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The Water Science and Technology Board: A Success Story of a Run Down the Rapids of Science Policy

A. Dan Tarlock

IIT Chicago Kent College of Law

Chicago, Illinois

MULTIPLE PARADIGM SHIFT RAPIDS

This symposium celebrates the first decade of the Water Science and Technology Board's (WSTB) existence by looking back to the future. There are many aspects of the WSTB's impressive and extensive work that can be justifiably celebrated: the reputation that it enjoys in the water community, the level of output, the capable and professional staff, and the increased level of project funding (NRC, 1991a). These are important reasons for celebration, but the most important is the WSTB's willingness to reflect critically on its mission and to define a future role for itself that confronts some of the most difficult current questions of science and science policy related to water resources management.

All scientific research and application operate in a rapidly changing scientific and cultural environment, but the degree of change for water professionals is especially rapid. Hydrologists, environmental scientists, and engineers face substantial internal and external pressures about the future of their disciplines. As the WSTB's report Opportunities in the Hydrologic Sciences (NRC, 1991b) notes, the boundaries of hydrology, and thus its complexity and uncertainty, are expanding. To complicate matters further, scientific understanding must be integrated into a complex, rapidly changing institutional framework.

The WSTB has, in my limited National Research Council (NRC) experience, been unusually introspective. The NRC's model of science advice, which stems from its emergence as the government's science adviser between 1916 and 1918, is a committee of experts thrown together for a relatively brief



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Sustaining our Water Resources 7 The Water Science and Technology Board: A Success Story of a Run Down the Rapids of Science Policy A. Dan Tarlock IIT Chicago Kent College of Law Chicago, Illinois MULTIPLE PARADIGM SHIFT RAPIDS This symposium celebrates the first decade of the Water Science and Technology Board's (WSTB) existence by looking back to the future. There are many aspects of the WSTB's impressive and extensive work that can be justifiably celebrated: the reputation that it enjoys in the water community, the level of output, the capable and professional staff, and the increased level of project funding (NRC, 1991a). These are important reasons for celebration, but the most important is the WSTB's willingness to reflect critically on its mission and to define a future role for itself that confronts some of the most difficult current questions of science and science policy related to water resources management. All scientific research and application operate in a rapidly changing scientific and cultural environment, but the degree of change for water professionals is especially rapid. Hydrologists, environmental scientists, and engineers face substantial internal and external pressures about the future of their disciplines. As the WSTB's report Opportunities in the Hydrologic Sciences (NRC, 1991b) notes, the boundaries of hydrology, and thus its complexity and uncertainty, are expanding. To complicate matters further, scientific understanding must be integrated into a complex, rapidly changing institutional framework. The WSTB has, in my limited National Research Council (NRC) experience, been unusually introspective. The NRC's model of science advice, which stems from its emergence as the government's science adviser between 1916 and 1918, is a committee of experts thrown together for a relatively brief

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Sustaining our Water Resources period of time to formulate a consensus on the state of the art of a given problem (Oleson and Voss, 1980). This model is not conducive to introspection, in part because it reflects the NRC's long tradition of defining what is science and thus scientific issues narrowly. However, the WSTB has tried to overcome these constraints by developing a broad multidisciplinary framework for the integration of its separate studies. It has developed a set of strategic plans and a Terms of Reference, which allows the WSTB both to respond to specific client requests and to exercise control over its agenda. Through self-education and a strong stable staff with an institutional memory, the WSTB has tried to abstract general problems and lessons from its specific studies and apply these to new studies so that its experience and learning will be progressive as its composition changes. The proactive, forward-looking posture of the WSTB represents an attempt to confront three related fundamental shifts in the organizing principles of water resources engineering, hydrology, and related relevant physical and social sciences. Our view of nature and role of human intervention in it has changed. The role of water resource management institutions is changing from development to management. Finally, the ethic of immediate consumption, which has guided natural resources policy, is changing. These shifts undermine the assumptions about water resources management that were put in place at the turn of the century during the progressive conservation era and were applied throughout the first six decades of this century (Reuss, 1992). In brief, from the turn of the century through the 1960s, it was assumed that large-scale multipurpose water resources projects were essential to the economic well-being of the nation and that water management meant planning and operating these projects to maximize four primary uses—irrigation, hydropower generation, municipal and industrial supply, and flood control; recreation was a late and secondary add-on. This assumption eroded in the face of the environmental movement (Feldman, 1991). The result is that we now rely less on permanent structural solutions and more on adaptive management of existing physical and seminatural systems. RAPID MILEPOST ONE: UNBALANCED NATURE The first shift is our changed perception of the function of human manipulation of nature. During most of this century, the object of water resources engineering and hydrology was the rational manipulation of nature. Students of water resources management have assumed that accurate hydrologic data existed to explain river system behavior for water management,

