In the preceding chapters we addressed the past performance and current status of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Water Resource Discipline (WRD). Here we address questions, posed to the committee (Box 1-1), looking to the future (i.e., areas of leadership and management that can be improved to address important and emerging issues). We present leadership recommendations framed in the context of the new USGS comprehensive science strategy, Facing tomorrow’s challenges—U.S. Geological Survey science in the decade 2007–2017 (USGS, 2007), as this plan will guide the agency into the future. Then, the Water Census (Strategic Direction six) is used to illustrate how additional recommendations can be applied to various programs within the WRD. Finally, strategic approaches are suggested with recommendations specifically for the Coop program, NRP, and Science Centers.
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Toward a Sustainable and Secure Water Future: A Leadership Role for the U.S. Geological Survey 4 Water for Tomorrow “In the coming decades, no natural resource may prove to be more critical to human health and well-being than water. Yet, there is abundant evidence that the condition of water resources in many parts of the United States and the world is deteriorating. Our institutions appear to have limited capacity to manage water-based habitats to maintain and improve species diversity and provide ecosystem services while concurrently supplying human needs. In some regions of the country, the availability of sufficient water to service growing domestic uses is in doubt … Indeed, demands for water resources to support population and economic growth continue to increase, although water supplies to support this growth are fixed in quantity and already fully allocated in most areas.” SOURCE: National Research Council (2004b). In the preceding chapters we addressed the past performance and current status of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Water Resource Discipline (WRD). Here we address questions, posed to the committee (Box 1-1), looking to the future (i.e., areas of leadership and management that can be improved to address important and emerging issues). We present leadership recommendations framed in the context of the new USGS comprehensive science strategy, Facing tomorrow’s challenges—U.S. Geological Survey science in the decade 2007–2017 (USGS, 2007), as this plan will guide the agency into the future. Then, the Water Census (Strategic Direction six) is used to illustrate how additional recommendations can be applied to various programs within the WRD. Finally, strategic approaches are suggested with recommendations specifically for the Coop program, NRP, and Science Centers.
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Toward a Sustainable and Secure Water Future: A Leadership Role for the U.S. Geological Survey In Chapter 3 we outline future trends in water resources that are “predictable surprises” (sensu Bazerman and Watkins (2004); Box 3-1)— trends and foreseeable problems that will not solve themselves: Problems of water availability will become increasingly serious and more prominent, Climate change will make water resources challenges more difficult, Water quality impairments will continue to be a daunting issue, Water prices will rise, Resolving water conflicts and policy debates will demand more water science. Our nation’s water resources, though considerable, have always been finite. Population growth, climate change, and other pressures on this finite resource will trigger conflicts and constraints on social and economic stability of the nation (Mehan, 2009). Water resource constraints are foreseeable consequences of these trends that drive the need for more and improved water science (World Economic Forum, 2009). Almost every water-resources management issue is fundamentally and inextricably interdisciplinary, which makes the engagement of the WRD uniquely appropriate and effective in complex resource assessments. The WRD has the ability to mount interdisciplinary studies, particularly in cooperation with its sister Disciplines. While well placed to respond to predictable surprises, the USGS does operate with constraints, such as a lack of discretionary funding and an apparent (in our briefings) lack of full support for its role as “The Nation’s Earth Science Agency” (the title on its website and elsewhere). Compared to its data acquisition and mapping contributions, the value of its scientific contributions is not as well recognized by the Department of Interior and other federal agency supporters, posing a problem. The WRD has the range and quality of scientific resources to take the lead in providing the interdisciplinary understanding required to help attack and resolve many of our pending water problems. LEADERSHIP The USGS WRD has led the nation in many areas of water resources in the past and continues to lead today in many areas that are relevant to societal needs and particularly related to water quality (Chapter 2) How-
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Toward a Sustainable and Secure Water Future: A Leadership Role for the U.S. Geological Survey ever, the WRD is slowly losing its ability to maintain this level of leadership because of budget constraints and loss of staff (Chapter 3). Even in the area of long-term data collection, an area of USGS expertise that other federal agencies and this committee value, the NRC four years ago (2004a) noted a serious decline of ability because of diminishing resources (see Box 4-1). In a climate of strained federal funding there is significant competition for the mandate and assets to address water resource problems. Many other federal agencies have and continue to develop their own technology to address water problems. The USACE, for example, has a suite of numerical models to assess hydrology, river systems, and groundwater flow around dams and in river reaches. The USDOE national laboratories have their own computer simulation capability to address solute transport issues related to radioactive waste. Many of these science development initiatives from other federal agencies and federal laboratories were designed to address their specific, and often local, problems in water resources. But the broader water resources community needs and looks to the USGS WRD for the science needed to meet the broader public water management challenges. There are promising signs that the nation’s water science needs are gaining increased recognition, as are the WRD’s scientific contributions by their federal agency and congressional supporters. The recent increase in appropriations for NSIP, and special funding for the USGS’s pilot of the Water Census and a Climate Change initiative; the introduction of legislation such as the U.S. Senate SECURE Water Act (Science and Engineering to Comprehensively Understand and Responsibly Enhance-Water Act), BOX 4-1 “Key legacy monitoring systems in areas of streamflow, groundwater, sediment transport, water quality, and water use have been in substantial decline and in some cases have nearly been eliminated. These systems provide data necessary for both research and practical applications. … the long-term monitoring of hydrologic systems and the archiving of the resulting data are critical to the water resources research enterprise of the nation. The consequences of the present policy of neglect associated with water resources monitoring will not necessarily remain small.” SOURCE: National Research Council (2004a).
