2012-13 Catalog

Decorative graphic

Offering Description

Water in the West: Ecology and History


Fall 2012 and Winter 2013 quarters

Matthew Smith political science , Dylan Fischer forest ecology
Fields of Study
ecology, environmental studies, history and writing
Preparatory for studies or careers in
environmental history, writing, ecology, botany, zoology, environmental science, biology, environmental law, and natural history.

“There are two ways to die in the desert, too much water and not enough.” In this two-quarter program, we will focus an interdisciplinary lens on the myriad ways we survive when water is scarce and when water is overwhelmingly present.

Life and growth in the west  has always been limited by availability of water. Human interactions with rivers, lakes, rainfall, snow pack, and ground water resources have been central themes of the western experience. Ownership of water and apportioning its use has been a constant dilemma and struggle among myriad users and claimants, human and natural. Climate change threatens different patterns of precipitation and more rapid evaporation. This will intensify these dilemmas and calls for new physical and policy responses, along with new adaptations and efficiencies in water use.

Water has limited the spread of organisms in the American West for millions of years.  We will examine how organisms have adapted to water scarcity in diverse and interesting ways. Understanding biological adaptations to water abundance and scarcity requires an understanding of general ecology that may  provide analogies for solutions to the current water crises humans face in an era of climate change. Just as humans deal with what climate change means for the future of water availability, ecosystems have been adapting to changing water availability since the dawn of terrestrial life forms.

This program will first explore what it’s like to live with water scarcity (in the fall), and then what it’s like to live in the presence of overabundance of water (in the winter). We will contrast wet and dry landscapes in the American west using water as a central theme. We will use a combination of modern environmental literature, classic environmental nonfiction, field trips, hands-on experiences, guest speakers and seminars to help us delve deep into the central theme of this program. 

Online Learning
Hybrid Online Learning < 25% Delivered Online
Greener Store
Required Fees
$200 per quarter for overnight field trips.
Offered During

Program Revisions

Date Revision
August 2nd, 2012 Fee amount corrected.
May 30th, 2012 This program is now offered to students at all class levels (Freshmen through Seniors).
April 27th, 2012 New program added.