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5

Organizing For Water Resources Research in the Twenty-first Century

In the 1900s, the setting of water research agendas and priorities in the United States was highly decentralized. There were no processes or mechanisms, formal or informal, for identifying the nation's water research and development priorities or even for prioritizing the nation's water problems on a unified basis. More than a dozen federal agencies are involved in water research programs in addition to some state and private agencies and a few local agencies. Despite the number of federal programs for water research, there is no single catalog or description of federal funds directed to these purposes. Unfortunately, there is no commonly accepted structure for categorizing types of water research. Indeed, few of the agencies that conduct research on subjects in this report even indicate in their budgetary material activity identified as “water resources research.” Usually, such work is buried under classifications such as earth science, environmental, or among regulatory, planning, or management-related programs. Further, agencies may view activities such as monitoring or remediation as research, thereby making it difficult to decipher funds spent on research from those spent on other activities. These agencies tend to act independently, with the result that investment in research and development may be duplicative while some important research topics fall through the cracks. Significant amounts of current agency research is focused on correcting errors of the past (e.g., environmental “remediation”) or on dealing with unanticipated or unintended consequences that adequate research might have prevented in the first place. Much agency research is not forward-looking or focused on the future, but rather deals with short-term and operational problems.

There are some who would argue that the laissez faire approach to research agenda-setting and prioritizing serves the nation well and that what is needed is a massive infusion of research funding. The difficulty with this approach is that the competition for research dollars is far more intense now than it was at any time during the twentieth century. The same can be said for the competition for all public resources, and in an era characterized by



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Page 42 5 Organizing For Water Resources Research in the Twenty-first Century In the 1900s, the setting of water research agendas and priorities in the United States was highly decentralized. There were no processes or mechanisms, formal or informal, for identifying the nation's water research and development priorities or even for prioritizing the nation's water problems on a unified basis. More than a dozen federal agencies are involved in water research programs in addition to some state and private agencies and a few local agencies. Despite the number of federal programs for water research, there is no single catalog or description of federal funds directed to these purposes. Unfortunately, there is no commonly accepted structure for categorizing types of water research. Indeed, few of the agencies that conduct research on subjects in this report even indicate in their budgetary material activity identified as “water resources research.” Usually, such work is buried under classifications such as earth science, environmental, or among regulatory, planning, or management-related programs. Further, agencies may view activities such as monitoring or remediation as research, thereby making it difficult to decipher funds spent on research from those spent on other activities. These agencies tend to act independently, with the result that investment in research and development may be duplicative while some important research topics fall through the cracks. Significant amounts of current agency research is focused on correcting errors of the past (e.g., environmental “remediation”) or on dealing with unanticipated or unintended consequences that adequate research might have prevented in the first place. Much agency research is not forward-looking or focused on the future, but rather deals with short-term and operational problems. There are some who would argue that the laissez faire approach to research agenda-setting and prioritizing serves the nation well and that what is needed is a massive infusion of research funding. The difficulty with this approach is that the competition for research dollars is far more intense now than it was at any time during the twentieth century. The same can be said for the competition for all public resources, and in an era characterized by

