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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research 3 Water Resources Research Priorities for the Future The pressing nature of water resource problems was set forth in Chapter 1. The solution to these problems is necessarily sought in research—inquiry into the basic natural and societal processes that govern the components of a given problem, combined with inquiry into possible methods for solving these problems. In many fields, descriptions of research priorities structure the ways in which researchers match their expertise and experience to both societal needs and the availability of research funding. Statements of research priorities also evolve as knowledge is developed, questions are answered, and new societal issues and pressures emerge. Thus, the formulation of research priorities has a profound effect on the conduct of research and the likelihood of finding solutions to problems. Statements of research priorities developed by a group of scientists or managers with a common perspective within their field of expertise can have a relatively narrow scope. Indeed, this phenomenon has resulted in numerous independent sets of research priorities for various aspects of water resources. This has come about because water plays an important role in a strikingly large number of disciplines, ranging from ecology to engineering and economics—disciplines that otherwise have little contact with each other. Thus, priority lists from ecologists emphasize ecosystem integrity, priority lists from water treatment professionals emphasize the quantity and quality of the water supply, and priority lists from hydrologists emphasize water budgets and hydrologic processes. In recent years, the limitations of discipline-based perspectives have become clear, as researchers and managers alike have recognized that water problems relevant to society necessarily integrate across the physical, chemical, biological, and social sciences. Narrowly conceived research produces inadequate solutions to such problems;
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research these in turn provide little useful guidance for management because critical parts of the system have been ignored. For example, the traditional subdivision of water resource issues into those of quality and quantity is now seen as inadequate to structure future research, given that water quality and quantity are intimately, causally, and mechanistically connected. Similarly, theoretical studies of water flows (hydrology) and aquatic ecosystems (limnology) can no longer be viewed as independent subjects, as each materially affects the other in myriad ways. Finally, the physical, chemical, and biological aspects of water cannot adequately be investigated without reference to the human imprint on all facets of the earth’s surface. Thus, the challenge in identifying water resources research needs is to engage researchers in novel collaborations and novel ways of perceiving the research topics that they have traditionally investigated. Water resources research priorities were recently extensively considered by the Water Science and Technology Board (WSTB) in Envisioning the Agenda for Water Resources Research in the Twenty-first Century (NRC, 2001a). This resulted in a detailed, comprehensive list of research needs, grouped into three categories (Table 3-1); the reader is referred to NRC (2001a) for a detailed description of each research need. The category of water availability emphasizes the interrelated nature of water quantity and water quality problems and it recognizes the increasing pressures on water supply to provide for both human and ecosystem needs. The category of water use includes not only research questions about managing human consumptive and nonconsumptive use of water, but also about the use of water by aquatic ecosystems and endangered or threatened species. The third category, water institutions, emphasizes the need for research into the economic, social, and institutional forces that shape both the availability and use of water. After review and reconsideration, the committee concluded that the priorities enumerated in the Envisioning report constitute the most comprehensive and current best statement of water resources research needs. Moreover, successful pursuit of that research agenda could provide answers to the central questions posed in Chapter 1. However, the list of research topics is not ranked, either within the three general categories or as a complete set of 43. An absolute ranking would be difficult to achieve, as all are important parts of a national water resources research agenda. Furthermore, the list of research priorities can be expected to change over time, reflecting both changes in the generators of such lists and in the conditions to which they are responding. This chapter, thus, provides a mechanism for reviewing, updating, and prioritizing research areas in this and subsequent lists. It should be noted that the 43 research areas in Table 3-1 are of varying complexity and breadth. In addition, the committee expanded research area #21 (develop more efficient water use) from the version found in the Envisioning report to include all sectors rather than just the agricultural sector. The increasing urgency of water-related issues has stimulated a number of scientific societies and governmental entities, in addition to the WSTB, to produce
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research TABLE 3-1 Water Resources Research Areas that Should Be Emphasized in the Next 10–15 Years 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 pollutants 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 Develop new techniques for measuring water flows and water quality, including remote sensing and in situ. Develop data collection and distribution in near real time for improved forecasting and water resources operations Improve forecasting the hydrological water 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 damages 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 relationships between agricultural water use and climate, crop type, and water application rates In all sectors, develop 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 of species diversity in aquatic ecosystems Improve manipulation of water quality and quantity 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
