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University of Colorado Denver

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Research of Tanya Heikkila






Associate Professor
University of Colorado Denver
School of Public Affairs
P.O. Box 173364 - Campus Box 142
Denver, CO 80217 - 3364
Phone: (303) 315 - 2269
Fax: (303) 315 - 2229



SPA Buechner Institute of Governance

Dr. Heikkila participates in research at the SPA Buechner Institute of Governance. Her focus is on  Institutional Analysis and Development projects including:




PROJECT TITLE: Human adaptability and vulnerability to climate change in the Mekong River basin.

Dr. Heikkila is collaborating with a team of scholars at Columbia University’s Earth Institute to study the conditions under which societies adapt to, and cope with, systematic fluctuations in water availability over a range of time scales associated with climate variability in the Mekong River Basin region.  The project is funded by the National Science Foundation’s Coupled Natural and Human System’s program.


PROJECT TITLE: Abrupt climate change and drought in Southwestern U.S.

Over the past decade, substantial evidence from climate scientists and hydrologists has suggested that the hydrologic regime unfolding in the southwestern and intermountain West is one that is going to be increasingly drier, more variable, with less storage in the form of snowpack and in surface reservoirs. This project aims to develop a better understanding of how managers at federal, state, and local levels obtain, evaluate, share and respond to climate information and how that information feeds into policy responses. The project includes:

  • Surveying water managers in the Upper Rio Grande watershed to identify how climate information is used and shared;
  • Analyzing legislative policy changes in the Rio Grande watershed (Colorado, New Mexico and Texas) to better assess how policies change and respond to drought conditions; and
  • Modeling how interstate water allocation rules in a sub-basin of the Rio Grande perform under climate change scenarios.

Dr. Heikkila has teamed up with Edella Schlager, University of Arizona, on this project, along with scholars at Columbia University’s Water Center and Climate Center. The project was funded as part of a larger study on abrupt climate change at Columbia University, under NOAA.  SPA doctoral student, Mark Davis, is also participating on the data collection for this study.



PROJECT TITLE: Improving Rural Water and Livelihood Outcomes in India, China, Africa and Brazil

Dr. Heikkila is involved in a project with the Columbia Water Center, funded by the PepsiCo Foundation studying involving water in the state of Ceará in Northeast Brazil – a region that suffers from severe drought. This project focuses on how to choose and design sustainable water systems to provide water for all uses. This initiative has two main themes – infrastructure and allocation. The infrastructure work involves building a water supply system in at least one village and producing a manual to help local stakeholders determine which systems are best under different circumstances. Allocation improvement, using climate forecasts, is with the use of new decision support systems for the general public and for water agencies. These systems will facilitate conflict reduction between rural and urban users. 


PROJECT TITLE: The evolution of western water policy: Assessing 100 years of legislative changes in Colorado

This project analyzes data on water-related legislation in the state of Colorado during the 20th century. It aims to understand the purpose of these laws, which actors or activities they target, the types of organizational entities they create, and the geographic scope of the laws. The project will describe trends or “eras” of legislative activity over the past century around water issues in Colorado. Students working with SPA’s Policy Process Research Lab and Dr. Chris Weible are participating in the data analysis. The data comes from a larger dataset of western water laws collected by Dr. Heikkila and Dr. Edella Schlager, University of Arizona, under their recent National Science Foundation grant. | Physical Address: 1380 Lawrence St., Ste. 500  Denver, CO  80204 | Mailing Address: University of Colorado Denver, SPA, Campus Box 142, P.O. Box 173364, Denver, CO 80217-3364 | ph: 303.315.2228 | fax: 303.315.2229 | SPA Website Feedback

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