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Page 43 significant constraints on public resources, it is imperative that we be more systematic and strategic in planning water research if credible arguments for more resources are to be mounted. It would be a mistake to think that the only problem is the lack of coordination of the various federal agencies involved in water research. Rather, a coordinated research program in which researchers and agenda setters can be accountable to the public will require an alignment of state and federal governments, research universities, users and purveyors of all kinds, non-profit organizations, and public interest groups. These groups will need to ally to identify and support the research agenda of the twenty-first century. Although the notion that the research agenda should be set in a decentralized fashion may have much appeal, recent experience suggests that decentralized agenda-setting has been unduly reactive and sometimes neglectful of long-term issues. One consequence of this has been that the environmental impacts of many engineering works were unforeseen and misunderstood. Both multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research should help to avoid a repetition of this kind of mistake. A more viable mechanism is needed for setting and overseeing the water resources research agenda, based on the following principles: An effective alliance with and active participation of water resources research stakeholders is required; A systematic, strategic, and balanced agenda of both core and problem-driven research priorities should be set to meet short- and long-term needs; The core research agenda should develop (1) greater understanding of the basic processes—physical, biological, and social—that underlie environmental systems at different scales, (2) appropriate environmental monitoring programs, and (3) research tools to identify and measure structural and functional attributes of aquatic and related ecosystems (NRC, 1997a); The national water resources research effort should be coordinated to reduce needless duplication and to ensure that gaps do not occur; The research effort should be multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary; The research effort should be proactive and anticipate the nation's water needs and the environmental impacts of management options; and The research effort should be accountable to the public to assure that the water resources research investment has been appropriately utilized to meet the nation's needs.

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Page 44 ~ enlarge ~ Many water systems, such as this 50-year old reservoir in the New York City water supply system, are reaching the end of their usable lifetimes and will require new technologies and infrastructure to effectively regulate water in the twenty-first century. PROPOSAL FOR A NATIONAL WATER RESEARCH BOARD The Water Science and Technology Board (WSTB) recommends that Congress or the President's Office of Science and Technology Policy create a National Water Research Board that would be responsible for establishing and overseeing the national water research agenda. The Research Board should be charged with the ongoing task of developing (and keeping up-to-date) a strategic and anticipatory national water research agenda. Membership on the National Water Research Board should include stakeholders from the public and private sectors as well as academic representatives—the people who best understand water problems in their areas. Board composition should reflect the recognition that water resources research transcends media boundaries and is closely linked to terrestrial and atmospheric processes. Thus, this Research Board should help to ensure that there is adequate balance among disciplinary, multidisciplinary, and interdisciplinary research.

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Page 45 The WSTB recognizes that there are a variety of institutional mechanisms that could be employed to implement and administer the research agenda, such as an ad hoc interagency organization, a body within an existing agency, or an independent agency, each of which has its advantages and disadvantages. The WSTB believes that the appropriate mechanism for implementation should be identified through customary policy-making processes after careful consideration of the available alternatives. A National Water Research Board would provide a relatively simple, centralized system of setting research priorities. The appropriate implementation of those priorities could provide the necessary assurances and accountability for additional investments in water resources research. Because existing water research is so fragmented and obfuscated under a variety of rubrics, as previously discussed, even approximate estimates of the total annual investment in such research are difficult to formulate. Indeed, one of the first tasks the National Water Research Board should undertake would be to determine the current level of investment and the additional investment needed. Available estimates suggest that the real value of dollars currently invested in water research is significantly less than the levels of investment that prevailed in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. A strong case can be made that substantial increases in water research investment, on the order of several hundred million dollars, are called for if the nation is to address successfully the daunting array of water problems it will confront in the twenty-first century. CONCLUSIONS The progressive intensification of water scarcity in the early decades of the twenty-first century will necessitate innovative scientific, technological, and institutional solutions. Because the needed solutions to the problems described in this report are not currently available, appropriate water resources research in the new century is critical to human and ecosystem welfare. The WSTB has concluded that water resources research in this new century must be planned and prioritized in a coordinated and systematic way. The United States cannot afford to continue the fragmented and uncoordinated execution of water resources research typified during the past century. The WSTB suggests that coordination of the water research agenda can be achieved by creating a National Water Research Board that involves state and federal governments, research institutions, users and purveyors, non-

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Page 46profit organizations, and public interest groups. The Research Board should be patterned after similar boards such as the National Science Board. Effective implementation and administration of a strategic and proactive research agenda to be developed by the Research Board should provide the justification and accountability for augmented levels of investment in water resources research. Water resources problems are extremely complex, necessitating that their solutions cross-traditional disciplinary and societal boundaries. This sobering reality strongly suggests that these problems cannot be solved with the current level of investment in water research. Rather, a substantive commitment of significant new funds will be essential if we are to attain effective stewardship of this increasingly scarce resource. Finally, the WSTB has identified three broad areas that should be included in the water resources research agenda for the twenty-first century: 1. Studies of water availability should focus on the development of supply-enhancing technologies, on understanding the threats to water quality, on developing means for preventing further declines in water quality, and on developing ways of enhancing water quality. In consort with these investigations, data need to be available in near real time and should characterize ~ enlarge ~ Multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research will be needed to anticipate the nation's water needs and their environmental impacts.

