State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


Columbia Water Center: A Decade of Cutting Edge Research

cover of the Columbia Water Center 10-year report

Founded in January 2008, the Columbia Water Center (CWC) is committed to understanding and addressing both the role and scarcity of fresh water in the 21st century. The CWC was established for the purpose of studying the world’s diminishing levels of fresh water and creating innovative sustainable and global solutions. CWC combines multidisciplinary academic research with solutions-based fieldwork to develop and test creative responses to water challenges around the world.

As populations grow and affluence increases, the demand for food and water is on the rise across the world. At the same time, climate variability and change make it difficult to provide water where and when it is needed, and add to the exposure of vulnerable populations to floods. Floods destroy communities in one part of the world, while in another people trek miles every day just to get enough water to survive. Given its pervasiveness and the need for local action, water scarcity is becoming one of the most difficult challenges we need to address in the 21st century.

The Columbia Water Center is researching innovative solutions to these problems— recognizing the public and private sector roles and opportunities, and the unique water, climate and socio-economic settings around the world. Its work stresses analytics at multiple scales, from technologies at the farm level, to new systems-level thinking in the design of urban smart water grids, reservoir and groundwater operations, ecosystems restoration, water-informed agriculture and food procurement, and national and regional water policy. Sophisticated water supply/demand and flood forecasts using climate information, and their integration with financial risk management instruments, are central to the CWC’s work.

In its ten-year report, the Columbia Water Center provides a detailed overview of the past decade of its research projects and impacts on water challenges across the globe, including:

Water Capture System in Koraro, Ethiopia 

Villagers of Koraro, Ethiopia and surrounding areas have struggled for years with drought, lack of access to safe drinking water, and serious water-related challenges to agricultural productivity. In 2008, researchers at the Columbia Water Center designed an innovative rainwater harvesting system designed to catch and store water in the landscape. The design included an interconnected network of five microdams along with an infiltration trench system to recharge underground aquifers. 

Water, Food, Energy Nexus in Punjab, India

The Columbia Water Center, in collaboration with Centers for International Projects Trust and Punjab Agricultural University, did field research in Central Punjab to study, test and implement practical, rapidly scalable solutions to Punjab’s groundwater depletion crisis.

With 9 million residents, Mexico City has a huge water demand but many problems providing enough for all of its citizens. Photo:

Assessment of Decentralized Water Systems in Residential Buildings in Mexico City

The Columbia Water Center assessed the design characteristics of rainwater harvesting systems for densely populated areas such as Mexico City.

Delivering Data and Analysis to Inform Flood Response in Southeast Asia

The CWC and Columbia’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society developed a platform that captures flood severity and duration in near real-time, both during and after a disaster.

water rushes out of oroville dam spillway
In February 2017, the failure of a spillway at California’s Oroville dam prompted the evacuation of 180,000 people living downstream. Many of America’s dams are aging and potentially putting residents at risk. Image: William Croyle, California Department of Water Resources

Envisioning the Future of Water in the United States

Columbia Water Center’s signature initiative, the America’s Water project, collects data on water availability and usage patterns, flooding and drought history, infrastructure vulnerabilities and more for every county in the nation.

Mining and Water Risk: Diagnosis, Benchmarking and Quantitative Analysis of Financial Impacts

CWC recently completed a three-year project sponsored by Norges Bank Investment Management to develop a modeling platform to quantitatively assess mining-related water and environmental risks and their financial implications.

Click here to download the full report.

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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