University of Colorado at Boulder CU-Boulder Home CU-Boulder Search CU-Boulder A to Z Campus Map

Number 649 • October 2, 2015 | Past Issues













Where There's a Will, There's a (Water) Way: Looking Beyond Conservation to Solve Drought

As the stranglehold of drought tightens, governments and private investors are looking beyond tightening usage at the tap to solve water woes. Burgeoning efforts range from finding new water sources to recrafting storage solutions to making the undrinkable drinkable. But even while pioneers make headway with novel projects, challenges loom.

One such beleaguered endeavor is the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery, and Storage Project. Located deep in the Mojave Desert, the privately backed project would build a series of wells to divert groundwater that currently flows to dry lakes and is lost to evaporation and salt contamination, according to the project description.

After collection in the wells, the water would then be transferred via a 43-mile pipeline where thirsty “project participants,” could distribute it to their customers throughout California. A second phase of the project would allow participants to store water they don’t need in a 1 million acre-feet aquifer system on the project’s property.

The problem? After ten years and tens of millions spent wrangling regulatory concessions, the project has yet to break ground. Cadiz owner Scott Slater said he believes the project will become reality next year. Technological immensity and regulatory challenges aside, however, the project is likely to (and already has) run aground other hardships—namely, those who feel that monetizing water is a slippery slope.

Finding solutions to dwindling water isn’t cheap, leading water districts to partner with private investors in order to assure supplies last. Both strapped organizations and investors see the collaborations as win-win.

“Investing in the water industry is one of the great opportunities for the coming decades,” Matthew Diserio of Water Asset Management, a major backer of Cadiz, told the New York Times. “Water is the scarce resource that will define the 21st century, much like plentiful oil defined the last century.”

It doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to see why viewing water as a commodity—especially in a time of drought—is a scary prospect.

“Water is a public trust, and it shouldn’t be privatized,” Adam Scow of Food and Water Watch told the Times while speaking about Poseidon Water’s long-thwarted desalination plant in Carlsbad, California. “It can’t be managed for the benefit of a few people like Poseidon’s investors.

On the other hand, public resistance to rate increases, tiered pricing, and conservation efforts have left many water agencies with little choice. Increasingly, publicly opposed efforts such as desalination and so-called toilet-to-tap technologies are becoming more appealing.

Finding and creating potable water isn’t the only solution, though. In Denver, water officials are looking at how they might use huge underground aquifers deep beneath the city to store treated water that could be pumped back out when needed. The system would allow the state to hedge its bets against times of drought, as well as prepare for population growth, according to the Denver Post.

If the Artificial Groundwater Recharge plan—only one piece of the Colorado Water Plan for addressing future water needs—pans out, the city will need to build multiple wells to inject and extract the water and pipelines to carry it. Extraction and lack of information about the long-term impacts of the aquifer storage and recovery (which has been used since the 1960s) could also be problematic, although cities such as Wichita and Phoenix have had success using similar methods.

Regardless of how promising any one technology to address drought may be, though, the issue will always be fraught with social elements. For that reason, the truly best answers to the problem are likely to be a combination of human and engineered solutions, as Mike Antos, director of the Center for Urban Water Resilience, pointed out in a recent interview.

“Water resilience is not just a technical question—it is a social one, too,” he said. “In the face of so much change before us, building resilience is a process of collaboration and education—not just building new things.”

—Jolie Breeden

Back to Top

Too Hot to Handle It: Phoenix Helps Homeless Beat the Heat

Although the weather is finally beginning to cool, memories of soaring temperatures are all too recent for the many homeless caught in heat waves across the nation this summer.

Heat records were smashed from coast to coast in 2015 with temperatures reaching triple digits across the United States. But while most Americans can stay indoors, crank up the air conditioner, or take cold showers, those experiencing homelessness often struggle to stay cool and can fall victim to potentially fatal heat-related illnesses.

Phoenix—one of the hottest cities in the United States—is all too familiar with the impact of extreme weather on its homeless population. This year the city was struck by two massive heat waves—one in June and another in August—with temperatures reaching as high as 117 degrees.

The unsheltered homeless especially struggle during sweltering temperatures. Victor Schaeffer was one of them.

“I keep myself wet constantly when I'm in the sun,” Schaeffer told Al Jazeera America. “I have to, because I've had heat exhaustion every summer for the last six summers. Two times I was really bad, throwing up, I couldn't quench my thirst, it didn't matter how much I drank… I had cramps… It's almost to the point where you're so bad you can't get yourself to the hospital.”