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Toward a Sustainable and Secure Water Future: A Leadership Role for the U.S. Geological Survey hance Water Act), the National Water Research and Development Initiative Act of 2009, the Water Use Efficiency and Conservation Research Act of 2009, and the water provisions of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, in the U.S. House of Representatives, are all promising signs. In recent years the USGS has been called upon to provide Washington briefings on many of their leading water programs. These have been sponsored or requested by groups such as the Environmental and Energy Study Institute and the Water Environment Federation, and also federal and congressional entities. Also, USGS has conducted more stakeholder meetings to share program planning and program findings, as well as to gather feedback. These have been successful, in our observations, in helping to educate federal partners and provide needed exposure to the WRD science contributions, as well as a means to increase stakeholder communication. To reinforce its leadership role in water science, the WRD should continue the Washington briefings that have been held in recent years, which also serve to further educate and expose WRD’s federal partners to the importance of WRD’s scientific contributions, beyond their important basic data acquisition programs. The Survey, and especially WRD, leadership should be mindful of and continue to aggressively communicate the potential of the agency to help address the significant water resource problems facing the nation. For the USGS to remain healthy and provide its critical expertise to solve national water-related issues in the future, both its data acquisition arm and scientific research arm need to be strong and both should be guided by visionary leadership. In the committee’s observations, some of the past water science leadership and accomplishments have arisen out of activities of individual scientists rather than systematic, strategically focused direction from the USGS WRD. This along with the current budget and staffing constraints, call for a refinement of the USGS mode of operation. In the current environment the WRD is stretched too thin—it cannot be all things, nor address all water issues. It needs to re-focus its vision, concentrating on the WRD strengths to address not all, but the critical water challenges facing the nation. As an example, a recent paper in the prestigious journal Science titled “Stationarity Is Dead: Whither Water Management?” by USGS WRD authors and colleagues from other institutions (Milly et al., 2008), speaks to the agency’s ability to lead and recognize that new science is needed to forecast and assess future hydrologic conditions. The concluding remarks in this paper note:
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Toward a Sustainable and Secure Water Future: A Leadership Role for the U.S. Geological Survey “The world today faces the enormous challenges of renewing its decaying water infrastructure and building new water infrastructure. Now is the opportune moment to update the analytic strategies used for planning such grand investments under an uncertain and changing climate.” (Milly et al., 2008; p. 574). But it is not enough to just recognize this critical need. This excerpt also presents a prime example of a critical topic where the WRD could develop the science needed to meet these challenges. To do this, the WRD leadership should craft a more strategic focus to contribute effectively in the future for the nation. Once implemented, this strategic vision and the focused scientific response to critical water issues it will generate should catalyze appropriate recognition of the USGS WRD. Recommendation: The WRD should re-focus its vision on critical national priorities to lead the nation in water science. This vision should bring its data acquisition arm, science and interpretive programs, and research arm to a common focus on key national priorities. HOW CAN THE USGS RESPOND TO EMERGING WATER CHALLENGES? The Six Science Directions It is not possible for the WRD to adequately address all the important or emerging water issues—nor is it its purview or responsibility to do so. While we will discuss some examples of priority issues that should be addressed by the WRD, we are not in a position, and it is not our charge to present a “definitive list” of water resources priorities. Two other NRC groups were charged to address such issues: the Water Science and Technology Board prepared Envisioning the Agenda for Water Resources Research in the 21st Century (NRC, 2001a), and this was followed by Confronting The Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research (NRC, 2004b), at the request of Congress. These reports have outlined broad, key issues for water resources and the Congress and many agencies, including the WRD, continue to review these reports as part of their on-going activities. The key issues discussed in this report are also recognized in these prior critical reviews. We would also note that the recommendations we make in this report echo those made in the 2001 NRC report, Future Roles and Opportunities for the U.S. Geological Survey. While there may have
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Toward a Sustainable and Secure Water Future: A Leadership Role for the U.S. Geological Survey been some progress in adopting those recommendations, there is more to be done. The committee advocates a process for the WRD to define a more targeted, strategic selection of water science issues, to refocus programs, that take advantage of the competitive strengths of the USGS and that address critical national needs. The USGS has issued a new comprehensive science strategy to “reflect on and optimize its strategic directions” and “critically examine [its] major science goals and priorities” for the coming decade (USGS, 2007). This committee did not do an in-depth critical evaluation of the USGS strategy. We do, however, concur with the importance of the national issues outlined in this strategy and agree that the USGS has the skilled personnel to address these issues. As noted in the strategy document: “[The USGS’s] role is larger than the traditional one of providing expertise in mapping, geology, water, and biology. Major national issues of costly natural disasters, air and water quality, energy and materials needs, newly emerging diseases, invasive species, climate change, and even immigration form a web of linked