smart change in their communities, and 5) create a team action plan that identifies tasks and timelines for meeting the community’s water efficiency goals.
The Babbitt Center collaborates with the Sonoran Institute, Western Resource Advocates, Utah State University, community foundations, state agencies, local governments, and other NGOs from across the Colorado River Basin to amplify the reach and impact of this multi-day workshop program. More than 100 towns, cities, and counties in Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and California, and along the U.S.-Mexico border, have participated in Growing Water Smart. For more information on how to apply, visit GrowingWaterSmart.org.
The Hardest-Working River in the West: A StoryMap of the Colorado River
Explore the key water sustainability issues in the Colorado River Basin through data and stories. Although not the largest or longest river in the world, the Colorado River connects a rich array of social and ecological communities along its 1,450-mile journey from its headwaters in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado to its mouth in the Gulf of California, Mexico. Updated annually.
Sowing Seeds: How Scenario Planning Can Help Agricultural Communities Build a Resilient Future
In March 2023, a consortium of Mesa County, Colorado community members gathered to use a process called exploratory scenario planning, or XSP, to envision a more resilient future for their community and agricultural economy. The Mesa Conservation District hosted the workshop, developed by the Babbitt Center in partnership with Lincoln Institute’s Scenario Planning team and Arizona State University’s Arizona Water Innovation Initiative. XSP helps communities plan for an uncertain future by exploring multiple possibilities of what might happen. The practice helps planners, community members, and other stakeholders consider various futures and how to effectively plan with various driving forces at play. XSP facilitates a wide range of perspectives and brings diverse voices into the discussion to help create actionable plans that community leaders and stakeholders can implement.
More than 50 participants attended Mesa County’s two-day XSP workshop, during which they developed six scenarios and identified approximately 250 strategies to address the risks, challenges, opportunities associated with them. A month later, the Mesa County XSP Local Steering Committee reconvened to determine top priorities and begin developing implementation action plans, which include establishing a local watershed group to further collaboration and creating ways to strengthen local agricultural markets.
Future transformative action plans prioritize water rights transfers, incentives for improving water use measurements, and diversifying revenue sources for farmers.
To learn more, watch our documentary of this impactful project.
Perspectives from the Field: The Future of Agriculture
The Colorado River is pivotal in supporting agricultural production throughout the basin, not only contributing significantly to the local economies and livelihoods of rural communities but also supporting our national food supply and global food security.
The Babbitt Center engaged in a yearlong study to understand the perspectives of agricultural producers in the region. The team personally interviewed 74 farmers and ranchers to understand the difficulties they are facing as well as their immediate concerns regarding the need for collaboration to secure the future of agriculture in the Colorado River Basin. Our goal was to learn about their reality and elevate their voices as crucial stakeholders in any water discussions.
Spheres of Focus
Our portfolio of work spans three current spheres of focus, and one future sphere of focus.
Growing urban areas, suburban, edge, and rural communities alike are confronting unpredictable climate conditions and water availability. They are actively seeking solutions to address an uncertain future. We work with communities to address these complex challenges of population and economic growth by assisting to build community capacity, reach consensus, and implement meaningful policies and practical solutions.
In an era of ambiguous water availability, innovative and collaborative solutions are essential to optimize adaptive irrigated agriculture in the Colorado River Basin. The culture and local economies and the national food supply depend on it. How those solutions take shape and are catalyzed impact not just the West, but the entire United States.
The 30 Native American Indian Tribes in the Colorado River Basin hold 15 percent of the land and more than 25 percent of the Colorado River water allocation. However, Tribal communities have historically been excluded from state and Basinwide water management decisions. The Babbitt Center supports Tribal Nations’ efforts to engage in Basinwide policy decisions to strengthen their capacity to manage their water resources.
Future Focus: Public Lands Management
Fifty eight percent of the land in the Colorado River Basin is publicly owned, the majority by the federal government, and management of these lands is critical to water quality and water supply. Looking ahead, the Babbitt Center will begin to integrate this important land use into our portfolio of work and concentrate on the connections between public land management and water.
How We Work
To build capacity across the communities and regions that will shape the future of the Colorado River Basin our focus is a four-pronged approach.
Communities need timely and accurate information and data to address the unique challenges they face to harness opportunities to prepare for an uncertain future. We work with leading researchers across multiple disciplines to generate new insights that illuminate major policy and management challenges at the nexus of land and water. We make new knowledge accessible and relevant to decision-makers and practitioners through myriad publications and trainings.
Basin Story Maps: Overviews of Conditions and Issues
We dig deep into the details of water in the West to provide visually stunning and succinct information on the issues facing the Basin. With more than 150,000 views, our flagship story map “The Hardest-working River in the West” and data portal make the science and policy of the Colorado River Basin accessible to a broad audience.
Policy Focus Report: Integrating Land Use and Water Management, Planning, and Practice
Land without water cannot support communities of any scale, yet many land use decisions are made without regard to water, and vice versa. This report introduces readers to best management practices that enable local governments and water providers to integrate the two systems. Supported by case studies from several U.S. communities, the report demonstrates that planning is a crucial step for land and water integration.
Decision Center for a Desert City – Arizona State University
We have worked with the Decision Center for a Desert City at Arizona State University on a variety of land use and water management integration projects, which include research on the connection between land use plans and water supply plans; evaluation of water sustainability indicators; joint execution of the 2019 Urban Water Demand Roundtable and Report, co-funded by the Water Research Foundation; and a systematic survey of planners and water managers from cities and towns across the Colorado Basin states to discover their views on integrated water and land use practices in relation to water sustainability challenges.
Creating resilience relies on a community having access to appropriate resources—tools, funding, and applicable processes—to implement next steps and transform the conditions and outcomes that matter to them. We provide an array of resource competencies that help communities make effective decisions, galvanize broad-based engagement, employ long-term and comprehensive visioning, and provide access to innovative planning tools.
Partnerships link organizations with shared goals and can leverage and bring new resources to the table. The Babbitt Center invests in innovators and collaborates with vested partners from state, local, and Tribal governments, nonprofits, private businesses, academia, and other private foundations. Together, we amplify our collective influence and impact across the Colorado River Basin to connect communities to best practices and valuable resources to advance their work.
Water & Tribes Initiative
Thirty Native American Indian Tribes in the Colorado River Basin have inhabited the region for millennia. They depend on the waters of the Colorado River and its tributaries and are major water rights holders. However, many tribes are unable to access their water rights and have traditionally been excluded from the development of Colorado River policy. The Water & Tribes Initiative (WTI) was founded in 2017 to address these issues. The goals: facilitate connections among Tribes and other leaders, build trust and understanding, and create opportunities to explore shared interests and take collaborative action. The Babbitt Center is proud to serve as the founding and managing funder and fiscal agent for the Water & Tribes Initiative (WTI).
4. Education and Dissemination
Outreach, education, and training are essential for communities to understand the nuances of the land-water connection and to make and implement decisions that best secure their water future. We conduct trainings, develop and publish guidance, and transfer knowledge to research networks and practitioners. We support the next generation of scholars and practitioners through fellowships, internships, and mentoring opportunities. And we disseminate our work in a variety of mediums.
We work with partners to develop a curated suite of indicators and metrics to benchmark and track both social and physical dimensions of water and land resources across the Colorado River Basin. The forthcoming Indicators for Land and Water Sustainability in the Colorado Basin will comprise an interactive web report unpacking our findings and a companion dashboard website with web maps and other ways to explore data and trends. These resources will allow practitioners and general audiences alike to diagnose hot spots, raise productive questions, and draw connections across time and geography.