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Partnership for Water Conservation and Mitigation

Lael Gilbert


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Joanna Endter-Wada, professor at USU

Dr. Joanna Endter-Wada, a professor of Natural Resource Policy and Social Science at Utah State University, works at the intersection of water policy, ecology, and human hydrology.

Water conservation trickles down on two fronts—ecological and political issues surrounding the flow in the river, and what happens when water comes out at the end of the pipelines. Although CCRS tends to focus on the front end of water issues, we support efforts by partner organizations exploring nuances in how people make decisions about, distribute, and use shared water resources.

Dr. Joanna Endter-Wada, one of those partners, is a policy and social scientist at USU who studies water law and policy, human hydrology and urban ecosystems. She focuses on analyzing linkages between humans and biophysical aspects of ecosystems, with primary emphasis on water, urban landscapes, wetlands, and public lands.

“Among the questions I ask is — how do you allocate water in ways that are fair, both for people and the natural environment?” Endter-Wada says. “Answering a question like this requires input from many disciplines, because it must be analyzed from social, institutional, political and legal angles, as well as from biophysical and engineering perspectives.”

Endter-Wada leads or is a member of interdisciplinary teams currently conducting research on urban landscape water use and conservation, human dimensions of drought and climate change, and wetland management. Her efforts include dynamic and practical applications of water management for conservation and mitigation.

For instance, Endter-Wada and her team investigate patterns of urban tree planting in residential neighborhoods, trying to determine how tree species are chosen and maintained in arid environments like Salt Lake City, Utah. They found that yard trees at private residences were more diverse than public street trees in the same neighborhoods. Newer neighborhoods had different tree species than older neighborhoods, while affluence accounted for the difference in yard tree composition (more affluent areas, and newer homes had more species richness).

One main thread through Endter-Wada’s collaborative work with the Center for Water Efficient Landscaping (CWEL) is determining the behavioral and contextual factors that account for overwatering of urban landscapes, and the factors that can motivate people to conserve. Work done with Weber Basin Water Conservancy District (WBWCD) demonstrated conservation success with delivering monthly informational reports to residential water users where metering was installed on urban secondary pressurized irrigation systems, even in the absence of associated billing. The program has been an ongoing success and metering of secondary systems has become an important legislative issue, infrastructure priority, and water demand management strategy in northern Utah. 

Current projects from the Endter-Wada Lab collaborations include:

  • WaterMAPS: A custom water demand management tool developed by an inter-disciplinary team of Utah State University researchers to promote urban landscape water conservation. The software identifies urban properties with irrigated landscapes that have the greatest “capacity to conserve” water so that information and interventions can be directed and tailored to water users at those locations. It also helps water suppliers assess the effectiveness of conservation program delivery by monitoring site-specific and service-area changes in landscape water use efficiency over time.

  • Water Banking: Water banking can facilitate short-term, voluntary water transfers between willing participants and alter water use incentives and practices. But how water banks are formed, structured, and administered varies widely, as does their relative success. This research effort synthesizes lessons from established water banks, analyzes how the practice could work in Cache County, Utah, and assesses various options for institutional designs of water banks.

  • Wetland Policy: Wetland Policy: Wetlands in the U.S. tend to be politically undervalued for protective services for mitigating disastrous consequences of weather-related events. Endter-Wada is working with Dr. Karin Kettenring to propose national wetland commissions, modeled after the concept of lake and river commissions, as one way to strategically link wetland protection to other societal objectives, including human disaster risk planning, infrastructure investments, and climate adaptation strategies.