dependencies among environment, societies, and economies. The USGS should transform its approaches to problem solving not only to address the issues of today but also to prepare for those of tomorrow.” The committee is in complete agreement with this statement. Below, we put our recommendations for the WRD in the context of these strategic directions, as they are important national issues and, we are assuming, will guide the agency into the future. While we understand that aspects of this strategy may change, it was an exemplary planning process that provides lessons for refocusing WRD’s vision on a defined set of national priorities. For planning considerations, aspects of the six strategic directions that are relevant to the WRD should be focused on the decisions that society will need to make in the coming decades, and the questions that need better answers to inform those decisions. Decisions will be made, with or without scientific input. In each case, there will be a component of inventory and survey with data collection and measurement, as well as a scientific approach that involves analysis to produce understanding that should be the basis for forecasting future conditions. The committee identified critical water issues that could be successfully addressed by the WRD, and organized these issues within the framework of the USGS Strategic Plan:
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Toward a Sustainable and Secure Water Future: A Leadership Role for the U.S. Geological Survey Understanding ecosystems and predicting ecosystem change: ensuring the nation’s economic and environmental future. How do we define the water resource needs for sustaining ecosystem function and services, including agricultural ecosystems? As part of relicensing of hydropower plants with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), what quantity, quality, depth, and timing of releases will be needed to preserve endangered and threatened species and valued ecosystem services? Climate variability and change: clarifying the record and assessing the consequences. What new tools are needed to evaluate and forecast frequency and magnitude of streamflow for water management in the 21st century? What enhancements should be made to monitoring systems to enable the United States to detect and project climate change impacts on water resources? How do we adapt or apply climate change model forecasts to the sub-regional level to support water management needs? Energy and minerals for America’s future: providing a scientific foundation for resource security, environmental health, economic vitality, and land management. What are the realistic water quality and quantity consequences of greater production of biofuels, shale oil, coal gas, and other alternative energy sources that are being explored? What are the water quality and ecological impacts of mineral and fuel extraction? A national hazards risk and resilience assessment program: ensuring the long-term health and wealth of the nation. How do we improve flood frequency forecasting to include the uncertainties of non-stationarity, climate variability and change? What new tools are needed to forecast flood and storm effects in coastal areas where even a small rise in sea level may further alter the relative frequency and magnitude of events? The role of the environment and wildlife in human health: a system
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Toward a Sustainable and Secure Water Future: A Leadership Role for the U.S. Geological Survey that identifies environmental risk to public health in America. Which of the thousands of emerging contaminants are widespread enough, and in high enough concentrations, to warrant further studies of human and eco-toxicity? What are the implications for waterborne disease as climate change promotes warming surface waters and more intense storms? How do trace metals released from natural and anthropogenic sources enter the food webs of humans and animals? A water census of the United States: quantifying, forecasting, and securing freshwater for America’s future. How large a role can technologies such as desalination and water management strategies such as reuse and managed underground storage of recoverable water play relative to other technologies, strategies, and components? What are the implications for optimal allocation of water supplies for the quality of those water supplies and ecological value of the affected water bodies? With respect to water allocation, have we allocated more water to users than is now available—or will be available in the near future? Two dominant themes for water in the USGS six strategic directions are climate change and a water census. Climate change is the subject of the second USGS strategic direction and part of critical questions under strategic directions two and four. This multi-dimensional issue alone compels a significant and integrated treatment of the topic. Yet climate change can also be integrated within the broad theme of water availability (e.g., a water census; strategic direction six). Others note the need for an integrated strategy: “Another urgent need for investment at the federal, state, and provincial level is in robust water quality and quantity monitoring, data gathering, and “downscaling” of global climate models to the local watershed scale. This information will allow water managers to better adapt to climate variability, plan for uncertainty, and build resilience into their water management planning processes.” (Mehan, 2009) In Informing Decisions in a Changing Climate, the NRC noted that agencies and expanded federal research need to generate information that
