In its simplest terms, managing water is no more than exercising whatever control measures are available to direct the utilization of water. Management implies an objective. Typically, the objective of water management is to achieve "the best possible mix of benefits" from the resource, which sounds quite reasonable and simple. So if defining water management is so simple, why is managing water so difficult?
The initial difficulty actually involves the end of the process—defining the objective "best possible mix of benefits." I know of no place in the water resources field where there exists general agreement as to what constitutes the best possible mix of benefits. In fact, it is extremely rare to find a comprehensive listing of all the benefits that might be achieved in a particular water management program. At Water Resources Management, whenever we begin a new project, the first item of business is to provide the client with a comprehensive list of exactly what we are trying to achieve. We find this list extremely valuable. Developing the list of objectives is not easy—it may take several months—but it is very worthwhile. An attempt to make a comprehensive list of benefits here would be impractical. Instead, I will list a few that are critical.
First of all, it should be recognized that most existing water law is aimed at preventing individuals from resorting to violence to resolve water disputes. Water law has nothing to do with economics or preserving people's property rights. It is my opinion that in relatively humid regions of England and the eastern United States, where water is plentiful, the riparian doctrine survives because water disputes are few. Further, disputes that do occur are rarely life-and-death situations; society can afford to allow the courts to take their time resolving fairly broad social issues on a case-by-case basis. On the other hand, in the water-short West the appropriative doctrine was developed because it could provide the administrative simplicity required to resolve quickly a relatively large number of life-and-death disputes over water.
A second kind of objective is those that are deeply rooted in our culture. As an example, a few years ago I was in Calcutta speaking to water suppliers. I was listening to a water manager who was complaining bitterly of the destruction of standpipe