Future water needs cannot be precisely known, yet there are trends of increasing stress on water resources that are widely recognized. These trends are “Predictable Surprises” (Box 3-1) with respect to water resources in the near future (Bazerman and Watkins, 2004). These “surprises” are problems that can be recognized but they will not resolve themselves. For example, aquifers will not quickly recharge and “naturally resolve the problem” of aquifer depletion after they are overpumped (e.g., Ogalalla Aquifer). In many regions, water allocation conflicts already occur and will become worse in the future because of over-allocation of water coupled to increasing population growth and foreseeable droughts. As these predictable water crises occur the USGS remains in the position to assist the nation in understanding, predicting, and minimizing the impacts of these crises. But changes are needed for the USGS to successfully meet the nation’s challenges. For perspective, we outline some key trends for water resources that must be faced in the coming years.

BOX 3-1

Predictable Surprises

In “Predictable Surprises: The Disasters You Should Have Seen Coming, and How to Prevent Them,” Bazerman and Watkins (2004), describe the characteristics of Predictable Surprises that may affect society or businesses:

  1. A shared trait of predictable surprises is that leaders knew a problem existed and that the problem would not solve itself.

  2. Predictable surprises can be expected when organizational members recognize that a problem is getting worse over time.

  3. Fixing the problem would incur significant costs in the present, while the benefits of action would be delayed. (We discount the future.)

  4. Addressing the surprises typically requires incurring certain cost, while the reward is avoiding a cost that, while uncertain, is likely to be much larger. (Hence, leaders know they can expect little credit in the short run for preventing them.)

  5. Decision-makers, organizations, and nations often fail to prepare for predictable surprises because of the natural tendency to maintain the status quo (when a system still functions, there is no crisis to catalyze action).

  6. A small vocal minority benefits from inaction and is motivated to subvert the actions of leaders for their own benefit.

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