Boulder, Colorado - How has the scarcity of water in the American West resulted in so much controversy? A free online course offered beginning April 1 by experts at the University of Colorado Boulder will answer that question and take students on a virtual journey, following water as it makes its way from snow-capped peaks to the taps in the drier valleys across the Western United States.


Water in the Western United States, CU-Boulder’s latest massive open online course, or MOOC, will unfold over four and a half weeks, allowing students the opportunity to explore the scientific, legal, political and cultural issues impacting water and climate in the West.

During the course, students will use the history of water use in the Colorado River Basin as a case study and explore some of the controversial water issues facing the region today, from the increased demand created by hydraulic fracturing to the impacts of climate change to the needs of a growing population. The course, which does not require any prior knowledge, is being taught by Anne Gold, climate literacy and geoscience education specialist at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), and Eric Gordon, program manager of the Western Water Assessment (WWA), part of CIRES on the CU-Boulder campus.

“This is a relatively quick and easy way to learn where your water supply comes from and what affects it,” Gordon said. Gordon and Gold worked with more than a dozen other experts in water management, policy and research to create a series of short video lectures. Students can watch each week’s videos on their own schedules, and they will participate in various exercises and activities, just as they would if they were in a live classroom. “You get content from the best experts that are out there in little 10-minute bites,” Gold said. “This is designed to be a short, approachable course about something that’s pretty complex.” Educators, who can earn graduate-level credit by signing up for a parallel course through CU-Boulder’s Division of Continuing Education, are especially encouraged to participate.

Water in the Western United States is being offered through Coursera, an educational platform that partners with universities and institutions worldwide to offer free online courses. The course has been recognized by the White House Office of Science and Technology as a project that supports the president’s Climate Education and Literacy Initiative.

CIRES is a joint institute of CU-Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. For a full syllabus or to sign up for the course, visit