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Toward a Sustainable and Secure Water Future: A Leadership Role for the U.S. Geological Survey regional and local decision makers need, such as studies on which locations are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change and on ways to mitigate or adapt to these effects (NRC, 2009). The USGS provides a federal perspective in an interagency report (USGS, 2009), noting that climate change may have a large impact on water resources and water resource managers. The USGS six strategic science areas involve all of the different disciplines within the USGS. Yet as demonstrated by these critical questions, water science is important and key to answering them. These questions also provide perspective regarding the necessity of an integrated strategy, rather than a list of projects and activities. By integration, we mean ensuring that all the WRD programs, from NSIP to the Groundwater Program, understand the component contributions they each must make to answer the critical national questions. The difference between a list of projects and an integrated strategy constitutes an important distinction and a performance metric for the agency’s leadership. Recommendation: The WRD needs to clearly redefine its role within the context of the USGS strategic science directions and its vision of critical national water priorities. This redefinition should highlight the WRD’s role in the USGS strategic science directions and within an integrated strategy and programmatic approach to address their defined national water priorities, emphasizing scientific support for decisions that society will need to make in the coming decades. This approach should include two key issues of water availability—the water census and climate variability and change—particularly forecasting and predictions, evaluating uncertainty, and developing enhanced monitoring systems to assess the nature of the problem with respect to water resources. As discussed, many of these key questions are also components of the Water Census, the last strategic direction, if it is approached within the scientific context of present and future water availability for the nation. The Water Census is an initiative that is already in development by the WRD, at least in a pilot stage; hence, a further discussion of the Water Census is illustrative. A Water Census of the United States: Quantifying, Forecasting, and Securing Fresh Water for America’s Future “A Water Census” can convey a singular and recognizable measure
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Toward a Sustainable and Secure Water Future: A Leadership Role for the U.S. Geological Survey of status of the nation’s waters. Although the Census alone could be an eye-catching activity, it is the “subtitle” to quantify, forecast, and secure freshwater for America’s future that leads to the establishment and understanding of an accounting of water availability to meet the country’s future needs. Strategically, the planning of the Water Census is encouraged to look towards developing an on-going, effective tool on a par with the social and economic censuses that supports national decision making. The quality and depth of these other censuses could be viewed as a standard for the Water Census. There is little value in developing a sparse, simplistic accounting system, given the needs facing the nation. The USGS strategic plan (2007) states that: “The USGS will develop a Water Census of the United States to inform the public and decision makers about: The status of its freshwater resources and how they are changing; A more precise determination of water use for meeting future human, environmental, and wildlife needs; How freshwater availability is related to natural storage and movement of water as well as engineered systems, water use, and related transfer; How to identify water sources, not commonly thought to be a resource, that might provide freshwater for human and environmental needs; and Forecasts of likely outcomes of water availability, water quality, and aquatic ecosystem health due to changes in land use and land cover, natural and engineered infrastructure, water use, and climate.” Associated with these goals and objectives, the USGS plan contains a list of “Strategic Actions” that can be taken in support of a Water Census program. This described scope of effort links to the even broader needs outlined in A Strategy for Federal Science and Technology to Support Water Availability and Quality in the United States, by the interagency Subcommittee on Water Availability and Quality (SWAQ) of the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (National Science and Technology Council, 2007). The SWAQ acknowledged that the nation faces far-reaching, critical decisions about allocating water of suitable quality for industrial and energy production, agriculture, municipal supply, aquatic ecosystems, and recreational uses. These decisions will have to be made in the face of large
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Toward a Sustainable and Secure Water Future: A Leadership Role for the U.S. Geological Survey uncertainties about future technologies, economic growth, demographic change, social expectations, climatic variability and change, and land/crop transformations. Although authority to manage the allocation of water resources is largely delegated to states, tribes, and local municipalities, the SWAQ identified a federal role for providing water science and technology to inform policies and decisions for managing water resources in the public good. To support decision making on water availability and to ensure adequate water supplies for the nation, the SWAQ defined three scientific and technical challenges, two of which lie firmly within the responsibilities and skills of the USGS. These two are: (i) measure and account for the nation’s water, and (ii) develop and improve predictive water management tools. Specific strategies proposed by the SWAQ for accomplishing these goals (among other suggestions) were: Implement a National Water Census, Develop a new generation of water monitoring techniques, Improve understanding of the water-related ecosystem services and ecosystem needs for water, Improve hydrologic prediction models and their applications. Despite overlap in their scope, these strategies provide clear and concrete suggestions for the USGS WRD to develop a new and refocused national program that includes the need for new and improved water science. It is important that the leadership of USGS WRD and the Department of Interior (DOI) take the responsibility for promoting such a program to meet the critical needs for wise management of the nation’s water resource. To build such a dynamic Water Census program that can quantify, forecast, and secure freshwater for America’s future, WRD will need to develop and integrate many aspects of the proposed census that are outside what the USGS does routinely at present, such as those listed below. However, the interdisciplinary nature of the entire USGS and the high regard most cooperators have for the quality of their technical work would allow the WRD to leverage its skills and rise to the opportunity. Again, we provide this discussion of the Water Census as a context to view our recommendations, but our suggestions are not intended to be limited to the program.