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research 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 Conduct comparative studies of water laws and institutions Develop adaptive management Develop new methods for estimating the value of nonmarketed attributes of water resources Explore use of economic institutions to protect common pool and pure public good values related to water resources Develop efficient markets and market-like 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 SOURCE: Adapted from NRC (2001a), which identifies the researchable questions associated with each topic. their own lists of research priorities. For example, the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography recently convened a workshop to draft a list of emerging research issues (ASLO, 2003). These issues included the biogeochemistry of aquatic ecosystems, the influence of hydrogeomorphic setting on aquatic systems, the impacts of global changes in climate and element cycles, and emerging measurement technologies. This list builds on the comprehensive analysis of research priorities for freshwater ecosystems set forth in The Freshwater Imperative (Box 2-1; see also Naiman et al., 1995). Another list of research priorities was recently assembled by the European Commission (2003), Task Force Environment–Water, which emphasizes water availability and water quality and the social, economic, and political aspects of water management. Like the NRC (2001a) report, this research agenda sets forth broad areas of research, with more specific “action lines” within high-priority areas. However, the approach differs from NRC (2001a) in that water quality is separated from water availability, and the socioeconomic and political research agenda is oriented toward crisis management. The U.S. Global Change Program also identified interrelated issues of quantity, quality, and human society as key research needs (Gleick et al., 2000);
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research this research agenda emphasizes the development of models and methods of prediction as well as data collection and monitoring systems, and it emphasizes research on the socioeconomic and legal impacts of climate change. This brief review of selected contemporary lists of research priorities, as well as the lists of research priorities shown in Box 2-1, illustrates that the articulation and the ranking of research topics vary with the entity charged to develop a research agenda. It can be anticipated that future lists of priorities will also differ from these. A METHOD FOR SETTING PRIORITIES OF A NATIONAL RESEARCH AGENDA The business of setting priorities for water resources research needs to be more than a matter of summing up the priorities of the numerous federal agencies, professional associations, and federal committees. Indeed, there is no logical reason why such a list should add up to a nationally relevant set of priorities, as each agency has its own agenda limited by its particular mission, just as each disciplinary group and each committee does. There is a high probability that research priorities not specifically under the aegis of a particular agency or other organization will be significantly neglected. Indeed, the institutional issues that constitute one of the three major themes in Table 3-1 are not explicitly targeted in the mission of any federal agency. This is the current state of affairs in the absence of a more coordinated mechanism for setting a national water resources research agenda. A more rigorous process for priority setting should be adopted—one that will allow the water resources research enterprise to remain flexible and adaptable to changing conditions and emerging problems. Such a mechanism is also essential to ensure that water resources research needs are considered from a national and long-term perspective. The components of such a priority-setting process are outlined below, in the form of six questions or criteria that can be used to assess individual research areas and thus to assemble a responsive and effective national research agenda. In order to ensure the required flexibility and national-scale perspective, the criteria should also be applied to individual research areas during periodic reviews of the research enterprise. Is there a federal role in this research area? This question is important for evaluating the “public good” nature of the water resources research area. A federal role is appropriate in those research areas where the benefits of such research are widely dispersed and do not accrue only to those who fund the research. Furthermore, it is important to consider whether the research area is being or even can be addressed by institutions other than the federal government.
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research What is the expected value of this research? This question addresses the importance attached to successful results, either in terms of direct problem solving or advancement of fundamental knowledge of water resources. To what extent is the research of national significance? National significance is greatest for research areas (1) that address issues of large-scale concern (for example, because they encompass a region larger than an individual state), (2) that are driven by federal legislation or mandates, and (3) whose benefits accrue to a broad swath of the public (for example, because they address a problem that is common across the nation). Note that while there is overlap between the first and third criteria, research may have public good properties while not being of national significance, and vice versa. Does the research fill a gap in knowledge? If the research area fills a knowledge gap, it should clearly be of higher priority than research that is duplicative of other efforts. Furthermore, there are several common underlying themes that, given the expected future complexity of water resources research, should be used to evaluate research areas: the interdisciplinary nature of the research the need for a broad systems context in phrasing research questions and pursuing answers the incorporation of uncertainty concepts and measurements into all aspects of research how well the research addresses the role of adaptation in human and ecological response to changing water resources These themes, and their importance in combating emerging water resources problems, are described in detail in this chapter. How well is this research area progressing? The adequacy of efforts in a given research area can be evaluated with respect to the following: current funding levels and funding trends over time whether the research area is part of the agenda of one or more federal agencies whether prior investments in this type of research have produced results (i.e., the level of success of this type of research in the past and why new efforts are warranted) These questions are addressed with respect to the current water resources research portfolio in Chapter 4.
