Environmental Role-Play:

Water Use Helping Cities Adapt to Climate Change Risks (I)

Evan Thomas Paul and Jessica Agatstein under the direction of Professor Lawrence Susskind

This is a six-party, multi-issue negotiation game involving environmental, economic, social, and political interests in a city where the water infrastructure is inefficient and not up to the task of coping with extreme water events.

Parties: 6. Time Req'd: 1-2 hrs. Teaching Notes: Yes.

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River and stream levels have been remarkably volatile in the region around Evantown for the past decade, reaching record highs and lows. The major source of water both for the city and for area businesses and industry is the Foltz river, which experienced notably high water levels three years ago but has fallen to record lows for the past two years. A drought in 2008 brought the issue to a head as the city of Evantown was forced to implement a water conservation initiative due to low water levels. The mayor has now convened five key stakeholders to discuss the three major decisions that will impact future use of the river – whether or nor to increase water allocations to several different actos, whether and how to invest in improving the efficiency of the water infrastructure, and whether and how to improve residential water use efficiency. A key criterion in determining the merit of a particular set of options is how seriously the group takes the most extreme projected impacts of climate change.



  • In a changing climate, rainfall and resulting water levels may become more volatile— floods and droughts are both likely to be more intense at different times of the year. The efficient and effective use of freshwater resources will therefore be a key planning issue.
  • Major infrastructure decisions will have to be made despite the uncertainty of future conditions. Taking climate projections into account when designing infrastructure is particularly important because infrastructure is usually intended to be in place for several decades. Each city will need to discuss how conservative it wishes to be in regard to projected risk. The most successful adaptation planning efforts by cities thus far seem to be those aimed at reducing climate change risk as part of ongoing infrastructure planning, growth management, and capital budgeting activities.
  • Whenever possible, it is critical that cities use data to guide adaptation planning, such as hydrological modeling of water resources. Climate models are becoming more accurate and can be downscaled to regional levels. For some areas, these models predict more frequent and more intense storms; the resultant flooding events will impact existing and future development.
  • Regulations from the state and federal level will impact how local governments respond, and local laws may need to be changed in response. Cities can use changes in federal and state regulations as opportunities to assess existing city regulations, spur conversation and education around climate change adaptation, and create city-specific updates to local codes.
  • Finally, stakeholders will place different priorities on various short- and long-term goals for your city, some of which will conflict. A short-term goal may be real estate development for economic growth, while a long-term goal may be urban growth management to protect valuable natural resources. Conducting role-playing games around issues of climate change adaptation can help to broaden perspectives, facilitate discussion, enhance scenario-planning, and work toward “no-regrets” solutions in which all priorities are met.



This game is one of an initial set of three games that the MIT Science Impact Collaborative has developed to illustrate the need to consider climate change in existing policy debates such as how to improve the condition of a city's housing stock, rather than only tackling climate change as a separate and comprehensive issue. The other two games written for this series include Heat Islands and Flooding.



For all parties:

  • General Instructions


Role Specific:

Confidential Instructions to the player negotiating for:

  • Mayor J. Gray
  • Alliance for Evantown's Environment and Ecology (AEEE)
  • Evantown Water and Sewer Commission
  • Evantown Agricultural Association
  • Evantown Residents' Association
  • Evantown Chamber of Commerce


Teacher's Package:

  • All of the above
  • Teaching Note



Climate change; Adaptation; Housing; Multiparty negotiating; Public dispute resolution




Heat Islands

Water Use Attributes

Time required: 1-2 hours
Number of participants: 6
Teams involved: No
Agent present: None
Neutral third party present: Facilitator
Scoreable: No
Teaching notes available: Yes