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Toward a Sustainable and Secure Water Future: A Leadership Role for the U.S. Geological Survey Linkage of climate change models to regional and local hydrology is also needed (Mehan, 2009; NRC, 2009). The WRD could identify, develop, and apply valid nonstationary probabilistic models, providing measures of uncertainty. This would enable them to project multi-decadal hydrologic behavior, thus probing changes impacting water resources and infrastructure planning. This will require refocusing of efforts and research to improve approaches and models to account for non-stationarity and to better quantify and anticipate climatic and hydrologic variability and the uncertainties involved to improve planning. This role may prove to be uncomfortable in some places where state water compacts and state control over water issues has been the norm. But if the WRD is to provide water science for the nation and the federal government, there seems no fundamental reason why it cannot provide comprehensive, unbiased, regional syntheses of water issues to help guide the process to resolve regional and state water conflicts. Improved strategies for sampling, interpolating, and predicting streamflow or groundwater levels are necessary, since it is impossible to measure streamflow or groundwater levels everywhere and continuously. More extensive application of statistical and deterministic modeling techniques is encouraged. Some of these techniques will have to be based on analysis of causes and effects, such as the effect of land cover change or of innovations in water technology on surface and groundwater volumes and quality. Further, the committee urges the USGS to focus on how data gained in local or regional Coop funded interpretative studies can be integrated into regional and national syntheses and applied towards solving major water problems. The WRD has already developed many project models to connect and aggregate studies done in Science Centers across the country towards providing regional and national synthesis—for example, in the NAWQA, Toxics, and Groundwater programs and this development should be continued and enhanced by appropriate application to the Coop program. The current budgetary climate does not allow the USGS to meet all the demands of the multiple objectives of its programs. Whether or not additional funding is obtained, the current portfolio of projects and activities need to be strategically reassessed and focused to address not all, but the critical, water challenges facing the nation. The nation needs an increased commitment from the USGS to forecasting studies that interpret its data and inform the nation of the message contained in their data, adding value to the scientific debate behind these critical, national water resource issues.
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Toward a Sustainable and Secure Water Future: A Leadership Role for the U.S. Geological Survey Definition of a Comprehensive, Integrated Long-Range Water Census Strategy The Water Census will require substantive planning to define its scope, key scientific concepts, and new questions and challenges. The Water Census should therefore become more than an unconnected list or atlas of water-related indices, chosen because they are easily measurable and already available. Long-range strategic thinking, as well as short-run easily obtainable results, will be needed to establish a means for monitoring and understanding water use and of planning and targeting improvements over time. To adequately quantify and forecast the nation’s water availability needs requires a long-term commitment to improving data collection and forecasting tools, to checking explanations and refining predictions. The need is similar to, though logistically different from, the way that prediction skills have been gradually built into and improved for weather forecasting or economic forecasting. The SWAQ report envisioned the Water Census as a periodic exercise to update the approach and continue to inform the nation’s water managers and to keep the nation’s policy makers abreast of changing water resources and demands. New technique development takes time, is implemented gradually, and has to be proven before widespread deployment. The first generation of the Water Census will need to be conducted with data sources that are already available. Other needed aspects of a Water Census, such as accounting for the use of water to sustain ecosystems while simultaneously making the water available for other uses, and the tradeoffs involved in such multiple use, will require time to develop, and the earliest implementations of a Water Census might not be able to address these complexities or might need to find a way to estimate them crudely. Addressing the complex competition between human and ecosystem water use will require a multi-disciplinary treatment and should be a goal of the Water Census. These complexities suggest an incremental strategy for gradually elaborating and improving the Water Census, thus the initial strategy should make it clear that some complexities can not, or will not be included initially. Further, the strategy should outline the components of the Water Census that need to be initially addressed and components that will be added as soon as they can be quantified. This would define, in turn, a research agenda of needed science elements that need to be developed or proved, and additional elements for coordination and collaboration among agencies. Long-term support is needed to improve data sources and analysis techniques that are the key to providing the nation with a useful Water Census. Establishing
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Toward a Sustainable and Secure Water Future: A Leadership Role for the U.S. Geological Survey programs, such as the Water Census, in a multidisciplinary agency like the USGS can ensure that unbiased information sources can be managed and inform the nation’s decision makers. New Resources An effective, dynamic Water Census cannot simply be grafted onto current USGS activities. The effort would be weak from the start if it has to be based on patching together support from local agencies and states willing to participate. This may be necessary in the short run, and even with new resources, program development will require more focused leadership and organizational approaches than in the past. But clearly, at a national level, the need for a Water Census is now recognized and advanced not only by the USGS but by the interagency NSTC, and Congressional committees. The time is ripe for the USGS to advance a comprehensive water strategy to meet the nation’s needs and to gain the necessary resources to meet its future mission. In summary, the USGS WRD has the appropriate range of personnel, technical resources, and history of water resources data collection, management, dissemination, and research among the federal agencies to provide leadership to develop a dynamic Water Census for the nation as well as rise to the water resource challenges facing the nation. However, the USGS will have to extend its internal and external cooperation and develop new science to enhance its forecasting and predictions capabilities. To be the lead water agency that the nation’s water availability issues demand, the USGS should present a compelling vision and strategy of what would be possible. The USGS can build on its pilot water census plan, the SWAQ report, and the USGS six Directions to articulate this vision, a vision that will address predictable surprises to come. STRATEGIC APPROACHES A focus on critical national problems will require hard decisions about how national programs like the Water Census are developed and integrated across the WRD. Integration of WRD programs to address national priorities will require active management, or development of common strategic questions, and a common intellectual approach. They should not be designed as an amalgam of various projects and programs developed independently by various programs or state science centers, though some might