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research How does the research area complement the overall water resources research portfolio? The portfolio approach is built on the premise that a diverse mix of holdings is the least risky way to maximize return on investments. When applied to federal research and development, the portfolio concept is invoked to mean a mix between applied research and fundamental research (Eiseman et al., 2002). Indeed, the priority-setting process should be as much dedicated to ensuring an appropriate balance and mix of research efforts as it is to listing specific research topics. In the context of water resources, a diversified portfolio would capture the following desirable elements of a national research agenda: multiple national objectives related to increasing water availability, improving water quality and ecological functions, and strengthening institutional and management practices short-, intermediate-, and long-term research goals supporting national objectives agency-based, contract, and investigator-driven research both national and region-specific problems being encompassed data collection needs to support all of the above Thus, the water resources research agenda should be balanced in terms of the time scale of the effort (short-term vs. long-term), the source of the problem statements (investigator-driven vs. problem-driven), the goal of the research (fundamental vs. applied), and the investigators conducting the work (internally vs. externally conducted). An individual research area should be evaluated for its ability to complement existing research priorities with respect to these characteristics. Definitions of these terms are provided in Box 3-1, and the appropriate balance among these categories is addressed in Chapters 4 and 6. Furthermore, it is important to consider whether the research fills gaps in the desired mix of water availability, water use, and institutional topics (as demarcated in Table 3-1). A final level of evaluation would consider how well the research responds to the four themes described in this chapter (interdisciplinarity, broad systems context, evaluation of uncertainty, and adaptation). To summarize, a balanced water resources research agenda will include items of national significance for which a federal role is necessary; fill knowledge gaps in all three topical areas (water availability, water use, and institutions); incorporate a mixture of short-term and long-term research, basic and applied investigations, investigator-initiated and mission-driven research, and internal and external efforts; and build upon existing funding and research success. As noted above, some of these issues are addressed in subsequent chapters, with respect to the current water resources research agenda (see Table 3-1). The remainder of this chapter expands upon the four overarching themes that should form the context within which water resources research is conceptualized and performed.
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research BOX 3-1 Definitions of Research In order to assess the scope and adequacy of the national research agenda in water resources, it is first necessary to articulate what is meant by “research.” Research encompasses intellectual inquiry in pursuit of new knowledge. However, this inquiry can take place across many dimensions of temporal and spatial scale, purpose, and organization. After reviewing the varieties of activities classified as “research” by the federal agencies, the committee developed a taxonomy of research categories that was used to assess the distribution and balance of the national water resources research agenda. Following is a description of the categories as used by the committee to assess the current status of water resources research. Short-term vs. Long-term It is important to specify the time scale over which the research is done and over which the results of the research may be applied. “Short-term” research refers to research efforts that are conceptualized and prioritized over a maximum of five-year time frames and conducted over shorter periods of time (two to three years) and that are applicable on immediate time scales. Short-term research is expected to produce immediate results that can be directly applied to current problems. Developing methods of optimizing the use of current water supplies, a research priority of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, is a typical example of short-term research. In contrast, “long-term” research refers to research efforts that are conceptualized and prioritized over time frames of more than five years and are usually carried out over relatively long time frames (greater than five years) and/or produce results that will only be applicable to management or further research over similarly long time scales. Examples include the Long-term Ecological Research sites of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the research watersheds maintained by the U.S. Forest Service, as well as research conducted on fundamental aspects of water science. Fundamental vs. Applied Research can be evaluated in terms of the type of knowledge that is sought. Traditionally, research that is solely inspired by curiosity—a quest to understand the world and generate new knowledge—is thought to be “fundamental.” Such research is contrasted with “applied research,” which is designed to solve a specific, contemporary problem. However, a more
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research realistic representation of the these categories distinguishes two types of fundamental research, which can be denoted as “pure basic research,” which is conducted without respect to any practical application, and “use-based basic research” in which an ultimate application informs research that seeks the basic knowledge necessary to solve a problem (Stokes, 1997). The term “fundamental” is used in this report to encompass those activities intended to generate new knowledge; it includes both that research conducted without respect to any practical application and that inspired by the need for solutions to real-world problems. The term “applied research” is used to encompass those activities that seek to determine if and how current knowledge can be applied to solving problems. This formulation is in accord with the portrayal of research in “Pasteur’s quadrant” as a two-dimensional set of continua (Stokes, 1997). In accordance with these definitions, research may be immediately applicable to management problems and yet be “fundamental” if the resolution of those problems involves the production of new understanding of basic phenomena. For example, research contributing to an