2019 Distinguished Lecture Series: Kamini Singha

Between Wind and Water: A History of Humans and Hydrology in the West

We live in interesting times when it comes to water. The population of the planet continues to increase toward 8 billion people, increasing demands for water supply for electricity, manufacturing and domestic use. Additionally, our climate is changing, affecting the frequency and intensity of precipitation events, and the type of precipitation that occurs. This combination of circumstances creates the potential for increased water stress, especially in arid regions like the western United States.

Human efforts in masking aridity via engineering and an unusually wet 19th century helped lead to a critical period of expansion in the West. However, living in the West means facing issues related to drought, flooding and increased demand from a still-booming population. Colorado in particular plays a key role in the hydrology of the West: its rivers supply water to nineteen downstream states.  In particular, the Colorado River is the western lifeline that supports the water needs of 1 in 8 Americans, yet every gallon of it, and more, is claimed by someone. To explain why the U.S. Supreme Court has had to settle numerous interstate disputes over water, we’ll explore the role of humans in engineering water systems from the Hohokam to the modern era, the bad idea of determining state water allocations by volume, Colorado’s unusual water laws and what “fake news” looked like in 1860. A warming climate, continuing interstate conflict, aging dams and a human sense that technology can fix anything set us on a path where we could cross a tipping point in the hydrologic system we live in. This opens the question: are we living beyond our means?

Full Presentation (PDF)


Singha KaminiKamini Singha is the Ben Fryrear Endowed Professor for Innovation and Excellence at Colorado School of Mines and serves as the associate department head of the Department of Geology and Geological Engineering. She worked at the USGS Branch of Geophysics from 1997 to 2000, and served on the faculty of The Pennsylvania State University as an assistant and then associate professor from 2005 to 2012. Her research interests are focused in hydrogeology and environmental geophysics. Dr. Singha is the recipient of an NSF CAREER award, was awarded the Early Career Award from the Society of Environmental and Engineering Geophysics in 2009, served as the National Groundwater Association’s Darcy Lecturer in 2017 and was elected a Fellow of the Geological Society of America in 2018.  She earned her B.S. in geophysics from the University of Connecticut in 1999 and her Ph.D., in hydrogeology from Stanford University in 2005.