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Toward a Sustainable and Secure Water Future: A Leadership Role for the U.S. Geological Survey be excellent models. Such programs should be integrated at a high level with leadership and a management approach capable of making important scientific contributions of national and international relevance. Thus, we expand our recommendation from above (The WRD should re-focus its vision on critical national priorities to lead the nation in water science. This vision should bring their research arm, science and interpretive programs, and data acquisition arm to a common focus on key national priorities): Recommendation: The USGS and WRD leadership should re-focus their vision to define the national water priorities that they will address and develop a management approach to integrate the WRD programs to meet these needs and lead the nation in water science. We are not suggesting major structural or organizational changes. However, the USGS should have a functional process to enable these integrated activities to effectively occur. This may require a process to recognize and empower science leaders to provide the intellectual leadership for priority focus areas, and then, management leadership to ensure implementation. Such a process may begin with sequentially defining the key overarching science questions that are in the national interest, in-house intellectual leader(s), definition of observations required to address the questions, integration of the program/experimental design across various programs, definition of ways to measure progress and contributions, a process for analysis and synthesis of the results, and finally a plan for outcome dissemination. Many, if not all, pressing national issues will require integration of WRD programs, from the Groundwater Resources program, to NAWQA, and NSIP, the NRP and the Coop program, for example. As part of the integration, each program may need to define its component contributions—the science questions and observations it will address to meet the more comprehensive national issue. Some integration has begun to take shape in the presentation of the Groundwater Resources Program’s outline of an approach to address groundwater availability in the U.S. (Reilly et al., 2008) related to the Water Census. To more successfully organize to address national strategic questions USGS water science will need to be more flexible at focusing diverse personnel, research units, and Water Science Centers on such projects. The USGS has models of integrated programs that have achieved some successes with notable, timely, focused research projects of national importance; its national synthesis on pesticides (USGS, 2006c), volatile
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Toward a Sustainable and Secure Water Future: A Leadership Role for the U.S. Geological Survey organic compounds (USGS, 2006b), fuel oxygenates in water (Moran, 2007) forecasts of nitrate occurrence in groundwater (Nolan et al., 2002) or nitrate flux (Green et al., 2008; Puckett et al., 2008), and other contaminant processing and occurrence in agricultural watersheds (e.g., Capel et al., 2008). Notable timely examples of broader interdisciplinary projects were the 2007 studies on polar bear populations (USGS, 2007b) and habitats relative to changing Arctic sea ice conditions. Past examples in the Geology Discipline would include the USGS responses to the Loma Prieta earthquake and the Mt. St. Helens eruption. While many of the WRD programs have line-item budgets and defined missions, they still can be integrated to address national priority questions that address key components of water availability. Because many of these national issues will also require new science, the approach to integrate and apply WRD’s focus on national priorities should also better leverage the science and technical prowess of the NRP and the operational capabilities found within the Science Centers. A key challenge, in the committee’s judgment, will be to define and manage the role of the NRP and the Science Centers in such integrated programs. The National Research Program (NRP) In the past, through the NRP, the USGS has provided intellectual leadership in developing new science in water related issues. To address important and emerging water issues there are again clear needs for new water science, and the NRP needs to play a renewed and significant role. Many of the resources of the WRD are dedicated to line-funded programs. In contrast, the NRP should have the flexibility to quickly refocus on new significant water science that needs to be addressed. The significant decline in the number of NRP scientists in the last two decades has been detrimental to the health of the NRP, and it has lost some measure of its scientific leadership. Over time, more NRP support has come from other WRD programs, almost as a tax, to support it, and in turn some of its work has been focused to support other USGS programs, potentially losing some of its flexibility to align to address new water science priorities. From the committee’s observations, portions of the NRP operate mainly as an investigator-driven research center wherein individuals have developed and pursued research interests of their own definition, within the broad mission of the WRD. While historically this may have worked well when the NRP was larger, we wonder if the WRD is best served by an investigator driven research model. The independent work culture may
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Toward a Sustainable and Secure Water Future: A Leadership Role for the U.S. Geological Survey hamper the USGS’s flexibility to attack relevant, priority issues in a timely way. Recommendation: To meet the nation’s water science needs, the WRD’s National Research Program should be aligned around its focused vision of national program priorities. The NRP should be viewed as an intellectual and technical resource of the WRD—one that needs active management. Even if the funding environment improves—the USGS cannot afford a research institution that is not focused on areas of strategic concern to the USGS and the nation. But it will take active and careful management to redirect scientists of the NRP to priority topics. Changing the focus of individual scientists may be difficult within the civil service system, when there are few stimuli for changing the focus of their research programs. While it is not realistic to expect, for example, a hydrologist to become an ecologist, the nation needs NRP scientists to be flexible in their choice of research topics as society’s needs evolve. To focus the NRP, future hires of research personnel should be focused on the strategic directions for water. Current researchers should be steered toward these areas as well through incentives. Waiting for retirements to make strategic hires will only lead to further erosion of the USGS’s capacity to answer the questions that society is asking. USGS may also have to revisit its review and reward system for its research grade personnel. Currently the system has placed a premium on authorship of high-quality, peer-reviewed publications. While productivity, in terms of high quality peer-reviewed publications is laudable, the USGS reward system needs to be assessed to provide incentive for team-oriented work, and substantive contribution to and leadership of projects that address critical national priorities. Although the breadth of expertise present in the USGS is certainly sufficient to address integrative national problems, the culture and reward system needs to ensure it can help align individual priorities for career advancement with agency and national priorities. Overall, the single most important trait that WRD management will need to demonstrate in the next decade is its willingness to actively lead the institution’s scientists in the new directions required by the nation’s needs. The actual management mechanisms may be “carrots” or “sticks,” as required by the individual circumstances.
