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University Bulletin
Undergraduate Degree Programs

These course descriptions are not being updated as of August 1, 2016. Current course descriptions are maintained in LionPATH.

Earth Sciences (EARTH)

EARTH 111 (GN;US) Water: Science and Society (3) Investigation of water behavior and occurence, its relevance to life, human activities, politics, and society.

EARTH 111 Water: Science and Society (3)

The Earth is often called "The Blue Planet", a reference to the fact that over two-thirds of its surface is covered by water. Despite its apparent abundance, water is a valuable and limited resource; less than 2.5% of the water on the planet is fresh, and only one third of that is potable. And that's not all - the small fraction of Earth's ware that is useable to humans is distributed very unevenly. As a result, conflicts over water occur from the local level, for example: pitting rancher against developer - to the global level, at which nations square off against one-another in war and use water as a mechanism for imposing sanctions. The dire situation in some regions has spurred numerous research and technological endeavors, such as water desalinization, genetic engineering of crops, and major overhauls of agricultural practice.

In this course, we will explore the relationships between water and human populations, with emphasis on water resources and quality in the Western U.S., and how these have shaped history and modern politics. We will focus first on developing the scientific underpinnings of water's unique properties, behavior, movement, occurrence, and quality. With this background, we will then discuss key issues relating to modern and historical conflicts, human impacts on the natural world, and human engineering accomplishments driven by our thirst for this valuable resource. We will discuss historical examples from the American West, specifically the development of water resources in Colorado and California. We will also explore modern and historical conflicts between stakeholders. Major themes will include political and economic conflicts over (1) water resources - for example, balancing agricultural and urban demands in the American west in the Denver and Los Angeles metropolitan areas, (2) water quality - for example, considering the impact of economically profitable human activities on water quality and transmission of disease, and (3) human impacts on natural processes, specifically connecting human activity with our cultural history of water use and exploration in the American West. Our approach is to include a substantial component of student-initiated learning. The course will include critical evaluation and discussion of assigned reading and films, a series of laboratory exercises and field trips to illustrate concepts and stimulate discussion, and a major research paper.

General Education: GN
Diversity: US
Bachelor of Arts: None
Effective: Summer 2006

Note : Class size, frequency of offering, and evaluation methods will vary by location and instructor. For these details check the specific course syllabus.


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Course descriptions are stored in LionPATH, the University-wide student information system. Please visit the LionPATH Course Catalog to access current course descriptions. At that point, you will be leaving the University Bulletin website.

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