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Page 47 water quantity and quality for both surface and subsurface waters. The monitoring of water quantity and water quality will also be important in assessing whether water policies and management efforts are working and for identifying and understanding causes of emerging water problems. 2. Studies of water use should focus on developing a better understanding of the determinants of consumptive use, the importance and scale of agricultural use, and the nature and impact of environmental uses. Research on the technologies and infrastructure for water recycling will be critical to meeting future water needs. 3. Studies leading to the development of improved water management institutions should receive much more emphasis in the research agenda of the twenty-first century than they have previously received. Studies should focus on legal and economic institutions, and researchers from other social science disciplines in water resources research should be involved. The specific research issues identified in these three areas are summarized in the list below, which represents a 20-year interdisciplinary research portfolio for the water resources field. Water Availability Develop new and innovative supply-enhancing technologies Improve existing supply-enhancing technologies such as wastewater treatment, desalting, and groundwater banking Increase safety of wastewater treated for reuse as drinking water Develop innovative techniques for preventing pollution Understand physical, chemical, and microbial contaminant fate and transport Control nonpoint source pollution Understand impact of land-use changes and best management practices on pollutant loading to waters Understand impact of contaminants on ecosystem services, biotic indices, and higher organisms Understand assimilation capacity of the environment and time course of recovery following contamination Improve integrity of drinking water distribution systems Improve scientific bases for risk assessment and risk management with regard to water quality Understand national hydrologic measurement needs and develop a program that will provide these measurements

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Page 48 Develop new techniques for measuring water flows and water quality, including remote sensing and in situ techniques Develop data collection and distribution in near real time for improved forecasting and water resources operations Improve forecasting the hydrologic cycle over a range of time scales and on a regional basis Understand and predict the frequency and cause of severe weather (floods and droughts) Understand recent increases in damage from floods and droughts Understand global change and its hydrologic impacts Water Use Understand determinants of water use in the agricultural, domestic, commercial, public, and industrial sectors Understand relationship of agricultural water use to climate, crop type, and water application rates Develop improved crops for more efficient water use and optimize the economic return for the water used Develop improved crop varieties for use in dryland agriculture Understand water-related aspects of the sustainability of irrigated agriculture Understand behavior of aquatic ecosystems in a broad, systematic context, including their water requirements Enhance and restore species diversity in aquatic ecosystems Improve manipulation of water-quality parameters to maintain and enhance aquatic habitats Understand interrelationship between aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems to support watershed management Water Institutions Develop legal regimes that promote groundwater management and conjunctive use of surface water and groundwater Understand issues related to the governance of water where it has common pool and public good attributes Understand uncertainties attending to Native American water rights and other federal reserved rights Improve equity in existing water management laws

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Page 49 Conduct comparative studies of water laws and institutions Develop adaptive management Develop new methods for estimating the value of nonmarketed attributes of water resources Understand use of economic institutions to protect common pool and pure public good values related to water resources Develop efficient markets and marketlike arrangements for water Understand role of prices, pricing structures, and the price elasticity of water demand Understand role of the private sector in achieving efficient provision of water and wastewater services Understand key factors that affect water-related risk communication and decision processes Understand user-organized institutions for water distribution, such as cooperatives, special districts, and mutual companies Develop different processes for obtaining stakeholder input in forming water policies and plans Understand cultural and ethical factors associated with water use Conduct ex post research to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of past water policies and projects