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Sustaining our Water Resources if only decision makers would heed the information. The environmental movement initially changed the focus from the manipulation of nature to its conservation or preservation. The WSTB's work reflects both the legacy of the heroic period of water resources engineering and the postheroic period. Its work in flood forecasting, Estimating Probabilities of Extreme Floods: Methods and Recommended Research (NRC, 1988), and dam safety, Safety of Dams: Flood and Earthquake Criteria (NRC, 1985) and Safety of Existing Dams: Evaluation and Improvement (NRC, 1983), reflects this distinguished twentieth-century tradition. However, much of the WSTB's work in groundwater remediation, irrigation drainage, and coastal and estuarine water management reflects the postheroic tradition. This new era has posed acute problems for the WSTB because the problems brought to it challenge the historic assumption, on which much of the NRC's work is based, that it is possible to assemble preexisting, sound, scientific information on which to base decisions. In many cases this is not true for reasons that go to the organization of the underlying science and the increased societal expectations for science. The WSTB has had to operate under three major constraints that reflect the changing environment of science. First, water science is not high-priority science because it does not directly serve military or foreign policy, including trade objectives (Dickson, 1988). Second, it has to operate in the post-1960s scientific environment. Science must now meet two standards: it must be relevant to larger social issues, and it must be accountable. Third, as a result of these first two constraints, it must offer credible advice on questions that are not often on the research agendas of the primary producers of knowledge. These changes stress the traditional NRC process of rendering science advice. The National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council was created to render consensus scientific and technological advice to the federal government. The model is a committee of national or international experts who survey a field and issue a report that resolves a debate within a discipline about a specific, narrow ''scientific'' question. Under this model, the principal political problem for scientists is ensuring that the right people listen to them and take the proper actions. The literature on science policy has documented failures to listen and speculated about how to prevent them. This model began to break down in the environmental era when scientists were asked to pronounce on issues with high ranges of uncertainty. In the 1970s the federal government began to enact laws to prevent unsafe levels of exposure to toxic chemicals by mandated risk assessments. Risk assessments call for information on the frontiers of science; thus, the level of information required to make a decision based on the consequences of exposure to a toxic substance is never available and is not likely to ever be

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Sustaining our Water Resources available within a reasonable time span or at a reasonable cost. The federal government first enacted laws to control gross forms of air and water pollution, but, after the DDT controversy, cancer risk became a proxy for almost all environmental health risks. The net result was that the line between scientific inference and the more rigorous legal standard of proof of cause began to blur as all regulatory decisions had to be made under conditions of extreme uncertainty. The newly created Environmental Protection Agency was asked to regulate the use of toxic substances to minimize their long-term risks. Science has always been contingent, but the necessity to justify risk assessments exposed the high level of contingency. Initially, the NRC tried to use the consensus approach to resolve these issues. The hope was that good science would provide objective criteria to make regulatory decisions about issues such as toxic risks. We now realize that there are two problems with the "good versus bad" science model. First, good science is a political construct that has too often been used to deflect hard questions about the social costs of technology. But there is a second and more profound problem that is not a function of abused or sloppy science. Good science, defined as elegant hypothesis construction and testing, is often inadequate to provide the necessary information and thus the rational guidance for scientifically sound decision making. There are several reasons for this, but the fundamental one is that good science does not always equal good regulatory science. In the science policy literature the relationship between regulation and science has been explored at great length but from a different perspective than I wish to emphasize. There are many documented cases of the subordination of science to regulatory objectives (Jasanoff, 1990). The usual complaint by scientists and students of science policy is that policy makers do not listen to scientists because their advice undermines the political objectives of a program that the policy makers wish to pursue for other objectives. "Communication" between scientific experts and policy makers is an important and continuing problem for the science community and the WSTB. But the WSTB's studies reveal a deeper problem with laudable efforts to enlist science to serve public purposes such as environmental protection. The WSTB's work in such diverse areas as environmental monitoring, reservoir management, and aquatic restoration illustrates the limits of good science; the relevant disciplines are being asked to answer questions that have not been on the conventional research agenda. The basic problem is that many modern water resources management decisions require scientific baselines of altered environments against which existing and contemplated human intervention can be evaluated. Science is increasingly criticized not