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Toward a Sustainable and Secure Water Future: A Leadership Role for the U.S. Geological Survey The Cooperative Water Program and Science Centers Adequately addressing the growing agenda of national water priorities will also need to involve improved integration of the Coop program and the Science Centers on the defined national priorities. New science needed to address national water problems often must be tested and tailored to the wide range of climatic, hydrologic, cultural, and industrial-economic conditions that exist throughout the United States. Through the Science Centers and Coop Program the WRD has a presence in every state and they can be an important resource to accomplish this and to contribute more to regional and national objectives in the future if projects are configured to do so. But national priorities need to help shape and define these local programs; and national programs cannot simply be a collection of Science Center projects. As discussed, through the Science Centers, the WRD has a good process working with water resources managers as well as other water scientists and engineers across the nation. While much of the Coop program has focused on the streamflow data collection program, the WRD’s partnerships with state and local institutions in the wider ranging science programs have had a positive effect to improve the level of science applied to water resources and environmental management across the country. And this has been a two way street—the Coop program has provided symbiotic benefits; state and local agencies, and academic cooperators across the country sharing new expertise with the WRD, as well. These relationships have helped all parties to develop a greater breadth of interdisciplinary skills and has often resulted in novel approaches to both research and water management. In particular, as discussed earlier (chapter 3), WRD’s distributed network of staff, interacting with local water scientists, has helped WRD to identify relevant, emerging water issues around the nation. Many pressing national issues related to water supply, water quality, or water availability conflicts often appear as local problems, yet their resolution typically requires regional approaches and syntheses. For example, most of the American West is maintained through large artificial inter-basin water transfers, and regional-scale drainage by rivers, often subsidized by the federal government. Even Eastern cities have remote mountain water catchments—see the Georgia-Florida-Alabama conflict referred to earlier in this report. These water issues sometimes appear “local,” yet characterizing and resolving them requires regional approaches that fall under the logical interests of the USGS, a national water agency. The structure of the Coop program would not lead the USGS to comprehensively study the functioning of these large systems, crucial to the nation’s
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Toward a Sustainable and Secure Water Future: A Leadership Role for the U.S. Geological Survey well being. This may occur partly because of the sensitivity of the states to federal intervention in the management of water resources, and also because historically we have not fully appreciated the significance of large-scale patterns and transfers of water to the nation’s productivity and health. Related to regional characterizations, water availability conflicts between and among states, with or without interstate compacts, are becoming more prevalent and challenging. Another role for the USGS and its Science Centers could be technical facilitation as an impartial and credible intermediary to minimize the need for states needing to pursue litigation when they cannot agree on the factual understanding of the extent and characteristics of the water resource at the boundary. Science Centers could establish a unique forum to discuss regional characterizations, syntheses, and forecasts, to aid the management of shared water resources with their neighboring Science Centers and state counterparts. Such an approach fits very well with the USGS interest in achieving national leadership in addressing the water availability problems of the nation. The management challenge with respect to the Coop Program for the Water Science Centers is to balance local cooperator needs and program designs with their national mission. This has become even more challenging in recent years. As described in chapter 3, during the past two decades, the cooperator share of the program funding has risen from about 50 percent to almost two-thirds of the WRD Coop budget. This rise is a result of a decline in federal support combined with increased desire for some co-operators to collaborate with the USGS. The increase in state and local cooperator funding, as noted in chapter 3, is a testimony to the quality of the USGS WRD product. However, part of the management challenge, is that with the decline in federal funding, the WRD has also needed to solicit financial support locally to maintain staff strength and project activities. The local funding increase seems to have increased state and local influence over how the federal dollars are spent. For example, cooperators are willing to pay the USGS to work as a high quality, non-biased, scientific expert on projects where federal priorities may not always be apparent. This situation gives rise to two, inter-related concerns: possible inequities in Coop funding among states, and difficulties integrating the Coop program and Science Centers with national needs. Some states, like California, have been able to increase their unmatched programs substantially. But some states with limited resources but important strategic water problems might be underserved with USGS expertise because they do not have adequate Coop dollars to provide needed match. Also, some cooperators have limited interest to fund USGS projects because they have developed substantial hydrologic expertise within their
