Our nation’s water resources are increasingly becoming limited in the face of population growth, climate variability, increasingly valued ecological needs, and other pressures. These limitations—especially considering the nexus between water and energy—portend an impending crisis in the coming decades that could impose conflicts and constraints on the nation. The NRC voiced the same concern four years ago (text box below) and the problem has continued to intensify.
“Nothing is more fundamental to life than water. Not only is water a basic need, but adequate safe water underpins the nation’s health, economy, security, and ecology. The strategic challenge for the future is to ensure adequate quantity and quality of water to meet human and ecological needs in the face of growing competition among domestic, industrial-commercial, agricultural, and environmental uses. To address water resources problems likely to emerge in the next 10-15 years, decision makers at all levels of government will need to make informed choices among often conflicting and uncertain alternatives.”
SOURCE: National Research Council (2004b).
The Committee on Water Resources Activities at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) was appointed to assess the programs and accomplishments of the Water Resources Discipline (WRD) at the USGS. The committee’s charge, as laid out in the Statement of Task (SOT; Box 1-1),
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1 Introduction Our nation’s water resources are increasingly becoming limited in the face of population growth, climate variability, increasingly valued ecologi- cal needs, and other pressures. These limitations—especially considering the nexus between water and energy—portend an impending crisis in the coming decades that could impose conflicts and constraints on the nation. The NRC voiced the same concern four years ago (text box below) and the problem has continued to intensify. “Nothing is more fundamental to life than water. Not only is water a basic need, but adequate safe water underpins the nation’s health, econ- omy, security, and ecology. The strategic challenge for the future is to ensure adequate quantity and quality of water to meet human and eco- logical needs in the face of growing competition among domestic, indus- trial-commercial, agricultural, and environmental uses. To address water resources problems likely to emerge in the next 10-15 years, decision makers at all levels of government will need to make informed choices among often conflicting and uncertain alternatives.” SOURCE: National Research Council (2004b). The Committee on Water Resources Activities at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) was appointed to assess the programs and accomplish- ments of the Water Resources Discipline (WRD) at the USGS. The committee’s charge, as laid out in the Statement of Task (SOT; Box 1-1), 16
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Introduction 17 BOX 1-1 Statement of Task This study will help the USGS evaluate the relationship between Water Re- sources Discipline (WRD) research and information collection and dissemination activities and its overall WRD agenda. It will cover all of the major topical areas of WRD activities: groundwater and surface water, water quality and quantity issues, hydrologic hazards, water availability, water use, and aquatic ecology. Key aspects of WRD science and operation will be covered, including long-term data collection and dissemination, interpretive studies, methods development, including development of hydrologic models, and basic research. The following questions will be addressed: 1. Where has the USGS shown leadership in water science and technology in recent years and has it successfully met its goals, as they are described in the WRD- and individual program-5-year plans? 2. Are USGS water activities relevant to societal needs, and are they ad- dressing emerging hydrologic issues? What are some of these emerging issues that are being addressed well and which issues are receiving too little attention? 3. How should WRD identify priority water issues? Are there important water issues that are not adequately addressed by the current suite of WRD pro- grams? 4. Given the current budget climate (i.e., with limited resources), is the cur- rent content of the USGS water science portfolio appropriate? If not, what changes should be made? What areas of science should receive higher or lower priority? What is the best balance among: a) collection of long-term data, inter- pretive studies, methods development, information dissemination and research; and b) groundwater and surface water; water quality and quantity? 5. Are USGS water activities well managed and conducted in a cost- effective manner? In what areas/topics is improvement possible? 6. Are the USGS water activities engaging important stakeholder groups? Are there stakeholder groups that could be better engaged? If so, who are they and how could they be better engaged? 7. Are USGS water activities coordinated well among other USGS pro- grams, among federal agencies? Are there areas in which interactions and coor- dination could be improved? calls for a review of both past accomplishments of the WRD as well as the health and ability of the USGS water program to accomplish its mis- sion today and, more importantly, tomorrow. The committee provides such an evaluation of the WRD program relative to the nation’s water resources future.