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Sustaining our Water Resources because it is bad but because it is irrelevant or inadequate to answer questions. There are two fundamental reasons for the difficulties of applying science to the issues brought to the WSTB for resolution. The first reason is that the questions are framed as scientific questions when they are in fact scientifically informed value judgments. Scientists are increasingly being pushed to give answers to questions that are framed as positive or verifiable but that are in fact normative because a decision must be made before acceptable verification procedures can be followed. These new problems of scientific uncertainty reflect the revised view of nature that informs much scientific research. Many of the scientific dilemmas facing the WSTB support the thesis in Daniel B. Botkin's book (1990), Discordant Harmonies: A New Ecology for the Twenty-First Century. Botkin's basic argument is that the images of nature that have influenced ecology are static when in fact the kinds of problems that we face require a dynamic view of nature. The accelerating interaction between humans and the natural environment makes it impossible to return to an ideal state of nature. At best, it can be managed rather than restored or preserved, and management will be a series of calculated and risky experiments. "[N]ature moves and changes and involves risks and uncertainties and ... our own judgments of our actions must be made against this moving target" (Botkin, 1990). Judy L. Meyer's paper, "Changing Concepts of System Management," details the evolution of the nonequilibrium paradigm and its implications for the WSTB's work. RAPID MILEPOST TWO: MANAGING RATHER THAN POURING CONCRETE The WSTB is also caught in a new social paradigm shift. Since the progressive conservation era, the river basin has been the organizing unit for water resources planning and management. Historically, the objective of water management was the development of a coordinated system of multiple-purpose reservoirs and associated water projects on all major river basins (Graf, 1992). The idea of river basin development has been replaced with a more amorphous idea of river system management for a variety of social objectives; the most fundamental change is the idea that human uses of water resources and environmental protection and management should be given equal weight (Feldman, 1991). Several WSTB recent studies, Restoration of Aquatic Ecosystems (NRC, 1992) and the publications of the continuing Committee to Review the Glen Canyon Environmental Studies, illustrate the complexities of new management

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Sustaining our Water Resources and the scientific problems that it poses. These studies recommend the creation of holistic management processes that constantly acquire and evaluate new scientific information through what are essentially management experiments rather than solutions. RAPID MILEPOST THREE: THE NEW ETHIC OF SUSTAINABILITY The ultimate challenge for future resource managers will be to integrate science, technology, and institutions into a new ethical perspective. Again, the WSTB is a model of the integration of ethical perspectives into science-based resource management. The WSTB's first Abel Wolman lecturer, Luna Leopold, addressed the ethical dimension with his plea for the recognition of an "ethos of long-term sustainability" (Leopold, 1990), but the tradition of the incorporation of ethical perspectives and the emphasis of long-term sustainability go back to the inception of the WSTB. The WSTB's studies are distinguished by efforts to include a discussion of the ethical dimensions of the scientific information being assembled and assessed. The foundation of any water ethic is the same as the foundation of environmental ethics: the incorporation of the interests of future generations into present resource allocation. The WSTB was fortunate to have the services of Professor Edith Brown Weiss from 1986 to 1988. During her service, Weiss formulated her theory of justice between generations that is now the organizing principle of international environmental protection initiatives (Weiss, 1989). The WSTB's report The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement: An Evolving Instrument for Ecosystem Management (U.S. National Research Council and Royal Society of Canada, 1985) was the first major Academy report to urge the adoption of this ethical perspective, and Weiss's theories continue to influence the WSTB's work. For example, Weiss participated in the Bureau of Reclamation's colloquium that led to the report Managing Water Resources in the West Under Conditions of Climate Uncertainty (NRC, 1991c), and in 1991 a leading historian of environmental ethics, Professor Roderick Nash, was appointed to the Glen Canyon Environmental Studies Committee to bring perspectives on intergenerational equity explicitly before the committee. Weiss's symposium paper, "Intergenerational Fairness and Water Resources," demonstrates that most of the WSTB's work deals with intergenerational equity issues. The challenge for the future will be twofold: (1) it is important to make the ethical issues explicit from the beginning of a WSTB activity, and (2) WSTB studies must seek innovative methods to implement

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Sustaining our Water Resources intergenerational equity by suggesting effective, scientifically credible sustainability strategies. A LOOK AT FUTURE CANYONS AND RAPIDS The WSTB has become a successful and sustainable unit of the National Academy of Sciences. Parts of its success is that it has been able to build on past studies and integrate its studies into progressively larger and more general frameworks. In general, its studies focus on sets of recurring themes that should hold for the foreseeable future. It is impossible to predict the nation's future water agenda, but I think it is a conservative prediction that for the foreseeable future the WSTB's work will expand on the following four areas: Allocation of scarce water resources. The competition for water resources is becoming more intense. Our traditional allocation strategies, such as supply augmentation through dams and subsidies, are under great stress because they do not reflect the full range of relevant demands and social values. The WSTB has explored and continues to explore the acute allocation problems in the West, but its work is fully national in scope, as its investigations of such issues as urban water supply management and the reclamation and reuse of wastewater illustrate. Adaptive management and monitoring. A continuing and pervasive theme in the WSTB's work is the difficulty of applying good science to the modern management of natural resources for the worldwide goal of biodiversity protection. There are both institutional and disciplinary barriers that make it difficult to use science information effectively to solve the range of modern management problems, such an environmental monitoring, reservoir system management, or aquatic systems. The need to make decisions in the face of scientific uncertainty is now a familiar management principle, but there is also a need to ask why the uncertainty arises and whether and how it can be minimized and to provide a range of appropriate responses to these problems. Ground water. The WSTB has developed considerable credibility with its studies on ground water hydrology and ground water management, and this tradition will serve it well in the future as the use of this resource increases. The WSTB's work on the technical aspects of ground water models that can be used to aid in aquifer cleanups and other management issues is a model of the role that the WSTB can play in applying science to solving regulation-driven problems.

