Quest University student offers U.S. watershed solution

The Journal of the American Water Resources Association (JAWRA) recently published a paper that was co-authored buy a Quest University Canada student, Noelani (Olenka) Forde and her professor, Rich Wildman. The news took the Calgary, Alberta, native by surprise as she produced the work while in her first year of studies.

The original school assignment required students to calculate the water balance of the Colorado River’s Lake Mead, the largest water reservoir in the United States. Management of this resource has become topic of discussion as municipal and agricultural users continue to consume more water than flows down the river in an average year. Students were challenged to predict when the reservoir will run out of water.

The paper explores the viability of interstate water trading as a way to add flexibility into the system during times of water shortage. This is the concept that Noelani first presented in her April 2010 assignment.

“Noelani’s answer to this assignment was impressively elegant and insightful,” says visiting professor Rich Wildman, who taught the Earth-Oceans-Space course.  “She proposed a cap-and-trade system such as that being applied to CO2 emissions, and then she explained the basic ideas of how it would work. Noelani essentially described the major elements of Australia’s successful Murray-Darling Basin interstate water trading system, without ever having heard of it before! She ended up with the highest grade in a highly technical class… this wasn’t a lucky single moment of excellence on her part.”

Noelani, has now completed her third year at Quest and is still trying to process her success.

“We’ve been working on this for so long now, and I still can’t quite believe that it has really happened,” she says from her Calgary home. “I have learned so much along the way; not the least of which is that water markets are incredibly complex and need to be thoroughly planned out depending upon the context. I’m so grateful to Rich for taking the time to nurture my idea, undertake so much more research, and then actually publish the paper! I was very surprised when he first approached me with the idea, and it’s a real tribute to the small classes and amazing opportunities available through Quest to work so closely with the faculty.”

Forde and Wildman’s paper– Management of Water Shortage in the Colorado River Basin: Evaluating Current Policy and the Viability of Interstate Water Trading, is available online at

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