Charter of the Subcommittee on Water Availability and Quality Committee on Environment and Natural Resources National Science and Technology Council
A. Official Designation
The Subcommittee on Water Availability and Quality (Subcommittee) is hereby established by action of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (Committee).
B. Purpose and Scope
The purpose of the Subcommittee is to advise and assist the Committee and the NSTC on policies, procedures, plans, issues, scientific developments, and research needs related to the availability and quality of water resources of the United States. For the purpose of this Subcommittee, water resources are defined as fresh and brackish water in the atmosphere, streams, lakes, unsaturated zone, aquifers, and estuaries. The Subcommittee will focus on science issues and policy related to needed improvements in technology and research that will advance the goal of ensuring a safe and sustainable supply of water in the United States for human and ecological needs.
To advance its goal, the Subcommittee will carry out the following functions:
Facilitate communication and coordination among federal agencies and representatives from nonfederal sectors on issues of science, technology, and policy related to water availability and quality.
Advise the Committee on significant recent developments in science and technology related to the assessment and enhancement of water availability and quality.
Determine needs for additional research, monitoring, and technology development.
Develop a plan for a coordinated multiagency effort to provide the needed research, monitoring, and development.
Recommend budget priorities that will target federal spending toward the most critical needs for ensuring safe and sustainable water supplies for human and ecological uses.
Provide reviews and analyses of federal policies and programs that affect water availability and quality.
Advise the Committee on linkages between the availability and quality of water and the nation’s economic and strategic security.
Assess periodically (a) priorities for research and development of systems related to enhancement of water supplies, and (b) research and development of systems related to monitoring and forecasting water flow and quality and their effect on aquatic life.
Members of the Subcommittee will be from the following agencies:
Council on Environmental Quality
Office of Management and Budget
Office of Science and Technology Policy
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
National Park Service
National Science Foundation
Tennessee Valley Authority
U.S. Agricultural Research Service
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
U.S. Department of Energy
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
U.S. Forest Service
U.S. Geological Survey
U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service
E. Private Sector Interface
The Subcommittee may seek advice from the President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) and will recommend to the Assistant to the President for Science and Technology the nature of additional private-sector advice needed to accomplish its mission. The Subcommittee may also interact with and receive ad hoc advice from various nonfederal groups as consistent with the Federal Advisory Committee Act, such as the Advisory Committee on Water Information.
The Subcommittee shall serve for a duration of 5 years, until September 30, 2007. The charter, however, may be renewed by the Committee and the chairman of the NSTC at their discretion.
By my signature below, I hereby approve the formation of the Subcommittee on Water Availability and Quality, subject to the terms in this charter, as a function of the Executive Branch consistent with the public interest and with its lawful duties.
Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy Date
THE CHALLENGE OF THE “THIRD ERA OF WATER RESOURCES”
A paper presented to the Subcommittee on Water Availability and Quality (SWAQ) by its co-chairs, May 5, 2003 (Revised June 10, 2003)
Science and technology has always been crucial to the proper development and protection of our nation’s water resources. We would propose that since about the middle of the 1990’s the nation has entered into a “third era of water resources.” And it is the realities of that third era that must form the basis of our science and technology agenda. So, what are these three eras?
The first era spans the time from the first development of cities, industry, and irrigated agriculture up to about 1972. During this era the resource was developed through the building of dams for purposes of water supply, navigation, hydroelectric power generation and flood control. The key science question behind these projects was about the amount of water, or power, that could reliably be delivered from these projects. Groundwater development only became a significant factor in water development after the invention of center pivot irrigation systems and high-capacity submersible pumps in the middle of the 20th century. In only a few cases did groundwater development lead to long-lasting or far-reaching impacts during this era. The science question in groundwater development was about the amount of water that could be extracted from a set of wells without unduly affecting neighboring users. Waste from industry and cities were generally discharged to rivers with little or no treatment. At the end of this era public concern over pollution was growing rapidly and causing scientists to address difficult questions about how multiple sources of pollution along a river were each affecting water quality or the biota. The goal of this science was to assign responsibility appropriately and to make decisions about the most effective means of improving water quality. This latter task was difficult given the state of scientific understanding, monitoring technology, and computational capability at the time, and results were often contended in legal proceedings, leading to major logjams in solving the nation’s water pollution problems.