Heat can cause myriad medical problems. Besides heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke, it can also exacerbate underlying conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, bronchitis, emphysema, and even psychiatric disorders.

Since many homeless people struggle with chronic health issues, mental health problems, and substance dependency, turning up the heat puts them at even more risk.

Phoenix—like many other major cities such as Philadelphia, New York, and Baltimore—has a Code Red policy, the summer equivalent of the Code Blue system used to protect the homeless during frigid weather. Procedures that follow Code Red alerts are designed to help get people indoors, extend shelter hours, and increase the efforts of teams that check on individuals and assess them for signs of medical danger.

Access to cool environments and water is critical during a Code Red. To address these needs and protect those vulnerable to the heat, Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS) has developed an annual Heat Relief Campaign, which collects funds for bottled water, shelter, and medical care. Shelter teams, together with Phoenix police and other services, work around the clock to distribute water to the homeless during a Code Red, CASS spokeswoman Lindsey Roberts told KTAR radio. “On average, we go through about 1,000 bottles a day,” Roberts said.

The CASS campaign is part of a much larger initiative in the Phoenix metro area and Maricopa County. Called the Heat Relief Regional Network, the partnership was founded by the City of Phoenix and the Maricopa Association of Governments in response to a devastating heat wave that hit Maricopa County in July 2005.

The extreme temperatures killed 45 people—most of them homeless—and the Network was created to prevent similar tragedies. Each summer, it raises awareness about the dangers of extreme heat, coordinates water donation and distribution, recruits facilities to serve as cooling and hydration centers, and provides maps of the Heat Relief Network resources to those in need.

Since its inception, multiple cities in Maricopa County have joined the Network, implementing their own donation and hydration stations. The effort has had good results—the number of heat-associated deaths of homeless individuals has steadily declined in the past five years. It might even serve as an example for other hot states, Rebecca Sunenshine, the medical director for disease control at Maricopa County Public Health Department, told Al Jazeera.

“This is a health issue that we've been battling for a number of years and I do think that this is something that we can help the rest of the country deal with, as global warming does increase the temperatures.”

—Elke Weesjes

Back to Top

Disaster News Redux: Threats to the Electricity Grid

Grid Locks: Over the years, we’ve had plenty of occasions to talk about the fragility of the power grids in the United States and elsewhere. The systems we’re so dependent on are at risk from multiple threats that range from the impact of solar flares to aging infrastructure.

Cyberattacks have also long been a concern, although a highly organized rifle assault on a San Jose substation in 2014 showed that physical attacks could be just as damaging. Even a simple breakdown in communication procedures was able to spawn a blackout that spread across three states.

Juicy Findings: Now, a new report from the World Energy Council cautions that severe weather caused by climate change is yet another menace faced by grids throughout the world. The report found that floods, storms, and extremes of heat and cold threaten every element of the energy system from power stations to distribution grids to transmission lines—and the number of these threatening events has quadrupled in the past 30 years.

“We are on a path where today’s unlikely events will be tomorrow’s reality,” WEC Secretary General Christopher Frei told The Guardian. “We need to imagine the unlikely. Traditional systems, based on predicted events, no longer operate in isolation.”

Along with the increased likelihood of the weather wreaking havoc on electricity delivery come the increased costs associated with recovering from or adapting to such an event, according to the report. Those impacts will disproportionately affect poorer, less-developed nations.

Not Powerless: The impacts of climate change can be lessened, the report said, but it will take much more money—along with commitment to reducing emissions and industry transparency—to make it happen.

Private investment is key, according to the report, which was coauthored by Swiss Re. The WEC suggests creating an energy resilience framework that will help private investors overcome regulatory obstacles to investing in infrastructure and give them the confidence needed to invest.

With more than $48 trillion needed globally in the next 20 years—an amount that doesn’t include the possible climate impacts—it’s clear that governments won’t be able to support infrastructure upgrades alone, the report said. Viewing energy systems more holistically and taking “smarter not stronger” adaptation measures will not only pave the way for increased investment, it will create as system more ready to weather the coming storms.

