The Last Drop

Landscape Architecture Directed Research Project / Spring 2022 / Forbes Lipschitz

The Last Drop

The Last Drop

Yu Ming Hsu

As life’s most basic necessity, water affects everything. In the context of a rapidly changing climate, this project unfolds the complicated hydro-power structures in Colorado to simulate future scenarios of water.

This research proposes adaptations to a system breakdown in northeastern Colorado. Imagining how water infrastructure could function without centralized state power initiates a design process for different land uses. Five typologies serve as testing sites for envisioning a futuristic hydrological system.

Different water techniques integrate with the leftover infrastructure in the dry future. Top-to-bottom water management is inverted to a new horizontal relationship. Traditional power dissolves into a future common based around water.

Decentralizing Water Infrastructure for a Dry Future

Society is shaped by water. The accessibility of water profoundly determines the relationships between countries and continents. The instability of the water supply can affect the balance between peace and war. High water-stressed regions have long struggled in water conflicts. The United States, especially in the West, is facing similar concerns.

Climate change and population growth exacerbate the unstable hydrological conditions across the Colorado River Basin. The federal government plays a crucial role in managing water allocation between the seven Colorado River basin states; however, the unstable water supply resulting from climate change seems likely to bring about the systematic collapse of this hydro-power structure. The most susceptible, and the first to be affected, is the headwaters in Colorado. The decreasing snowpack and increasing population make Northeastern Colorado and the South Platte River basin vulnerable to these uncertainties. The Northern Water Conservancy District, which functions as a public agency organizing most of the water in this headwater area, is risky because of its monopolistic control.

Eighty percent of precipitation comes from the west slope of the continental divide; transmountain water supports 80% of the Colorado population to the east. This imbalance leads to a fragile hydrological system. In calculating vulnerability scores from local land use, water consumption rates, and water accessibility, Weld County, Colorado shows high vulnerability due to its high amount of cropland and downstream location.

The water management regime in Weld County has transformed from pre-colonial decentralization to transitional systemization to contemporary centralization. This centralizing water management is less responsive to water scarcity and infrastructure without power in a dry future. Kersey, Colorado is located in Weld County at the confluence of the Poudre and South Platte Rivers. According to the U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit, in extreme conditions, Kersey will only receive 7.895 inches of rainfall annually. Kersey thus becomes an optimal site to imagine how water infrastructure could function in the absence of centralized state power in a dry future.

Five different types of land use serve as testing sites for envisioning a futuristic hydrological system. These typologies successfully maximize water efficiency and conservation. Different water techniques integrate and rejuvenate the leftover infrastructure. People cooperate and communicate with each other. A new horizontal and reciprocal relationship replaces traditional top-to-bottom water management. The power dissolves into a future common around water in Kersey. Water systems are organized based on the value of water conservation. Waterbodies and waterways map out the seasonal migration pattern in response to extreme heat. Rotational grazing benefits drought resilience. The landscape comes together, stands out, and fits in.