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Toward a Sustainable and Secure Water Future: A Leadership Role for the U.S. Geological Survey own organizations. It has been the practice of the USGS not to reallocate funds but to allow each state to retain their base Coop funding from year to year resulting in a stationary program distribution among states. This working model provides little or no opportunity for Coop funds to migrate to projects of higher national priority or greater scientific merit without the state with lower priority projects permanently losing a share of its Coop funding. Thus, it may be difficult for Coop funding to be better tailored to support regional- to national-scale analyses that we refer to frequently in this report unless cooperators can be convinced of the merit. Integrating the Coop Program with National Needs Evaluations of the distribution of Coop funds for gaging stations have taken place regularly throughout the past decades to maintain the most balanced and information-rich network attainable with the resources available. However, the interpretive project aspects of the Coop Program have not received comparable scrutiny. The USGS is encouraged to define how to better manage its Science Center and Coop program commitments between local interests and national priorities. Specifically, a structured, objective process for allocating Coop funds to local and state projects should be established to insure each state Coop Program has been evaluated for its merits in meeting strategic regional and national priorities and has not evolved into merely a technical service serving local interests. The USGS should also consider a process for temporarily transferring Coop funding allocations from state to state to follow projects with the most national scientific merit without permanently decreasing the Coop allocation to any state. Recommendation: The WRD’s Cooperative Water Program (Coop) needs to be better integrated with the WRD’s focused vision of regional and national water program priorities. The WRD is encouraged to develop a process for defining national merit for Coop projects as a means of balancing Coop program commitments with meeting regional and national priorities. For example, the Colorado Science Center has developed criteria for defining the relative contribution of each proposed project to national priorities and uses this when deciding which projects should be included in the cost share program and what the proportionate match should be. It is not intended to exclude state and local interests but rather provides a met-
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Toward a Sustainable and Secure Water Future: A Leadership Role for the U.S. Geological Survey ric for considering to what extent the Coop Program is addressing defined regional and national priorities. We recognize this will be difficult. As the WRD concentrates more resources to national- and regional-scale problems, it is important that the best aspects of their contributions to more local problems should not be undermined or abandoned. More flexibility may also be needed with respect to staff resources among the state Science Centers. WRD research-grade scientists at Science Centers rely on both Coop and other federal programs to meet merit criteria associated with their research positions. While redistributing research-grade scientists from the NRP to the Science Centers has elevated scientific quality in these offices, when left to their own efforts to obtain project funding, research-grade scientists may only be intermittently integrated into national research priorities, and even then, sometimes through individual collegial preferences or topical coincidences. Perhaps both Science Center research scientists and NRP scientists may need to be considered for flexible assignments as part of integrated project teams, coordinated to attack national strategic directions. This kind of change would require flexibility to assign research-grade staff in one Science Center to work on a team for another Science Center. Over time, as noted, assignment of research grade staff has increased in the Science Centers, while the NRP staffing has declined. Hence, some of the same issues discussed for realigninment of NRP staff may apply to the research grade staff in the Science Centers: Recommendation: The USGS WRD should involve all research grade personnel in staffing teams to address regional and national research priorities, regardless of location, to increase the agency’s flexibility. “Civilizations have failed because of their inability to provide a safe and reliable water supply in the face of changing water resource needs.” SOURCE: National Science and Technology Council, Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (2007). CONCLUDING REMARKS Throughout this report, we have tried to illustrate that the water resources of the United States are becoming more strained and limited day
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Toward a Sustainable and Secure Water Future: A Leadership Role for the U.S. Geological Survey by day, year by year, in the face of population growth, climate change, and other pressures. Increasing water resource constraints are predictable surprises that have foreseeable consequences on the nation’s social and economic stability. To resolve these issues requires that we face up to the challenges ahead and begin to develop the science and information needed. The USGS WRD should be an important contributor to developing the needed water science the nation requires. This will necessitate an improved focus from the USGS WRD on the national water priorities that they can address and on an operational management approach to effectively integrate their programs. But to adequately meet the challenge it will clearly require new and additional resources. To that end we provide our final recommendation: Recommendation: To ensure a secure water future for the nation, sufficient funding should be provided for the USGS to perform its function as a major science agency: to ensure high quality data collection, interpretive programs, and development of essential forecasting and predictive tools to support effective management of the nation’s critical water resources.