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Colorado River Supply

Patricia Mynster, David Hassenzahl, Encyclopedia of Earth

This activity addresses climate change impacts that affect all states that are part of the Colorado River Basin and are dependent on its water. Students examine available data, the possible consequences of changes to various user groups, and suggest solutions to adapt to these changes.

Activity takes about one-two class periods and homework assignments. Computer access required.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
High School: 2 Performance Expectations, 3 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 8 Cross Cutting Concepts, 12 Science and Engineering Practices

Notes From Our Reviewers The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials
Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • Providing learners with appropriate data sets for this or other regions will help them gain a quantitative handle on the topic of climate change and freshwater resources.
  • Because of the length of the activity, it could be used as an entire unit on the Colorado River watershed or customized for other watersheds.

About the Science

  • Students research the impact of climate change on the Colorado River Basin by analyzing snowpack data sets and satellite images of land and vegetation.
  • Some data sets and images are presented to support the activity, source citations are not available.
  • Comments from expert scientist: Addresses key issues of water quantity across Colorado River Basin and potential impact based on historical changes.
  • Need to address potential water quality concerns as CRB also serve for drinking water supply.

About the Pedagogy

  • This is a structured, problem-based learning module using the impact of climate change on the water levels in the Colorado River Basin and as a case study. The authentic final assessment asks students to use their research and analysis of data and images to suggest revisions to the 2007 Colorado Basin water allotment agreement.
  • Activity provides background information and guiding questions for students to work through the data.
  • Instructors may want to customize this activity for their own area of interest and assessment needs.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Teacher notes are not included because this is a college-level module and thus assumes the expertise of the professor. However, the four parts of the module are scaffolded enough to enable 11th and 12th grade students to successfully use the module.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

High School

Performance Expectations: 2

HS-ESS3-1: Construct an explanation based on evidence for how the availability of natural resources, occurrence of natural hazards, and changes in climate have influenced human activity.

HS-ESS3-6: Use a computational representation to illustrate the relationships among Earth systems and how those relationships are being modified due to human activity.

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 3

HS-ESS3.A1:Resource availability has guided the development of human society.

HS-ESS3.C1:The sustainability of human societies and the biodiversity that supports them requires responsible management of natural resources.


Cross Cutting Concepts: 8

Patterns, Cause and effect, Scale, Proportion and Quantity, Energy and Matter, Stability and Change

HS-C1.3:Patterns of performance of designed systems can be analyzed and interpreted to reengineer and improve the system.

HS-C1.4: Mathematical representations are needed to identify some patterns.

HS-C2.2:Cause and effect relationships can be suggested and predicted for complex natural and human designed systems by examining what is known about smaller scale mechanisms within the system.

HS-C3.1:The significance of a phenomenon is dependent on the scale, proportion, and quantity at which it occurs.

HS-C3.3:Patterns observable at one scale may not be observable or exist at other scales.

HS-C3.5:Algebraic thinking is used to examine scientific data and predict the effect of a change in one variable on another (e.g., linear growth vs. exponential growth).

HS-C5.2:Changes of energy and matter in a system can be described in terms of energy and matter flows into, out of, and within that system.


Science and Engineering Practices: 12

Asking Questions and Defining Problems, Planning and Carrying Out Investigations, Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions, Engaging in Argument from Evidence, Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

HS-P1.1:ask questions that arise from careful observation of phenomena, or unexpected results, to clarify and/or seek additional information.

HS-P1.8:Define a design problem that involves the development of a process or system with interacting components and criteria and constraints that may include social, technical, and/or environmental considerations. 

HS-P3.5:Make directional hypotheses that specify what happens to a dependent variable when an independent variable is manipulated.

HS-P4.1:Analyze data using tools, technologies, and/or models (e.g., computational, mathematical) in order to make valid and reliable scientific claims or determine an optimal design solution.

HS-P4.2:Apply concepts of statistics and probability (including determining function fits to data, slope, intercept, and correlation coefficient for linear fits) to scientific and engineering questions and problems, using digital tools when feasible.

HS-P5.5:Apply ratios, rates, percentages, and unit conversions in the context of complicated measurement problems involving quantities with derived or compound units (such as mg/mL, kg/m3, acre-feet, etc.).

HS-P5.2:Use mathematical, computational, and/or algorithmic representations of phenomena or design solutions to describe and/or support claims and/or explanations.

HS-P5.3:Apply techniques of algebra and functions to represent and solve scientific and engineering problems.

HS-P6.2:Construct and revise an explanation based on valid and reliable evidence obtained from a variety of sources (including students’ own investigations, models, theories, simulations, peer review) and the assumption that theories and laws that describe the natural world operate today as they did in the past and will continue to do so in the future.

HS-P6.5:Design, evaluate, and/or refine a solution to a complex real-world problem, based on scientific knowledge, student-generated sources of evidence, prioritized criteria, and tradeoff considerations.

HS-P7.5:Make and defend a claim based on evidence about the natural world or the effectiveness of a design solution that reflects scientific knowledge and student-generated evidence.

HS-P8.2:Compare, integrate and evaluate sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a scientific question or solve a problem.

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