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18 Toward A Sustainable and Secure Water Future Established in 1879, the USGS has a distinguished history of leader- ship serving the nation by providing scientific data to describe and under- stand Earth systems and by providing unbiased assessments to facilitate management of the nation’s natural resources. Since its beginning, the USGS has been the primary federal agency responsible for assessing the quantity and quality of the nation’s surface water and groundwater. Hy- drologic research and hydrologic data collection and analyses are imple- mented through the USGS Water Resources Discipline, one of four broad earth science Disciplines around which the USGS is organized (Biology, Geography, Geology, and Water, and a directorate for geospatial informa- tion). At present, the Water Resources Discipline has a workforce of about 3,300 water scientists and technicians working in 181 offices throughout the country. The USGS maintains Water Science Center offices (or inte- grated Science Centers offices) in every state and three major regional re- search offices (western, central, and eastern). The Water Resources Disci- pline has evolved throughout the history of the agency, yet Water’s mission has remained constant—“to provide reliable, impartial, timely information needed to understand the nation’s water resources.” Because the USGS is a science agency with no regulatory or man- agement responsibilities, the Water Resources Discipline is recognized as a source of unbiased scientific information and hydrologic data. USGS research, studies, and data are used by other federal agencies; state, local, and tribal governments; the private sector; and academia as a basis for a wide range of water resources research and water planning and manage- ment decisions, including: water infrastructure design and maintenance, flood monitoring and emergency notification, drought monitoring, water rights administration, water quality management, and other related ser- vices. The USGS is also a trusted source of hydrologic data and science for resolving inter-jurisdictional disputes, such as water disputes between states. The USGS carries out its water resources mission through several in- dividual programs (Box 1-2) that cumulatively support the nation's hydro- logic data network and provide hydrologic assessments at the national, regional, state, and local scale. USGS data and information from these programs are integrated into the National Hydrologic Information System and provided freely to all parties via the internet. These data are used by a wide audience for many purposes and serve as an important national re- source of hydrologic information. Most of these WRD programs are familiar to water resources inter- ested parties; most are also identified as budget lines for the agency. To
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Introduction 19 BOX 1-2 Cooperative Water Program (Coop program): Partnerships between the USGS and more than 1,500 state, local, and tribal agencies to provide water resources information. National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program: Long-term assess- ment of water-quality conditions and trends in 42 river basins and groundwater sys- tems nationwide. National Streamflow Information Program (NSIP): Collection and dissemina- tion of streamflow information that is essential for meeting federal hydrologic informa- tion needs. Toxic Substances Hydrology Program: Field-based research to understand be- havior of toxic substances in the nation’s hydrologic environments for development of strategies to clean-up and protect water quality. Groundwater Resources Program: Groundwater data collection and the evaluation of controls on regional aquifer systems due to pumping and other stresses. Other Water Quality Activities: Analytical capabilities (National Water Quality Laboratory), and data from major rivers (National Stream Quality Accounting Net- work), from pristine watersheds (Hydrologic Benchmark Network), and from atmos- pheric deposition (National Atmospheric Deposition Program). Hydrologic Instrumentation Facility: Instrument development, testing, calibra- tion, and repair; technical support, training, and equipment supply to support hydro- logic field activities Water Information: Physical and chemical data available through the web through the National Water Information System (http://water.usgs.gov/NWIS); web- based information by states or subjects (http://water.usgs.gov). National Research Program (NRP): Conduct basic and problem-oriented hy- drologic research in support of the USGS mission, including investigations of small watersheds (Water, Energy, Biogeochemical Budgets Program). Climate Variability: Understanding the variations in hydrologic conditions due to atmospheric changes and human activities. Priority Ecosystem Studies: Integrated investigations in large ecosystems of na- tional interest that are impacted by human activity. International Program: Hydrologic data collection and analysis in support of the global hydrologic community. Water Institutes: Support of university-based Water Resources Research Insti- tutes in 54 states and territories through grants.
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20 Toward A Sustainable and Secure Water Future manage these programs, the WRD headquarters leadership is organized into the following units: Office of Surface Water, Office of Groundwater, Office of Water Quality, Cooperative Water Program (Coop program), Office of Water Information, and an Office of the Chief Scientist that oversees research and develop- ment functions and groups such as the National Research Program (NRP). Components of the various programs (Box 1-2) often cut across the of- fices, related to their focus and function. The Science Centers (located in every state) are the key operational units of the Coop program, and they also interact with all of the organizational units and participate in the field operations, and often the management and design of some or all of the programs noted in Box 1-2. In this report the committee puts forward critiques, findings, and rec- ommendations that will help the USGS WRD focus its programs to facili- tate effective management of the nation’s water resources. The findings and recommendations presented in the report are primarily directed to the leadership of the Water Resources Discipline of the USGS. The WRD is integral to, but only a part of the USGS, a federal agency that resides within the Department of the Interior (DOI), a cabinet level department, headed by the Secretary of Interior. Hence, many of the findings and rec- ommendations also address the USGS and the DOI, because support from this hierarchy of leadership will be necessary for the WRD to fulfill its role of providing needed water resources information. Other members of the audience for this report would be the examiners of the Office of Manage- ment and Budget. Clearly, many of the questions posed in the SOT are related to performance reviews conducted by OMB. Further, we hope these findings will be useful for others in the administrative branch of the federal government and congressional staff who provide support and direc- tion to face the water problems that will constrain this nation if not re- solved. Lastly, we hope that the federal, state, and local agencies that de- pend on the technical and scientific input of the WRD would review this report. Many of the concerns raised, as well as many recommendations, pertain to their needs or the need for them to address their collaborative work with the USGS to collectively meet the needs of this nation.
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Introduction 21 REPORT ROADMAP Many questions in the SOT (Box 1-1) have multiple parts; with part 1 of a task calling for a review of past performance and the subsequent parts of the tasks probing the relative health, past and present, of the wa- ter programs, and requesting suggestions for improvement and directions for the future. In the following chapters, we will first review the WRD past performance, then set the stage for suggestions for the future (Chap- ters 2 and 3). In Chapter 4, Water for Tomorrow, we propose organiza- tional adjustments and recommendations that we hope will aid the USGS to produce the information and understanding of water resources needed for the nation’s future.