Center for Science and Technology Policy Research Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences University of Colorado Boulder

Inside the Greenhouse

About IDCA


This project aims to provide practical insights to help urban water systems identify drought management strategies that are robust across a range of time scales.


IDCA is led by a team of researchers based at the University of Colorado Boulder, the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the Earth Systems Research Laboratory of NOAA.


The IDCA project was funded by the Sectoral Application Research Program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA's) Climate Program Office through a grant titled: “Evaluating Adaptive Policies for Urban Water Resource Management: Interactions Between Short-term Drought Responses and Long-term Climate Change Adaptation Strategies.”

Project Approach

Municipalities have responded in various ways to past droughts, enacting a variety of policies to cope with temporary shortages in water supply. These measures have been largely successful at reducing short-term demand during drought events, as well as constraining the long-term per capita consumption of water even as population grows. Now, though, water systems also face the likelihood of long-term climate change, raising a fundamental question: have previous responses to short-term drought events led to more resilient urban water systems across climate time scales?

This line of inquiry requires addressing the dynamic nature of vulnerability, which may vary across scales, sectors, and over time. With this in mind, we propose to examine how drought policies interact with both short-term drought and long-term climate change through detailed quantitative and qualitative analysis of selected municipal water systems.  We are pursuing a three-step approach that includes a comparative literature review of the drought management and climate adaptation literatures, preliminary interviews focused on drought response of 20 municipalities across the U.S. and in-depth case studies of three metropolitan water systems.

Project Plan

  1. Establish an Advisory Working Group: our research approach will involve practitioner consultation throughout all phases of the project.
  2. Conduct Literature Review across Water Resources and Climate Adaptation: identify potential sources of vulnerability for urban water systems in order to evaluate the impact of water policy on long-term adaptive capacity.
  3. Scan of Drought Response Strategies: conduct "rapid scan" of responses to drought employed by urban water systems across a range of geographic and climatic zones in the U.S.
  4. Develop Case Selection Criteria: identify characteristics to capture a range of variability in urban water decision making to select three case studies.
  5. Examine Past Drought Response: conduct in-depth studies of three large metropolitan water districts to characterize past and current vulnerabilities to drought to assess adaptive capacity to manage future climate risks.

Research Questions