understanding of groundwater flow in fractured rock aquifers is fundamental research, as this is a poorly understood topic in hydrogeology. However, because there are many fractured rock aquifers that are major water sources for consumptive use and/or are contaminated, the knowledge has immediate application. In contrast, research on the applicability of readily available treatment technologies to remediate contamination in a fractured rock aquifer would be applied research, as it addresses the uses to which existing knowledge may be put. Investigator-driven vs. Mission-driven Investigator-driven research is initially conceived by an individual or group of individuals, through imaginative and original thought applied to existing knowledge in a field, and it is conducted as a result of the initiative of the scientist in finding funds to support the research effort. It is sometimes described as curiosity-driven. Such research is usually conducted after external peer review of a research proposal submitted in competition with other investigator-initiated proposals. The research programs of the NSF are the standard for such research. An example might be research exploring a previously unknown mechanism by which a contaminant interferes with cell physiology, which an investigator has thought about and wants to verify experimentally. In contrast, mission-driven research is conducted in response to a problem area identified by and consistent with both an agency mission statement and/or a congressional
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research mandate in particular legislation. Such problem statements are developed by agency staff and administrators, who then seek out the appropriate mix of scientists to develop a research program to address the problem. While the ingenuity and originality of the scientific approach are highly valued in such research, they do not typically contribute to the initial definition of the scientific problem at hand. An example might be determination of exposure risks for a class of contaminants; the mission is to regulate risk from a class of pollutants, and the goal of the research is to satisfy the performance of this mission. Internal vs. External Research can be evaluated in terms of the institutional affiliation of the individuals carrying out the activity. “Internal” research is conducted by investigators employed by the agency funding the work. “External research” is conducted by investigators in institutions other than the funding agency. The large majority of external research is conducted by faculty at institutions of higher education, through grants and contracts with funding agencies. Overlap Among the Categories Gradations exist within each category of research, such that a research project may be of, for example, “intermediate term.” However, most agency research programs sponsor research that is close enough to one extreme or the other on each scale to be satisfactorily classified by the above typology. This is particularly true for the latter two classifications. There is considerable overlap among these categories; indeed, in practice they grade into each other, forming continua of research characteristics. Thus, the majority of long-term research is also fundamental research, whereas short-term research is often, but not always, applied. Much of the short-term research is conducted internally, particularly by agencies whose missions are focused on solving current problems. Short-term research is also likely to be mission-driven, for the same reason. Investigator-driven research is, by contrast, most likely to be conducted externally, by individuals based at universities, research institutes, and other nongovernmental organizations, and it is more likely to be fundamental and long-term. Although there are clear correlations among these categories, it is important to note that there is much research being conducted that combines the categories in other ways.
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research THEMES OF FUTURE WATER RESOURCES RESEARCH There are several common underlying themes that should be used to (1) integrate and reconcile the numerous lists of research priorities currently being generated by agencies and scientific societies and (2) provide some overall direction to the multiple agencies and academic entities that carry out water resources research. These themes are interdisciplinarity, a broad systems context, uncertainty, and adaptation in human and ecological response to changing water resources. The term interdisciplinarity refers to the fact that no question about water resources can be now adequately addressed within the confines of traditional disciplines. The research community recognizes that the physical, chemical, and biological/ecological characteristics of water resources are causally and mechanistically interrelated, and all are profoundly affected by the human presence in the environment. Therefore, it is necessary to understand water resources with reference to a range of natural and social scientific disciplines. The phrase broad system context refers to the perception that all properties of water are part of a complex network of interacting factors, in which the processes that connect the factors are as important as the factors themselves. Both interdisciplinarity and broad systems context place water resources within the emerging field of complex systems (Holland, 1995; Holland and Grayston, 1998). Uncertainty—the degree of confidence in the results and conclusions of research—has always been an important component of scientific research. All measurements and observations entail some degree of error, as do methods of data analysis, estimation, and modeling. Understanding the sources and amounts of uncertainty attached to estimates of flow, water quality, and other water resource variables is crucial, because so many practical and often expensive decisions hinge on the results. In short, understanding and measuring uncertainty are central to making informed decisions about water resources. Furthermore, an emphasis on uncertainty also implies attention to the extent and quality of the data available for generating estimates of important variables; this attention in turn implies a need to improve technologies for research and monitoring. Finally, an understanding of the uncertainties in data, models, and scientific knowledge lies at the heart of risk analysis and the development of policies and strategies to handle complex environmental problems (Handmer et al., 2001). Finally, adaptation is a key component of the human, as well as ecological, response to the ever-changing environment. Human society has always changed in response to changing resources; the challenge is now to anticipate environmental changes and develop adaptive responses before catastrophe or conflict force such evolution. This is particularly pressing as research ascertains the impact of human activities on ecosystems, such as greenhouse gas release into the atmosphere and deforestation. Adaptation may involve modifying social mores and norms or forming new government policies including economic policies. For