The second era starts in 1972 and runs to the middle 1990s. During this era there were very few new water storage projects built. Any expansions in deliveries of surface water came about by simply extracting more from the infrastructure already built. In those areas where water use was growing, the West and the South primarily, this resulted in growing stresses on the total supply for the users and in significant impacts on the aquatic community, as these off-stream diversions left little water in the rivers during dry periods. Groundwater use increased rapidly due to better technology and because of the limits on surface-water supplies. However, during the same period, contamination of groundwater became a concern and a focus for remediation. The Clean Water Act resulted in major enhancements in treatment of municipal and industrial waste. It was a period of
very active development of treatment technology, but little attention was paid to the science of water quality, because the Clean Water Act placed its focus for the first two decades on application of technology to clean up point sources.
The third era began in the mid 1990s and can be expected to run for many more years. Many regions of the nation are now facing clear and intense conflict among the major categories of use: urban, industrial, agricultural, and ecological. Because large-scale water transfers or building of additional reservoirs are unlikely, the interests in most regions are actively involved in some kind of renegotiation over the uses of the existing supplies. The key science question is now not how much water can we reliably deliver from the river, but rather how much water do we need to leave in the river for ecosystem functions. There is interest in new systems for storing water, but these are primarily systems for capturing surface water in times of high flow and storing it in aquifers to be extracted months or years in the future during times of need. These systems represent an important emerging technology, but one whose performance is not well known at this time. Groundwater development is increasing rapidly because of the limitations on further surface-water sources. What is becoming more apparent is that withdrawal of groundwater can have significant impacts on surface water and on aquatic ecosystems over time scales of decades and spatial scales of tens of miles. Understanding groundwater and its connection to surface water thus becomes a crucial science need for wise management of the resource. Finally, in the area of water quality, the improvements due to the technology-based approach have been significant, and yet problems remain for the water quality and the aquatic biota. These problems are significantly related to land uses, particularly agricultural and urban land management practices. Future decisions about land use and land management practices must be based on a predictive understanding, supported by empirical data, of the relationship between those activities and the water quality and biological end points. These impacts must be understood at the scale of the local watershed, but also at scales of major river basins with impacts persisting hundreds of miles or more downstream from their sources.
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY FOR THE THIRD ERA OF WATER RESOURCES
The era of plentiful, clean water supplies and pristine, biologically diverse aquatic resources has been replaced by an era of highly developed water resource management and regulatory and voluntary programs to restore and maintain water quality. Science and technology generated via federal research have enabled both the utilization of water resources and the information and technologies needed to guide related public policy and economic development needs. The United States, and the world at large, are now in a “third era of water resources” characterized by:
increasing competition and conflict among users of increasingly scarce water resources, often leading to technical and policy gridlock because of the conflict over values, protracted litigation or regulatory actions, and the scientific uncertainties
federal budget realities coupled to policy, and program performance expectations requiring scientifically based information and technology to inform decision making at all scales of government from federal to local. This information must fully explain the costs, effectiveness, and benefits of actions to provide water, prevent water quality impairment, and to restore water quality in impaired systems
a shift from relying exclusively on “command and control” approaches to solve problems to approaches that harness market forces, provide flexibility and efficiency, and that build on principles of sustainable water quantity, water quality, and economic development
a recognized shift from industrial and wastewater treatment discharges as the major cause of water quality impairment to nonpoint source runoff, atmospheric deposition, and groundwater inflows as the major pathways for contamination of water resources
a scarcity of freshwater and increasing costs to store, extract, purify, and distribute water suitable for irrigation, drinking, basic sanitation, and aquatic habitat maintenance
URGENT AND NATIONAL PRIORITIES FOR THE THIRD ERA
The federal water science and technology programs exist to meet the nation’s water availability and quality needs. These programs will be challenged by the emerging Third Era. The SWAQ will structure its work to see to it that the programs do not simply continue to pursue the issues of the past. Rather, we will work together to explore how the agencies can effectively make the significant progress, during the next five years, on some of the most urgent problems posed by the Third Era. The SWAQ has selected two issues for initial consideration and special study. Both are compelling, interagency, national, and policy-relevant priorities. Both will require a realignment of current priorities and may require new resources. The work of the SWAQ will not be limited to these two issues, but they are suggested by the co-chairs as initial topics for consideration.