Back to Top

Call Outs: Calls for Papers, Abstracts, Proposals, and More

Call for Nominations
2016 Wildfire Mitigation Awards
National Association of State Foresters and others
Deadline: November 6, 2015

Nominations are now be accepted for the annual Wildfire Mitigation Awards, which honors outstanding service that make a significant impact on wildfire preparedness and mitigation. Awards will be given in categories that include Fire Adapted Communities leadership, wildfire mitigation innovation, and community wildfire preparedness pioneers. For information on nomination guidelines or to submit a nomination, visit the NASF Web site.


Call for Presenters

2016 ASFPM Annual Conference
Association of State Floodplain Managers
Deadline: October 31, 2015
The Association of State Floodplain Managers is accepting submissions for presentations at its 2016 Annual Conference, to be held June 19-24 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Presentations should address issues and problems associated with flood mitigation, managing flood risk, making communities more sustainable, and protecting floodplain and fragile natural resources. For more information on the conference, guidelines and tips for submissions, and to make an online submission, visit the call for presenters page on the ASFPM Web site.

Back to Top

Some New Web Resources

Caring for Older Adults in Disasters Curriculum
Disasters can be especially trying for the elderly, who are more likely to need medical assistance, pharmaceuticals, or rely on power-dependent medical equipment. That’s why the National Center for Disaster Medicine and Public Health has created this curriculum aimed at individuals who train health professionals to respond to disaster situations. The curriculum includes 24 lessons that address preparedness, recovery, and response for older adults. Special considerations, psychosocial impacts, ethical and legal issues, access and functional needs, and clinical considerations are covered.


Arctic Matters

Since the Arctic is barometer for the impacts of climate change, it’s sometimes difficult to keep up all the information available about the transformations that occur there. So what’s really going on in the Arctic? This Web site—a companion to the National Academies Arctic Matters booklet—will give you all the info you need. From topics such as sea and land ice melt, sea level rise, and weather patterns to information about fisheries, ecosystems, and tourism, you’ll be in the know thanks to varied and interactive resources.


ICLR Quick Response Grant Program

Canadians, have we got great news for you! The Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction has created a Quick Response Program that will help Canadian researchers quickly enter the field to collect perishable data after a disaster. The program is similar to the Natural Hazards Center Quick Response Grant Program—but geared towards our Northern colleagues. If you’re based in Canada, you’ll want to check out their Web site for more information about preferred topics and evaluation criteria.


Optimizing the Nations Investment in Academic Research

This National Academies report takes a hard look at the current climate in national research funding and finds that increasing regulatory requirements are standing in the way of investigations. The report offers recommendations for relieving these burdens and strengthening the partnerships between government-funded academic research. It also calls on universities to more to demand higher standards of institutional and individual behavior.


Disaster Visualization Map

If you want to get a visual on how disasters have affected your area of the United States in the past thirty years or so, this map will be invaluable. Sorted by disaster types that include flooding, drought, fire, ice storms, hurricanes, and much more, you’ll be able to see how disasters have increased (or not) over the years and exactly how many have struck each county. Built using data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, this map is a great source for wrapping your head around disaster over time and location.

Back to Top

Conferences and Events

[Below are some recent announcements received by the Natural Hazards Center. For a comprehensive list of upcoming hazards-related meetings, visit our Web site at]

October 20-23, 2015
Emergency Preparedness and Hazmat Response Conference
Southeastern Pennsylvania Local Emergency Planning Committees and others
Valley Forge, Pennsylvania
Cost and Registration: $300, open until filled

This conference will provide training, workshops, and other educational opportunities for a broad range of emergency professionals. Topics include hazmat incident command, emerging diseases, pipeline emergency awareness, radiological response, and U.S. Department of Homeland Security Chemical Facility Standards.


November 16-20, 2015
Fire Ecology and Management Congress
Association for Fire Ecology
San Antonio, Texas
Cost and Registration: $475 before October 16, open until filled
This conference will focus on the continuing challenges in bridging fire ecology with fire management. Topics include gender equality and sexual harassment in the wildland fire profession, using big data for fire modeling, prescribed burns, global and international fire studies, community and homeowner mitigation, an analysis for wildfire decision making.


November 17-18, 2015
First Annual AHEPP Conference
Association of Healthcare Emergency Preparedness Professionals
Omaha, Nebraska
Cost and Registration: $595, open until October 16
This conference will use case studies and lessons learned to address disaster preparedness issues in various types of healthcare facilities. Topics include communications in high-profile events, preparedness for assisted living communities, threats to the power grid, infectious disease and biocontainment, and hospital evacuations.


