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University of Colorado Boulder

Water in the Western United States

University of Colorado Boulder via Coursera


Water is important to all of us. Water connects people through place, memory, and community. But in places where water is scarce, like the Western United States, water can also be contentious and divisive. How then do we overcome the challenges associated with increased water scarcity while honoring the diverse perspectives of people who rely on shared water? In this course, you will learn about water and climate in the Western United States and join a community of thousands of learners to gain insight into the major legal, political, and cultural issues that make water so complex in the region.


  • Course Introduction
    • Are you ready? In this module, we introduce you to how the course works, describe the unique nature of water issues in the American West, and provide important background that will orient you to the region we are studying and the science of hydrology. Let's get started!
  • History, Politics, and Culture of Water Development in the Western US
    • How did the American West end up with many of the world's largest dams? How does the West's unique legal system for allocating water work? Who gets the right to use water how, and why? We'll cover these topics and more in our module on history, politics, and culture!
  • Hydrology, Water Demand, and Climate in the Western US
    • Is the West drying up? What happens to a watershed when many of the trees in it die? Let's explore the major scientific issues related to water in the American West. Along the way, we'll hear from a number of experts working on some of the latest cutting-edge research in hydrology, ecology, climate, and more!
  • Case Study: The Colorado River Basin
    • The Colorado River is a vital source of drinking water for nearly 40 million people and supplies countless farms across a parched landscape. Cutting through nearly 1,500 miles of mountains and deserts, the Colorado's small size belies the fact that it is one of the most intensively managed and litigated rivers in the world. That makes this river perfect for exploring many of the concepts we've covered already in our course.
  • Controversial Issues and the Future of Water in the Western US
    • In this course, we've emphasized the importance of how the scarcity of water in the American West has shaped so many of the issues around it. In this final module, we'll present some specific cases of complex and often controversial issues that come up because of the unique nature of water in the Western US.

Taught by

Anne Gold and Eric Gordon


3.0 rating, based on 2 Class Central reviews

4.6 rating at Coursera based on 21 ratings

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