Tackling Water Scarcity: USDA Releases Water Adaptation Techniques Atlas

Screenshot: Water Adaption Techniques Atlas (WATA)
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September 28, 2023 — Water scarcity in the Southwestern United States has long been a concern, escalating with climate change and the pressures of economic and population growth. To aid the region in navigating these challenges, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced an innovative tool: the “Water Adaptation Techniques AtlasOpens in a new tab.” (WATA). This resource is available online to the public via the New Mexico State University website. The Atlas is intended to serve as a comprehensive repository of information, offering insights into varied responses to water scarcity primarily through detailed case studies.

Interactive Insight into Water Scarcity Solutions.

WATA offers an interactive experience allowing users to explore solutions and adaptations. The atlasOpens in a new tab. maps each case to a specific geographic location where the action is taken, and users can click on individual cases, employ filters, or utilize an embedded search tool to explore various strategies undertaken to address water scarcity. This functionality offers easy accessibility and understanding of the presented solutions.

An example of what is currently available is by clicking Pin 2 in Arizona, which highlights the EC Bar Ranch project south of Eagar.  The following data is given:

Pin Location: Approximate location of EC Bar Ranch on Nutrioso Creek
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Flowing through a ranch in the White Mountains of eastern Arizona, Nutrioso Creek had been severely degraded by overgrazing since it was homesteaded in 1882. Jim Crosswhite acquired the ranch in 1996 and worked with a variety of state and federal partners to restore the riparian zone and increase creek flow to protect endangered fish habitat. With support from the Natural Resources Conservation Service Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) program, he replaced an earthen ditch flood irrigation system with groundwater wells and sprinklers, conserving an estimated 100 million gallons of water (about 300 acre-feet) which remains in the creek. He has also worked on stabilizing eroded banks with native vegetation and fencing off riparian areas during the growing season while providing off-stream water tanks for livestock and wildlife, resulting in improved water quality. In 2009, ninety-four acres of the ranch were conserved under an easement held by the New Mexico Land Conservancy.


      • Ecosystem Water Scarcity Solutions – Riparian and Wetland Restoration


      • Ecosystem Water Scarcity Solutions – In-stream Flow
      • Demand-Based Strategies – Irrigation Technology and Timing – Sprinkler Irrigation
      • Demand-Based Strategies – Water Delivery Conservation


      • Environment
      • Agriculture


      • Ag Producer


      • Natural Resources Conservation Service
      • Farmer/Rancher
      • New Mexico Land Conservancy


      • Micro


The base map can be changed and the zoom feature allows the user to get a closer look at the project; in this case, the EC Br Ranch project:

Zooming in on the EC Bar Ranch in WATA.
Zooming in on the EC Bar Ranch project.

A Chronicle of Adaptation and Innovation.

Adaptation to aridity has been fundamental for survival and development in the Southwest, and the region’s current developmental trajectory owes much to the monumental adaptations of the past. However, the changing climatic conditionsOpens in a new tab. are posing questions to the assumptions that underscored the infrastructure of dams and canals constructed in the previous century. WATA strives to chronicle the new, multifaceted efforts emerging at various scales to address the increasingly apparent water scarcity. Whether it’s about reducing water use, enhancing water supply, or altering the way water traverses the landscape, WATA documents these efforts.

Evaluating Solutions with a Critical Lens.

Solutions to water scarcity are rarely clear-cut success narratives. Securing new water supplies for a specific region might result in depriving others of the essential resource. Some interventions like large-scale desalination, while promising, come with substantial economic and environmental implications. Introducing resilient crops can be an answer to enduring hot, arid conditions, but it often means taking a leap of faith for farmers who might perceive it as a risky investment. WATA presents each case with extensive information on a proposed solution, coupled with critical insights to help users assess these practices analytically. This ensures that the impact or harm at various scales is minimized, and the solutions are scrutinized for appropriateness in different environmental or societal contexts.


In an era where climate change and demographic growth are continually straining water resources, the release of WATA is a useful reference point. By providing information through case studies mapped to their geographic locations, WATA not only educates on the available solutions but also instigates critical thinking about their viability and impact. This atlas is poised to be a cornerstone for all stakeholders—policy-makers, researchers, and the general public—looking to delve deeper into understanding and implementing water adaptation techniques that are environmentally sustainable, economically viable, and socially equitable in the water-scarce Southwest and potentially beyond.

Access WATA here.Opens in a new tab.


Since 1995, Deborah has owned and operated LegalTech LLC with a focus on water rights. Before moving to Arizona in 1986, she worked as a quality control analyst for Honeywell and in commercial real estate, both in Texas. She learned about Arizona's water rights from the late and great attorney Michael Brophy of Ryley, Carlock & Applewhite. Her side interests are writing (and reading), Wordpress programming and much more.

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