1. Quantifying the future availability of freshwater in light of both withdrawal uses and ecosystem uses:
A very common problem in the Third Era is that the existing infrastructure for storing and delivering water for uses such as agricultural, urban, or industrial needs is now being called upon to support healthy biotic communities in rivers and associated lakes, wetlands, and floodplains. Also, groundwater development
is causing declines in groundwater storage and this is resulting decreased base-flow in streams and increased water temperatures during critical times in the summer. Answering questions of future availability of freshwater requires an ability to predict at least four major types of variables. (1) There is a need to estimate the future economic demands for water for withdrawal uses (agriculture, urban, and industrial). The complexities of this process involve forecasting of changes in technology, economic activity, and the response of the legal and political system to shifting water from one type of use to another. (2) There is a need to estimate the response of the biological community to changes in streamflow and stream temperature, clarity, and chemistry. This question is often pivotal to addressing instream flow needs. (3) There is a need to estimate the degree to which aquifer storage is changing and will change in the future (given various land and water use patterns) and then how these changes in groundwater will affect the flow, temperature, and chemistry of streamflow. (4) There is finally a need to estimate how surface-water flow is changing as a result of water management activities, land-use change, climate change, diversions, and storage.
Scientific tools and data that are needed to respond to the questions of water availability include new approaches to estimating of groundwater recharge, discharge, and storage at a regional scale. This will demand the use of improved sensors such as ground-based and space-based gravity methods as well as tracer methods (using isotopes, heat, or man-made chemicals as tracers) and improved groundwater and groundwater–surface-water models. Efforts are needed to explore new water-using technologies and the economic and social barriers to their adoption by citizens, communities, industry, and farmers.
Traditional science and engineering of river management has focused on the question: “How much water can we reliably extract from this river or aquifer, given the systems of reservoirs, diversions and wells?” The new question is “How much water do we need to leave in the river or aquifer to support the biota?” Without scientifically defensible answers to this kind of question, regional water management decisions will remain gridlocked in a manner that serves neither the withdrawal users nor the ecosystem. The recent article in Science magazine regarding the Klamath River Basin gives a prime example of this gridlock, but many other examples exist nationwide (e.g. the California Bay Delta, Everglades, Grand Canyon, Platte River, Appalachacola-Chattahoochie-Flint, to name a few). The science that is needed is improved understanding of the stressor–response relationship between the physics and chemistry of managed river systems and the response of the biota. In order to move forward with resolution of these conflicts there needs to be research leading to improved models that can be used to diagnose the cause of current problems and predict the future state of the biota. The science needs to consider the wide range of factors that can affect the biota: including: streamflow, water temperature, sediment concentrations, water chemistry, riparian vegetation, groundwater development impacts on surface water flow
and temperature, geomorphology, physical barriers, harvest, invasive species, disease, and dissolved gases.
In short, improving the scientific basis for water availability planning can only be done through an integrative effort involving surface-water and groundwater hydrology, climatology, water chemistry, water engineering and economics, and the biological responses of ecosystems to ongoing environmental change.
2. Assessing and predicting the effectiveness of land use practices and watershed restoration on water quality and ecosystem health.
Even though the nation has made great strides in reducing urban and industrial sources of pollution, the quality of many water bodies still does not support the level desired from the standpoints of protecting human health and healthy biotic communities. For example we know that
Many river, lake, estuarine, and near-coastal systems (e.g., Gulf hypoxia) are impaired by nutrient enrichment and that the primary sources for these nutrients are from agricultural and urban uses and from atmospheric nutrient inputs.
Pathogenic organisms are common in our nation’s waters, and they threaten recreational water use and safe drinking water supplies. Sources include sewer overflows, leaky sanitary sewers, malfunctioning septic tanks, animal production facilities, pets, and wildlife.
Sediment originating from erosion of the landscape continues to create problems in aquatic systems. It causes direct harm to fish and shellfish, and often carries toxic metals or organic chemicals.
Mercury is a significant problem to the higher-level organisms in the aquatic food chain (fish and fish-eating birds and mammals, including humans who subsist on fish). The source of this mercury is often atmospheric, and the likely effectiveness of control strategies is poorly known at this time.