December 9-11, 2015
Northern European Conference on Emergency and Disaster Studies
University of Copenhagen
Copenhagen, Denmark
Cost and Registration: $135, open until filled
This conference will look at the status quo of disaster research and management and discuss pressing issues in disaster research across the academic and practical disciplines. Topics include technology in disaster, historical disasters, disaster ethics, the role of religion in disasters, and integrated research for the Sendai Framework.


December 10-12, 2015
Improving the Seismic Performance of Existing Buildings and Other Structures
Applied Technology Council and the American Society of Civil Engineers
San Francisco, California
Cost and Registration: $875 before October 1, open until filled
This conference will focus advances in seismic evaluation and rehabilitation of existing buildings, including the use of new technologies and materials. Topics include implementation issues, improvements needed in existing standards, resilience and mitigation programs, managing risk, and retrofit solutions.

Back to Top

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Instructional System Specialist, GS-13
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Emmitsburg, Maryland
Salary: $90,823 to $118,069
Deadline: October 7, 2015
This position will oversee a broad range of course development for the U.S. Fire Administration. Duties include reviewing course content and parameters; designing and testing courses in emerging content areas; reviewing instructional formats, methodology, and technology integration; and recommending modifications of course content. One year of experience at the GS-12 level and specialized experience using the Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation (ADDIE) model in the field of adult learning are required.


Environmental Protection Specialist, GS-13

Federal Emergency Management Agency
Atlanta, Georgia
Salary: $87,219 to $113,383
Deadline: October 8, 2015
This position will serve as a senior environmental specialist. Duties include performing environmental planning and historic preservation compliance reviews, identifying non-disaster project resource requirements, providing technical assistance to grant recipients, and developing documents and tools to assist in the completion of compliance reviews. One year of experience at the GS-12 level and specialized experience documenting federal, state, or local compliance reviews is required.


Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist

Asian Disaster Preparedness Center
Bangkok, Thailand
Salary: Not Listed
Deadline: October 20, 2015
This position will lead the development of the monitoring and evaluation system for ADPC. Duties include developing monitoring and evaluation tools and indicators, measuring project outcomes against institutional goals, drafting clear guidelines, protocols, and curricula, and representing ADPC to stakeholders. A master’s in disaster management or a related field, understanding of monitoring and evaluation issues in a disaster risk reduction context, and at least ten years of experience is required.


Research Director

National Center for Disaster Medicine and Public Health
Rockville, Maryland
Salary: Not listed
Deadline: Open until filled
This position will lead research efforts for NCDMPH, including conceptualizing disaster medicine and public health projects aligned with current priorities and initiatives. Duties include planning and conducting investigations, creating literature reviews, preparing technical reports and summaries, communicating research results, building stakeholder engagement, and managing research associates. A master’s degree in social sciences or a health profession, experience conducting quantitative and qualitative research studies, and familiarity with the health profession education are required. Please reference Job ID 210130 in the advanced search feature when applying for the position.


Disaster Management Faculty

Tulane University
New Orleans, Louisiana
Salary: Not Listed
Deadline: Open until filled
This tenure track position will serve as a faculty member in the Department of Global Environmental Health Sciences. Duties include teaching graduate-level courses and conducting research in the areas of environmental health science and disaster management. A PhD in public health or a related field and experience in interdisciplinary public health research are required.

Back to Top

Webinars, Training, and Education

Hazards Planning and Resilience: The Elected Official’s Perspective
October 19, 2015, 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EDT
American Planning Association, Association of State Floodplain Managers, and others
Cost and Registration: Free, register online before the event

This webinar will examine hazards issues that concern elected officials, why communities should plan for resilience, and how planners can contribute to effective hazard planning. Continuing education credits are available.


Gulf Research Program Stakeholder Webinar
October 28, 2015, 1 p.m. EDT
National Academy of Sciences
Cost and Registration: Free, register online before the event
This webinar will provide information about the Gulf Research Program 2014-2015 accomplishments and preview 2016 funding opportunities. Topics include an overview of program’s annual report, highlights from 2015 fellows and grantees, and an opportunity to ask questions about program activities and future funding opportunities.

Back to Top

Contributions of jobs, conferences, and other content to this newsletter can be sent to Please include “for Disaster Research” in the subject line.

To subscribe, visit
University of Colorado at Boulder

Natural Hazards Center
483 UCB
Boulder, CO 80309-0483
Contact Us: | (303) 492-6818

A Center in the Institute of Behavioral Science

© Regents of the University of Colorado