Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder

Grant Funds Climate Resilience in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming

NOAA has awarded more than $5 million to the CU Boulder-based Western Water Assessment to advance climate resilience in Intermountain West communities facing low river flows, wildfires, heat, drought and major economic transitions. 

With renewed support from NOAA for five years, the Western Water Assessment will work with the University of Wyoming, the University of Utah, water providers, rural communities and Tribes, to understand the compounding effects of rapid economic transitions and climate change, and build regional resilience. Organized around two major themes—resilient water supply and resilient communities—the research will directly involve partners on the ground to define what resilience in our region means and how best to achieve and measure success. 

“Our work has never been more urgent,” said WWA director Lisa Dilling, a CIRES Fellow and Professor of Environmental Studies at CU Boulder. “The region’s institutional, infrastructural and societal capacity to support the well-being of its residents is being severely tested.” The work will examine the connections between climate variability and change as they cascade through impacts on forest health, water supply and quality, and wildfire risk, and intersect with economic opportunity, tourism, community well-being, and justice and equity. The ultimate goal is to build usable knowledge that communities and water managers can use in their own decision making as they navigate the Intermountain West’s rapidly changing conditions, Dilling said. 

The Western Water Assessment, which is part of CIRES, has been a NOAA RISA program—Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments—for over 20 years. These regional teams of experts conduct user-driven research designed to expand and build the nation's capacity to prepare for and adapt to climate variability and change. 

With the latest funding from NOAA, the WWA will focus particularly on the needs of, and challenges faced by, communities on the frontline of climate change—particularly Tribes and smaller rural communities, said WWA managing Director Benét Duncan: “Frontline communities are experiencing the impacts of climate change, but have less access to information and resources to help build resilience. This is a critical need in our region.”

In recent years, towns and cities across Colorado, Wyoming and Utah have seen historically low river flows, record-setting wildfires, and extreme heat and drought, Duncan and Dilling said. Compounding those challenges are the impacts of dramatic economic transitions for rural communities and rapid population growth across the region. 

“Understanding the connections between extreme weather and climate events and societal stressors is challenging and critical work,” said CIRES Director Waleed Abdalati. “WWA’s activities will increase the resilience of Western communities.”

CIRES is a partnership of NOAA and CU Boulder.