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research norms and standards that can result from confronting novel situations. A related concept in water resources is that of adaptive management, a learning-while-doing process in which a management action is viewed as an experiment, and as managers learn from their successes and failures, they adjust their management actions accordingly (Holling, 1978; Geldof, 1995; Haney and Power, 1996; Wieringa and Morton, 1996; Lee, 1999; NRC, 1999, 2003b, 2004b). Below are examples of how adaptation is a key element in addressing some of the research priorities listed in Table 3-1. Improving the integrity of drinking water distribution systems (#10 in Table 3-1) will have to come at least partially from research that addresses the nation’s aging water delivery infrastructure, particularly in the eastern United States (Davies et al., 1997; Levin et al., 2002). It is well known that in-line infiltration into cracked or otherwise compromised water delivery pipes occurs during cases of extreme hydrologic events or even under normal operation when there is transient negative pressure in the pipeline (Besner et al., 2001). During such events, contaminants from the surrounding soil are drawn into the water delivery system. Although replacement of distribution systems can prevent such occurrences, it is not yet known what materials are best for long-term replacement of the systems (McNeill and Edwards, 2001). Upgrading water supply infrastructure is not likely to occur in the near future for many systems for financial reasons (see GAO, 2002). Other options for improving the integrity of drinking water systems, such as better treatment to potable water standards of all water delivered to homes and businesses, is becoming increasingly costly as well. In addition, completely reliable transportation of microbially safe water over long distances cannot always be performed cost-effectively. This combination of challenges will require adaptability on the part of both researchers and users. For example, creative water delivery systems, such as inhome gray water recycling or dual-home distribution systems (Wilchfort and Lund, 1997) that bring potable water to a few taps and slightly less pure water to other taps for cleaning purposes or industrial needs, will require research. This includes research to develop the technologies to implement such systems and research to understand how people adapt to new modes of obtaining and using water (see Box 3-3) and how such a transition might be effected. Individuals’ views of water-related risks (Loewenstein et al., 2001), in-home uses of water, and the value of water resources (Aini et al., 2001) will also need to adapt in order for these technological changes to be successful in maintaining drinking water quality. The task of enhancing and restoring aquatic ecosystems (#25 in Table 3-1) requires the integration of human and ecological uses of water, a daunting task that will require adaptation on the part of all concerned. As discussed above, natural variability in flow regime and hydroperiod acts to maintain a healthy and
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research BOX 3-3 Research on Changing Human Perceptions of Water A comprehensive, coordinated research strategy focused on human beliefs, values, and decision making about water is needed better understand humans’ potential to adapt to a changing water environment. In the past 20 years, research has been conducted on people’s perceptions of environmental issues (e.g., Slovic, 2000), but little has been done on water specifically. The body of knowledge concerning the factors that affect populations’ perceptions of water (Anadu and Harding, 2000), its value (NRC, 1997b; National Water Research Institute, 1999; Aini et al., 2001), its quality (NRC, 2001d; Williams and Florez, 2002), related risks (Lowenstein et al., 2001), and decision processes (Krewski et al., 1995) is not well developed. As an example, limited research has been conducted on the social and political complexity of water reuse as part of a sustainable community (e.g., see Hartley, 2003), and broad issues about public perception and acceptance of reuse remain unaddressed. In addition, research on effective means of communicating water-related risks has received limited attention (e.g., Griffin et al., 1998; Harding and Anadu, 2000; Burger et al., 2001; Parkin et al., 2003). Only fragmented information is currently available to address water-related issues on the personal, social, or cultural scale. It is known that cultural biases and lifestyle preferences are powerful predictors of risk perceptions (Dake and Wildavsky, 1991). McDaniels et al. (1997) found that a small set of underlying factors (ecological impact, human benefits, controllability, and knowledge) affect lay people’s judgments about risks to water resources. One study in the United States indicates that people choose their source of water based on their awareness of water problems, their beliefs that such problems affect them personally, and the duration of the problems (Anadu and Harding, 2000). A much earlier study on water reuse in California indicated that the public favored options that protected public health, enhanced the environment, and conserved scarce water resources (Crook and Bruvold, 1980). In the Southwest, Caucasians and Mexican Americans have been found to have important differences in their views of water quality-related risks, equity, trust, and participation in civic affairs (Williams and Florez, 2002). In the United Kingdom, people’s perceptions of power and authority and beliefs in the efficacy of collective action were found to be associated with public views about recreational water (Langford et al., 2000). A study in Canada suggests that people believe that environmental quality (including water quality) is getting worse; they will not support decisions they feel will continue that trend or compromise their health, even if the economy improves (Krewski et al., 1995). These studies have contributed to knowledge about water-related perceptions and decision processes, but the data are insufficient to provide a complete understanding of the factors that influence individual’s decisions about water.