A common characteristic of most of these water quality problems is that they require significant interventions in land use practices at watershed or large river-basin scale. These interventions, commonly called “best management practices” (BMPs), ecosystem restoration practices, and watershed management action programs are expected to yield their results very slowly. Because these practices involve changing the movement of water, chemicals, and sediment through soil and through groundwater and over long distances within a watershed, the desired outcomes may take decades to emerge. Documenting the effectiveness of these measures on water quality or biological end points is confounded by the significant temporal variation that comes from the natural variation between seasons and between wet years and dry years. Science and technology must find the
“signal” of effectiveness amidst the considerable natural “noise” of the watershed system. The challenge to the water science and technology community is to demonstrate and ultimately predict the costs, effectiveness, and the benefits of the various strategies that are being deployed to restore or improve the nation’s aquatic systems.
HOW SWAQ WILL ADDRESS THESE URGENT AND NATIONAL PRIORITIES FOR THE THIRD ERA
We propose that the SWAQ undertake a review that describes the importance of these two problem to the nation’s economic development and ecosystem conditions, the status of knowledge, current research efforts and then describe the kind of research and development needed to move the science forward to resolve these kinds of problems. Special attention will be given to data needs, integrated modeling needs, and the needs for new sensors that can contribute to this overall effort.
Getting the metrics right: measuring, modeling and the adaptive management feedback loop
Actions taken to improve water quality or ecosystem health must be viewed, in part, as experiments. We are engaged in a process of adaptive management where we take actions that should move us in the right direction, but also recognize that there is great uncertainty about how well those actions will succeed in producing the desired outcomes. Any good experimental design demands a rigorous measurement plan, data analysis plan, hypothesis tests, and reporting of results in the peer reviewed literature. The SWAQ will explore how well the nation is positioned to conduct adaptive management of water, with the complete feedback loop from design, to action, to data, to results, and back to design and action. The SWAQ will pose the following kinds of questions as it pursues the two issues proposed above for initial study:
What are the metrics required to assess the costs, effectiveness, and benefits of approaches to meet the goals of the new strategies for water availability and quality?
Do existing sampling networks, statistical designs, and data collection programs use appropriate metrics, or can they be modified or expanded upon to measure across this integrated question of costs, effectiveness, and benefits?
What new technologies are needed to observe and measure the important variables in a cost-effective and timely manner, to serve the needs of adaptive management at local, regional, and national scales?
What is the most cost-effective way to use the current network of experimental watershed and groundwater study sites and related research programs to address the integrated questions of the Third Era?
What alternative experimental designs, survey approaches, and network-based approaches are needed to answer integrated questions and what institutional arrangements (including a role for the private sector) are required to implement targeted but large-scale “experiments”?
Is it possible to link existing models in order to link controls (such as BMPs) to ambient water quality to biological water quality (ecological end points) to economic benefits (such as monetized ecosystem goods and services)?
Are linked models credible? What is the best way to include social science algorithms?
What new models are required and what data collection is needed to test and implement the models?
ON-TIME DELIVERY OF VERIFIED TECHNOLOGIES
The Third Era is different from the first two water resources eras in that a robust private sector that develops, markets, and deploys technologies to meet water resources needs exists, and the capability and capacity are apparently available to further respond. The federal research community’s role needs to shift from a development role to one of catalyzing the marketplace by identifying unmet needs. Another vital role is the issue of demonstration of performance and third-party verification. Put simply, as vendors offer leading edge technologies for remote sensing, monitoring, measurement, water treatment and desalination, and nanotechnology-based hardware, then users and buyers need data on the performance of the approaches. There are a number of models for this approach to draw from, and range from Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) to technology demonstration and verification programs. Specific issues that must be addressed are the following:
Identification of a “hot needs” list for technologies needed to enable solutions to the SWAQ agenda
An alignment of the focus of current technology research, development, demonstration, and verification programs with the SWAQ special emphasis areas
Action Items: The co-chairs propose the following:
Propose the concepts in this paper to the SWAQ and seek consensus on the specific initial topics both in number and scope.
Develop an action plan for the SWAQ that reflects the respective priorities and roles of the member agencies.