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Sustaining our Water Resources Application of U.S. experience to other countries. The United States has had long and varied experiences, with almost all controversial water resources issues. We have much to learn from other countries, both developed and developing, but we also have a great deal of information and experience to share with the rest of world. Increased attention to international, comparative, and developing-country studies is a logical extension of the WSTB's first decade. There is a good tradition on which to build. The WSTB has carried out an important joint study with Canada, The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement: An Evolving Instrument for EcosYstem Management (U.S. National Research Council and Royal Society of Canada, 1985); has written a useful report, Toward Sustainability: Soil and Water Research Priorities for Developing Countries (NRC, 1991d), on the integration of sustainable development concepts into U.S. support of soil and water research in developing countries; and in 1991–1992 began a major study with the Mexican Academy of Sciences on the management of Mexico City's aquifer. Also, in 1992 in cooperation with the Board on Science and Technology for International Development, the WSTB staff aided the government of Indonesia's academy of sciences in the design and organization of a major water resources study. As environmental problems become a larger part of our international affairs agenda, the WSTB can play an important role in facilitating the international exchange of water resources management information. It should be represented at major international meetings on issues such as drought management, global climate change, irrigation and urban water supply; it should pursue joint studies with countries whose geography and resource allocation patterns and problems match those of the United States; and it should seek to integrate its efforts with major international agencies such as the World Bank, working on such issues as urban water supply and sanitation and the development of sustainable irrigated agriculture as a replacement for large multiple-purpose projects. And, wherever relevant, its studies should include a comparative context to alert scientists, managers, and scholars to the international dimensions of the issue. The ability to adapt to new knowledge is the hallmark of successful management, and it is a necessary condition for water management as we move from an era of rapid exploitation to one of sustainable use. The WSTB's tradition of introspection and self-education has enabled it to become a respected, forceful, and objective voice in the water community. This tradition will serve it well as it continues to grapple with the increasingly difficult problems of both nurturing the relevant engineering, natural, and social

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Sustaining our Water Resources sciences necessary for adaptive water management and applying science to the laudable but difficult goal of achieving sustainable use. REFERENCES Botkin, D. B. 1990. Discordant Harmonies: A New Ecology for the Twenty-First Century. Oxford University Press, New York. P. 190. Dickson, D. 1988. The New Politics of Science. University of Chicago Press, Chicago. Feldman, D. L. 1991. Water Resources Management: In Search of an Environmental Ethic. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore. Graf, W.L. 1992. Science, Public Policy, and Western American Rivers. 1992 transcripts of the Institute of British Geography, London. P. 5. Jasanoff, S. 1990. The Fifth Branch: Science Advisers as Policy Makers. Harvard University Press, Cambridge. Leopold, L. B. 1990. Ethos, Equity, and the Water Resource. First Abel Wolman Distinguished Lecture. National Research Council, Water Science and Technology Board, Washington, D.C. National Research Council (NRC). 1983. Safety of Existing Dams: Evaluation and Improvement. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. National Research Council (NRC). 1985. Safety of Dams: Flood and Earthquake Criteria. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. National Research Council (NRC). 1988. Estimating Probabilities of Extreme Floods: Methods and Recommended Research. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. National Research Council (NRC). 1991a. Water Science and Technology Board Annual Report 1991. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. National Research Council (NRC). 1991b. Opportunities in the Hydrologic Sciences. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.

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Sustaining our Water Resources National Research Council (NRC). 1991c. Managing Water Resources in the West Under Conditions of Climate Uncertainty. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. National Research Council (NRC). 1991d. Toward Sustainability: Soil and Water Research Priorities for Developing Countries. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. National Research Council (NRC). 1992. Restoration of Aquatic Ecosystems. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. Oleson, A., and J. Voss, eds. 1980. The Organization of Knowledge in Modern America. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore. Reuss, M. 1992. Coping with Uncertainty: Social Scientists, Engineers, and Federal Water Resources Planning Natural Resources Journal 32:101. U.S. National Research Council and Royal Society of Canada. 1985. The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement: An Evolving Instrument for Ecosystem Management. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. Weiss, E.B. 1989. In Fairness to Future Generations: International Law, Common Patrimony, and Intergenerational Equity. Transnational and United Nations University, New York and Tokyo.

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