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research diverse biological community within aquatic and riparian ecosystems. However, human actions to minimize floods and droughts and to provide reliable water for consumption at constant rates can eliminate this natural variability (Dynesius and Nilsson, 1994). In order to balance these effects, management of the water, the ecosystem, and the affected social groups must be adaptive in several respects. For example, ecological restoration, while guided by ideals of the undisturbed or historical state of the ecosystem, increasingly must accept the lesser but still critical goal of repairing damaged systems to a partially restored state. This will be necessary because of insufficient knowledge of the undisturbed state, permanent alteration of the landscape through built structures and intensive land use, and the prevalence of nearly ineradicable nonnative species. An example is provided by the Laurentian Great Lakes, where overfishing and the onslaught of the sea lamprey brought about the decline of native fishes, including the lake trout. At the same time, exotic species of smaller “forage” fish proliferated, resulting in the famous die-off of alewives that littered Chicago’s beaches in the early 1970s. Fisheries managers attempted a bold experiment, importing coho and king salmon from the Pacific Northwest, a highly successful adaptation to a “collapsing” ecosystem. Now with well over one hundred nonnative species, the Great Lakes pose a continuing challenge to ecologists and fisheries managers seeking to manage and restore the ecosystem. Adaptation is anticipated to be particularly difficult but absolutely essential in large aquatic ecosystems where there are multiple competing interests (fisheries scientists, communities relying on fishing, farmers, water resource and dam managers, etc.) (Peterson, 2000). The scale of conflicts arising from the plexus of interests involved in large-scale ecosystem restoration is illustrated by the recent Klamath (NRC, 2003a) and Columbia River controversies (Gregory et al., 2002; NRC, 1996, 2004a). Clearly, research is needed to develop adaptive approaches to both managing the resources (water, fish, etc.) as well as the various human populations involved in these issues. Flexibility, an understanding that a variety of alternative strategies are possible, and a willingness to adjust previously assumed “rights” will be essential in finding compromises between competing human and ecosystem demands. In addition, the use of adaptive management procedures will be necessary. The need to understand governance of water (#29 in Table 3-1) and improve equity2 in current water law (#31 in Table 3-1) is predicated on an awareness of the importance of flexibility or the ability to adapt to new situations. Laws are inherently conservative since their function is to fix in-place rules governing human actions. Generally, certainty and clarity are important objectives of law so 2 Equity in this context refers to fairness. Equity or fairness is not a scientific concept but is of pivotal importance in jurisprudence and policy making.
