Characterizing vulnerability to water scarcity: The case of a groundwater-dependent, rapidly urbanizing region

Timothy W. Collins, Robert Bolin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Groundwater overdraft is a resource management issue that poses a threat for the security of communities. Impacts of groundwater overdraft are influenced by the biophysical and social contexts of water management. This paper presents a method for assessing vulnerability to water scarcity in spatial terms using biophysical and social indicators. A geographic information system was used to establish areas of vulnerability based upon hydrologic variability in water resource availability within a groundwater basin, three types of water management systems, and 10 sociodemographic characteristics. Our study area is in the rapidly urbanizing Arizona Central Highlands, located ∼150 km north of the Phoenix metropolitan region, USA. Results indicate that the most biophysically vulnerable places do not necessarily intersect with the most vulnerable populations and that local differences in vulnerability are interrelated, rather than independent, outcomes in a process of socioenvironmental transformation. Vulnerability is influenced by laws that deny access to local surface waters and lead to dependence on fossil groundwater, and by economic reliance on urbanization. Localities attempt to reduce vulnerability through the development of community water systems and the expansion of water frontiers. While such strategies may reduce local vulnerability, they are not sustainable solutions because they transfer risks to other places, and thus contribute to vulnerability elsewhere.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)399-418
Number of pages20
JournalEnvironmental Hazards
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2007


  • Arizona
  • Urbanization
  • Vulnerability
  • Water resources

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • General Environmental Science


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