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U of U professor studies what the Colorado and Indus River basins can learn from each other

Beyond a largely arid landscape whose agriculture and livelihood depends on the runoff of high mountains, the Colorado and Indus River basins are also faced with similar mounting problems of over allocation, salinization caused by irrigation, mounting conflicts over water rights, and the rising specter of climate change.

University of Utah professor Dan McCool recently collaborated on an article examining the two river basins and what lessons can be learned from one another. McCool’s career began by studying natural resources and public policy on a local level, and over time expanded the lens regionally, nationally, and then globally. “Many cultures and regions are suffering from the same types problems related to natural resources.”

Professor Dan McCool

McCool believes water resource managers in Pakistan can learn from the collaborative approach that has become the trend in managing the Colorado River in recent years. This approach would require a new inclusive system to resolve conflict in Pakistan. He notes how the current commission responsible for implementing the Indus River Treaty between India and Pakistan includes only one representative from each country. “Good collaboration requires all stakeholders at the table.”

“The best way to achieve community buy in is through a collaborative process that includes broad community participation,” McCool observes. “You don’t get the best results by imposing policy onto people. We need to bring more stakeholders into the process.” This collaborative approach also need to be informed by the best science, and not just in engineering, but also examining the social, economic, and political dimensions of water in both the Colorado and Indus basins. “Facts and an investment in sound science help people become reasonable.”

The key impediment to adapting to the challenges facing both the Colorado and Indus Rivers is an intrenched mindset, McCool believes. “In both basin’s, people have a set of views and expectations when it comes to water resources. The future will require a greater flexibility of thinking and an openness to new ideas and approaches.”