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research that people know what is expected or required and can act in accordance. Thus, for example, investments can be made with the expectation that changes in law will not undo the hoped-for return that motivated the investment. Actions can be taken without fear that a change in the rules will punish the actor. A stable legal system is important economically and socially. However, this societal interest in stability may conflict with other emerging societal interests in periods of active change. During the 1970s, for example, Congress imposed far-reaching new legal requirements on those whose activities generated certain types of pollution from readily identifiable (point) sources, forcing massive investment in technologically advanced systems for the treatment of particular pollutants prior to their discharge into the environment. The years immediately following enactment of these laws were ones of considerable turmoil and conflict as uncertainties respecting their implementation were disputed and resolved. With these requirements now firmly embedded into the plans and actions of the regulated community, stability has returned. So too has resistance to any significant change in approach, even if such change might better accomplish the objectives of these laws. Laws governing human uses of water have traditionally been concerned with determining who may make use of the resource and under what conditions. In those states east of the 100th meridian, owners of land adjacent to waterbodies essentially share the ability to use the water (riparian doctrine). Uses must be “reasonable,” with reasonable use generally being measured by the harm that might be caused to other riparian users. In the western states, uses are established through a process of appropriation of water—that is, establishing physical control—and then applying the water to a “beneficial use.” It is a priority system, protecting full use of available water by those first to appropriate it. The appropriation system arose in the context of water-scarce settings. Direct use of water from streams initially for mining and then for agriculture was essential, and it required the investment of time and money to build the structures that would make that use possible. Users wanted certainty about their rights of use versus other subsequent users, and the prior appropriation system provided that certainty. The appropriation system does not, however, readily accommodate changing uses of water or integrate new uses. Nor does it incorporate the use of water for serving physical and ecological functions within the hydrologic cycle. This suggests that water laws need to be more adaptable if they are to meet changing societal needs. As a first effort, many western states have adopted water transfer laws to accommodate changing water uses, including environmental needs such as instream flows. These states have successfully combined the certainty of the prior appropriation system with the ability to meet emerging demands. The process of restoring a sustainable level of physical and ecological integrity to our hydrologic systems must work within long-established legal and institutional structures whose purpose has been to promote and support direct human uses. The challenge is to develop societally acceptable approaches that allow
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research those uses to continue but in a manner that is compatible with ecosystem functionality. LIMITATIONS TO THE CURRENT WATER RESOURCES RESEARCH ENTERPRISE The articulation of these four themes—interdisciplinarity, broad systems context, uncertainty, and adaptation—is intended to reorient the disparate research agendas of individual agencies as well as individual researchers. The hope is that an emphasis on these overarching themes will lower barriers to research on newly emerging water resources problems. Research agendas of the federal agencies are driven by their specific mandates, such as the agricultural impacts on water (U.S. Department of Agriculture), water as a component of climate (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), or reservoir management (U.S. Bureau of Reclamation). Often there is a need for agencies to center their missions around clearly articulated, politically prominent issues in order to secure funding. These tendencies promote more narrowly focused research and present barriers to addressing difficult, large-scale problems. Furthermore, agencies are locked into policies devolving from their legislative and administrative history, and they cannot create new policies that cut across administrative or management units; thus, research is constrained by policies that easily become antiquated or irrelevant (Stakhiv, 2003). Finally, water resource problems are frequently conceived to match short-term funding cycles (Parks, 2003), resulting in inadequate knowledge for effective water management. Similarly, individual scientists frame research in terms of their disciplinary training and work environment, which creates barriers to the kind of research needed to solve the complex problems that are now prominent. Indeed, the reluctance of scientists to reach outside their disciplines has been identified elsewhere as a barrier to effective water resources research (Parks, 2003). Institutional and professional constraints on priority setting also mitigate against effective research because they inhibit creative, innovative, and rapid responses to newly emerging or unanticipated problems. Water resource problems are commonly assumed to be only local or regional in scope because water management entities and water supply systems operate on these scales. However, some water-related problems have become truly national in scope, either because of their very large spatial scale (e.g., the connection of the upper Mississippi drainage basin with hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico) or because controversies rage over the same water issues in many states throughout the nation. Unfortunately, the current organization of water resources research promotes site- and problem-specific research, which results in narrowly conceived solutions that are often not applicable to large-scale, complex problems or to similar issues in other regions of the country (Stakhiv, 2003). Federal agencies may see only the local character of a problem, without understanding the some-
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research times subtle ways in which local problems are widely replicated around the country, and may conclude that such problems are not appropriately addressed with federal resources. State representatives advised the committee that they rarely have the financial or scientific resources to address problems that have local manifestations but national significance. Thus, such research can fail to be carried out because of limitations at both the federal and state levels. Finally, the ability to carry out research on water resources may be limited by the availability of adequate long-term data (as discussed in Chapter 5). Hydrologic processes are characterized by the frequency with which events of a given magnitude and duration occur. Infrequent but large-magnitude events (floods, droughts) have very large economic, social, and ecological impact. Without an adequately long record of monitoring data, it is difficult, if not impossible, to understand, model, and predict such events and their effects. By emphasizing interdisciplinarity, broad systems context, uncertainty, and adaptation as overarching research guidelines, the specific research agendas of agencies and, hopefully, individual scientists can be made more relevant to emerging problems. A framework of research priorities based on these overarching themes is more likely to promote flexible, adaptive, and timely responses to novel or unexpected problems than research programs constrained by priority lists developed solely with respect to agency missions. The complexity and urgency of water resource problems demand a framework that widens the scope of inquiry of researchers and research managers and forces them to conduct research in novel ways. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS Although the list of topics in Table 3-1 is our current recommendation concerning the highest priority water resources research areas, this list is expected to change as circumstances and knowledge evolve. Water resource issues change continuously, as new knowledge reveals unforeseen problems, as changes in society generate novel problems, and as changing perceptions by the public reveal issues that were previously unimportant. Periodic reviews and updates to the priority list are needed to ensure that it remains not only current but proactive in directing research toward emerging problems. An urgent priority for water resources research is the development of a process for regularly reviewing and revising the entire portfolio of research being conducted. Six criteria are recommended for assessing both the scope of the entire water resources research enterprise and also the nature, urgency, and purview of individual research areas. These criteria should ensure that the vast scope of water resources research carried out by the numerous federal and state agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and academic institutions remains focused and effective.
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research The research agenda should be balanced with respect to time scale, focus, source of problem statement, and source of expertise. Water resources research ranges from long-term and theoretical studies of basic physical, chemical, and biological processes to studies intended to provide rapid solutions to immediate problems. The water resources research enterprise is best served by developing a mechanism for ensuring that there is an appropriate balance among the different types of research, so that both the problems of today and those that will emerge over the next 10–15 years can be effectively addressed. The context within which research is designed should explicitly reflect the four themes of interdisciplinarity, broad systems context, uncertainty, and adaptation. The current water resources research enterprise is limited by the agency missions, the often narrow disciplinary perspective of scientists, and the lack of a national perspective on perceived local but widely occurring problems. Research patterned after the four themes articulated above could break down these barriers and promise a more fruitful approach to solving the nation’s water resource problems. REFERENCES Aini, M. S., A. Fakhru’l-Razi, and K. S. Suan. 2001. Water crisis management: satisfaction level, effect and coping of the consumers. Water Resources Management 15(1):31–39. Alexander, R. A., R. B. Smith, and G. E. Schwartz. 2000. Effect of stream channel size on the delivery of nitrogen to the Gulf of Mexico. Nature 403:758–761. American Society of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO). 2003. Emerging Research Issues for Limnology: the Study of Inland Waters. Waco, TX: ASLO. Anadu, E. C., and A. K. Harding. 2000. Risk perception and bottled water use. Journal of the American Water Works Association 92(11):82–92. Anderson, J. L., H. van den Dool, A. Barnston, W. Chen, W. Stern, and J. Ploshay. 1999. Present–day capabilities of numerical and statistical models for atmospheric extratropical seasonal simulation and prediction. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc. 80:1349–1361. Besner, M-C., V. Gauthier, B. Barbeau, R. Millette, R. Chapleau, and M. Prevost. 2001. Understanding distribution system water quality. Journal of the American Water Works Association 93(7):101–114. Borsuk, M. E., C. A. Stowe, and K. H. Reckhow. 2002. Predicting the frequency of water quality standard violations: a probabilistic approach for TMDL development. Environ. Sci. Technol. 36:2109–2115. Brunke, M., and T. Gonser. 1997. The ecological significance of exchange processes between rivers and groundwater. Freshwater Biology 37:1–33. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). 2003. Final Environmental Impact Statement South Powder River Basin Coal. December. http://www.wy.blm.gov/nepa/prbcoal-feis/index.htm. Burger, J., M. Gochfeld, C. W. Powers, L. Waishwell, C. Warren, and B. D. Goldstein. 2001. Science, policy, stakeholders and fish consumption advisories: developing a fish fact sheet for the Savannah River. Environmental Management 27:4:501. California Energy Commission. 2003. Water Energy Use in California. http://www.energy.ca.gov/pier/-indust/water_industry.html. Chase, T. N., R. A. Pielke, Sr., and C. Castro. 2003. Are present day climate simulations accurate enough for reliable regional downscaling? Water Resources Update No. 124:26–34.
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Representative terms from entire chapter: