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1 4 Resolving Problems: Essential Study Elements Science serves a critical role in seeking solutions to significant envi- ronmental quality problems and mediating the conflicts that arise among parties with different perceptions of a problem and its potential solutions. The San Joaquin Valley Drainage Program (SJVDP) is a clear example of science in this role. Whether in the San Joaquin Valley or elsewhere, science performs key functions in a process that involves collecting and analyzing data, proposing alternative solutions, and articulating trade-offs. Science deals well with defining the objective properties of water, but it is less able to address issues that involve value judgments. The degree of excellence, or quality, of water is a concept that requires value judgments. This interface between science and human values challenges even the best problem-solving techniques. In the Kesterson case, for example, science can determine the concen- trations of selenium that are toxic to waterfowl or define the relationship between increasing salt concentrations and crop production. But science cannot judge which is more valuable, the crop or the waterfowl, nor can science assign values to predicted outcomes. As was discussed in Chapter 3, it is in this sense that the parallel involvement of ethics, law, economics, politics, and public policy has made the problems in the San Joaquin Valley particularly difficult to define and solve. Finding solutions to environmental problems like those caused by irri- gation drainage requires difficult choices. Thus the equity and effectiveness of the process used to seek, evaluate, and implement potential solutions become critically important. For this reason, good study design is essential. l 74
ESSENTIAL STUDY ELEMENTS 75 Concurring with an earlier National Research Council Study, Ecological Knowledge and Environmental Problem-Solving Concepts and Case Studies (National Research Council, 1986), the framework presented here is "in essence, an admonition to think before acting and to use established sci- entific principles." Although that National Research Council study focused on the environmental impact assessment process, this committee's activities have strongly reinforced many of the same messages. This report also reinforces many pot ints about sound study design for long-term monitoring as were highlighted in another National Research Council study, River and Dam Management: A Review of the Bureau of Reclamation's Glen Canyon Environmental Studies (National Research Council, 1987~. The purpose of this chapter is to highlight key elements that the committee believes are essential in addressing complex problems and that are likely to prove important to future research efforts. The chapter introduces five basic functions that characterize problem solving. The first three elements (i.e., recognizing the problem, defining the problem, and collecting and compiling data) are examined at length in this chapter. Chapter 5 examines the final two interpretive elements (identifying and evaluating alternative responses). This chapter reflects the committee's deliberations and evaluation of the problem-solving process, but it has also benefited from the work of several authors who have explored complex problem solving in depth (Robertshaw et al., 1978; Simon, 1981; Salthe, 1985; Warfield, 1973; Bald- win, 1975; Optner, 1965~. Particular attention is paid to how complexity and uncertainty affect the environmental problem-solving process. ESSENTL`L STUDY ELEMENTS Attempts to solve irrigation-induced water quality problems whether the problem is related to selenium, boron, a pesticide, or something else- cannot succeed unless the process used to identify, evaluate, and eventually implement the responses is sound. In its guidance to the U.S. Department of the Interior and the SJVDP, and by this report, this committee continually has emphasized the need for formal decisionmaking and effective public participation in this process, and it has stressed the importance of carefully integrating technical, socioeconomic, and institutional considerations. Certain key study elements are critical when decisionmakers attempt to seek balanced solutions to significant environmental problems. In general, problem-solving endeavors such as the SJVDP and the National Irriga- tion Water Quality (NIWQP) should incorporate the following five basic elements: 1. Recognize the problem. 2. Define the problem.
76 IRRIGATION-INDUCED WATER QUALITY PROBLEMS 3. Assess the data base and collect additional data. 4. Identify alternative responses. 5. Evaluate the alternatives. Table 4.1 summarizes the general process that needs to be followed to generate responses to major environmental problems when values, view- points, and science may be in conflict. The process begins with the an- tecedent conditions that set the stage for the occurrence of a problem. These antecedents are the environmental variables that create the setting. As was reviewed in Chapter 2, they can include the hydrologic or geologic characteristics, ecological or biological factors, or other physical elements that characterize the existing conditions. In addition, as was reviewed in Chapter 3, the social and cultural context the economic, social, and politi- cal setting also creates a backdrop against which a problem occurs. These elements all contribute in various ways to the complexity of the problem and the ultimate effectiveness of various proposed solutions. In the San Joaquin Valley, for example, two of the most important antecedents were the geology of the area (i.e., the fact that the soils were rich in selenium) and the nature of the agricultural economy (i.e., the history and importance of irrigation in the valley). If either of these two variables had been different, the problem at issue would not have occurred or at least would have been significantly different. As was mentioned earlier, defining the problem is a critical and difficult step in the problem-solving process. Implementation of any solution is impossible if people do not agree as to the nature of the problem (Vlachos et al., 1979), because how the problem is defined ultimately determines the nature of the solutions that are possible. Of course, difficulties arise because different people have different perspectives and thus will define different problems. The compromise is to define the problem broadly and then specify concrete, feasible goals that serve, as best possible, the different perspectives. Rarely, if ever, is it possible for all parties to be fully satisfied, and some value judgments will have to be made. Ultimately, one clear problem must be defined a process that may involve some difficult value judgments because without this basic under- standing, obtainable goals cannot be set and alternative solutions cannot be analyzed in context. If the problem-definition process is adequate, in the end local, regional, and national interests should be appropriately balanced. Table 4.1 also lists categories of available responses. These are the generic tools available to address irrigation-induced water quality problems anywhere, whether in the San Joaquin Valley or elsewhere in the United States or the world. They are basic types of responses that might be applied regardless of site. These can be technical, institutional, or a combination of both approaches. Appropriate responses can be developed only after
ESSENTIAL STUDY ELEMENTS TABLE 4.1 General Process for Developing Strategies to Respond to Irrigation-Induced Water Quality Problems Sequence of Steps Essential Components Recognizing the problem Defining the problem, assessing and collecting data Identifying alternatives Evaluating alternatives Detection of anomalies o Chemical parameters o Physical parameters 0 Biota o Social impacts o Economic impacts Antecedent conditions 0 Hydrological o Biological o Geological o Ecological Social and Cultural Context o Historical setting o Competing and conflicting demands o Inherent complexity o Widespread support for irrigated agriculture o Subsidization of water and crops 0 Expectation of continued support o Institutional constraints Possible responses 0 Source control o Drainage water treatment o Transport and disposal 0 Price adjustments 0 Legal changes 0 Institutional changes o Economic changes o Social changes Criteria for evaluating responses 0 Technical soundness 0 Economic viability 0 Legal appropriateness 0 Social acceptability 0 Political feasibility o Ecological appropriateness 77
78 IRRIGATION-INDUCED WATER QUALITY PROBLEMS careful interpretation of the data. These responses are discussed further in Chapter 5. Given the dynamic nature of any problem-solving process, one cross- cutting issue critical to the search for appropriate responses is public par- ticipation. Public participation is important throughout the various stages of any problem-solving endeavor, but it is particularly necessary during the definition of the problem and the assessment of alternative responses (Ingram and Ullery, 1977~. In fact, the success of any proposed solution will ultimately depend on the public's confidence that the decision process was open and complete. Public participation is important because it is in- evitable in any large, public debate that there will be differing views present among the people affected. In other words, there is no one "public" but rather many "publics" that must be given access to the decision-making process: farmers (both irrigators and nonirrigators), business people, envi- ronmentalists, local and regional residents, and a host of others with varied rationales for involvement. All sides desire a chance to be heard and to share in the decision-making responsibilities. Public participation brings competing interests together, communicates information, identifies research needs, and helps in the understanding of scientific uncertainty. It is a forum for decision makers and the public to listen and learn from each other. Public participation is not a frill; it is a necessity that has been established by law and upheld by the judiciary. Thus the question is no longer whether there should be public participation, but how it can be done most effectively. Recognizing the Problem The first step toward solving a problem is recognizing that it exists. Although problem recognition is difficult and often occurs by happenstance, examples of strategies to facilitate problem recognition include the baseline monitoring of chemical and physical parameters as conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey, remote-sensing efforts by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Admin- istration, and isolated long-term ecosystem monitoring efforts supported by the National Science Foundation. Many of these efforts are designed primarily to explore the long-term behavior of natural systems. The number of parameters monitored often is small, and the geographical coverage of the studies is limited. Monitoring detects change. Defining change in the natural world as a problem, no matter how the change is discovered, depends on a value judgment by some part of society because damage is a human value concept. Science can serve society through sustained research vigilance, but
ESSENTIAL STUDY ELEMENTS 79 the decision determining which changes are problems (damage) requires close coordination between monitoring and evaluation. No common shortfalls interfere with many schemes for problem recog- nition. One difficulty occurs because the scientific and technical programs charged with monitoring generally are separated from the value judgment methods that could identify a change as damage. The second difficulty is that the technical institutions responsible for monitoring are often the same institutions responsible for causing the changes, often in the name of resource development. This creates a built-in bias to ignore unintended problems as long as the original objectives of the projects are being met. Few formal strategies exist for efficient problem recognition covering a wide range of circumstances. Consequently, many problems are first recognized through dramatic, attention-getting events such as the deaths and deformities of birds at Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), or through serendipity during studies designed for other purposes. Thus the threshold of severity that must be reached before a problem is recognized can vary significantly. The first indications that a problem may exist tend to be based on the following: inferences drawn from prior experiences; · detection of anomalies in chemical or physical parameters; · detection of anomalies in the biota; or · detection of socioeconomic impacts. Many of the potential problems uncovered during the problem-recogni- tion phase will turn out to be spurious, and therefore such associations need to be assessed carefully to enable judging the strength of the association and the likelihood of causal relationships. Again, the San Joaquin Valley offers a vivid example of how problem recognition can occur: because the selenium contamination at Kesterson NWR was unexpected, the mass media played an unprecedented role in the problem-recognition process. Given the experience gained at Kesterson NWR, monitoring for trace elements at other sites may be better able to detect emerging problems when the changes are more subtle and before drastic problems have arisen. Defining the Problem The next critical step in solving any problem is to define the nature of the problem (Box 4.A). Problem definition for complex, multidisciplinary environmental problems requires agreement among competing interests. Developing a process to negotiate an acceptable statement of the problem is a necessary part of problem definition and should precede the setting of goals. The importance of an interdisciplinary team undertaking a formal
80 IRRIGATION-INDUCED WATER QUALITY PROBLEMS BOX 4.A Defining the Problem It is important to negotiate an acceptable problem definition early in any research effort because different observers will have different perspectives, focus on different symptoms, and have different goals. The views expressed can vary widely. A farmer may see the problem as one of diminishing agricultural productivity, and the causes as increased salinity, rising water tables, diminished irrigation supplies, or contaminated irrigation water. A water resources management agency may see the problem as the excessive accumulation of harmful pollutants in the hydrological system. An environ- mental activist may focus on the loss of natural environmental attributes caused by the expansion of agricultural systems. The impacts of diminished in-stream flows on aquatic wildlife, recreation, and drinking water supplies, or the simple degradation of natural landscapes, can also be issues. From a national perspective, the major problem may be the significant costs required to maintain the current agricultural system. Over the years, the nation has developed an agricultural production system which, on the one hand, appears to be very efficient in producing plentiful supplies of inexpensive commodities, but which, on the other hand, requires billions of dollars of subsidies for its maintenance. Other people will identify still other types of problems. And even within any general problem area, different individuals may define the problem differently. All of these different definitions have some credibility. And indeed, the full definition of "the problem" may include elements of all the different definitions and more. But all too often, little attention is given to defining exactly what the problem is, and this failure will often become a major cause of subsequent confusion and conflict among those responsible for identifying a solution. problem decomposition was discussed above. The problem-definition phase defines the purpose of the research and the future outcome that is desired. The participants must resist the urge to find quick solutions during the problem-statement phase. Sometimes a team of experts with no vested interest in the outcome-in other words, a panel of outside experts is best suited to evaluate the problem objectively. In any event, the inclusion of formal value judgment is required. It is absolutely essential to define a problem before seeking to solve it. Although this may sound simple or obvious, it is not. When asked to specify the problem they are trying to solve, farmers, scientists, engineers, citizens, federal and state agency staff, and other interested parties may all see the problem differently or may focus on different symptoms. Public participation must be incorporated at this early stage of problem definition. Acknowledging the existence of different views of a problem is important
ESSENTIAL STUDY ELEMENTS 81 because it means that the problem solvers will be less likely to proceed down a short-sighted path. How the problem is defined whether explicitly or implicitly will determine which options are examined and implemented. Obtainable goals can be set only if the problem to be solved is clear and agreed upon by all parties. Different options will produce different effects on the various interest groups. A response at the local level may aggravate the problem at the state or national level. The simplest engineering response may be an environmental mistake. A temporary remedy may preclude a future, permanent cure. The benefits of each alternative for all affected parties must be carefully assessed, and decisionmakers must remember that all potential solutions have costs in money, resources, energy, and social costs. Who will pay becomes an essential consideration, and, as for the other questions raised, the answer depends very much on the perspective from which the question is asked. It may be that no answers are possible in which all the parties win, so that compromise is more often than not the only realistic goal. This committee cannot stress enough the importance of clearly defining exactly what problem is being addressed and of making early problem definition a crucial element in all attempts to study and solve irrigation- induced water quality problems in the future. Each level of a problem contains its own set of intertwined subproblems. If certain elements of the problem are ignored, unforeseen repercussions will result. For example, plugging the drains that discharged into the ponds at Kesterson NWR was a response that did reduce the flow of contaminants into the refuge. However, it did not solve several larger problems, such as what should be done with the sediments that contain dangerous residues or who should pay for cleanup. It did not address the obvious question of how to maintain agricultural production without drainage, or the more subtle question of how to compensate for the wetland habitats that were lost. Data Assessment and Acquisition Assessing the Data Base Once a problem has been defined and goals set, problem solvers should next assess the existing data base (National Research Council, 1986; Larkin, 1984~. Too often, people confronted with a complex problem tend to assume that the required data are absent and immediately begin acquiring new data. Existing data often are ignored, underused, or treated as suspect. Although existing data may have been developed from studies with different objectives, they still can provide valuable insights about the nature of the system interactions, a key component when dealing with complex problems.
82 I~GATION-INDUCED WATER QUALITY PROBLEMS From the existing data base, researchers should attempt to establish a baseline, a trend, and some idea of the required endpoint. The question of how (by what criteria) to judge the problem must also be addressed. The research team should first screen the facts. This involves separating objective information from expert opinions, educated guesses, speculations, and other questionable data. But this step inevitably includes some value judgments, and these opinions need not be discouraged: they simolv need to be noted for what they are. The assessment of quantitative and qualitative information derived from ecological field studies is particularly difficult to deal with because such studies often exhibit poorly quantified precision and accuracy. Nevertheless, such studies may be the only ones that integrate the effects of combined stresses on the environment. A well-designed exploratory analysis of the existing data base can help decisionmakers assess the quality of this data base and identify significant data gaps. If the facts are insufficient, further information must be acquired. Before acquiring new data, however, problem solvers need to develop a formal statement of the specific measurement objectives, including a complete list of variables to be measured. The reporting units, expected ranges, required detection limits, relative prediction (upper limit), and accuracy (maximum absolute bias) objectives must be specified for each target parameter before measurement begins. Clearly stated data objectives are necessary to the design of a quality assurance and quality control procedure at the beginning of the measurement process (Box 4.B). Often a quality control plan is developed too late to be of real use in assessing the quality of information being acquired. A clear statement of data objectives also helps field and laboratory personnel assemble candidate measurement procedures and examine their cost-effectiveness. Questions of sampling strategy, definitions of sample representativeness, and similar issues all require specific objectives. Attention to method selection, devel- opment, and optimization should precede the adoption of routine analytical measurement procedures. Appropriate laboratories and investigators must also be selected to perform the work. C' ~1 ~ AcqumngAddihonal Data Existing data can provide important input into the decision-making process, but they will likely need to be supplemented with new data specif- ically tailored to the situation. Thus data acquisition is a key, and often time-consuming, stage in environmental problem solving. One area of par- ticular importance is public health. The potential threat to public health posed by the increasing exposure of people and wildlife to water contam- ination mandates a closer examination of the importance of these data.
ESSENTLi4L STUDY ELEMENTS BOX 4.B Quality Assurance and Quality Control Uncertainty plays a constant and important role in problem solving. To properly evaluate alternatives, a quantitative mechanism for monitoring uncertainties should be included in all experimental designs. The design of a quality assurance (QA) plan and implementation of quality control (QC) procedures should occur early in any study. A member of the study team should be assigned responsibility for QA/QC. When a project incorporates the work of many people in several.places, a QA/QC manager should be appointed as early as possible. In addition to the manager's coordinating role, several broad QA objectives can be addressed only by a QA/QC manager. Establishing QA program guidelines for data precision, accuracy, completeness, representativeness, and comparability requires a whole-project perspective that individual participating laboratories and data-gathering task groups cannot provide. Decisions about the utility of data for answering particular questions depend on the objective of the study, the sampling design, and protocol. There are data adequate to answer some questions that would be useless for answering others. In addition, the degree to which one may assess sample representativeness depends on the precision limits of the analytical methods, i.e., whether field variability may be distinguished from laboratory impreci- sion. Thus, once the goals for analytical precision have been established, one may define representativeness and establish a protocol for assessing whether the objectives have been achieved. If this is carefully done and meticulously documented, then future analysts can be confident that data are, or are not, appropriate for new analyses. These are important criteria for long-term data sets that must serge time series analyses, analyses of change, and analyses about the effects of experimental manipulation or management. 83 In particular, monitoring, dose response studies, and exposure assessments (Box 4.C) play a key role in risk assessment and in the evaluation of alternative responses to a problem. Monitoring, or the routine collection of data, is used in ecological studies in two basic ways. Anticipatory monitoring is designed to track the effects of activities that might be cumulative or pose hazards to human health. Monitoring during or after an action or project is designed to show what ecological changes resulted (Baker, 1976~. Properly done, monitor- ing provides continuous indexes of environmental quality that can signal environmental degradation or improvement (National Research Council, 1986~. Monitoring often is avoided because it is expensive and the return of information for each dollar spent seems small. The additional expenditure may be difficult to defend because the contribution that monitoring data
84 IRRIGATION-INDUCED WATER QUALITY PROBLEMS BOX 4.C Exposure Assessment Exposure assessment is a process used to estimate the rates at which substances are absorbed by organisms through all mechanisms: ingestion, inhalation, and by absorption through the skin. The absorbed dose often differs significantly from the dose externally applied to the organism, which is usually called the exposure. A valid measurement of the organism's exposure to a chemical would require measuring that chemical in the food, drinking water, air, and sur- faces with which the organism would come into contact. Environmental concentration measurements that do not consider the chemical and phys- ical forms of the contaminants provide an imperfect basis for estimating absorbed doses because these forms affect the gastrointestinal absorption efficiency, the percutaneous transfer coefficient, and other important param- eters. Ideally, the analytical data should also provide information on the physical and chemical form of the substance being analyzed. In practice, , most exposure assessments do not incorporate such sophistication, and the resulting environmental assessments are weak. When a possible environmental contamination problem is initially in- vestigated, a large number of potential contaminants should be sought in those areas where they would be expected to accumulate, by natural pro- cesses, to unusually high concentrations. Next, the team should clearly define the geographical extent of the problem and the major environmental media for those contaminants uncovered in the preliminary phase. Then the team should concentrate on making exposure measurements for humans and selected organisms. Monitoring data collected during reconnaissance should not be used to make definitive risk assessments without clarifying the tentative nature of such assessments. provide to assurance of safety and effectiveness generally is not evident during the initial years. Monitoring is, however, quite important during all phases of a water resources investigation, and its importance will increase as water quality problems become more frequent and the sources of contamination more abundant and diverse. Survey monitoring, for example, tracks ambient conditions, detects changes, and identifies problem areas on a routine reconnaissance basis. As anomalies are detected, it may be necessary to supplement existing monitoring networks with additional measurements to obtain a better understanding of the study system. Monitoring should not be restricted to the period of study of a partic- ular problem situation but should be continued after packages of solutions have been selected and implemented. This continued monitoring provides a means to assess the effectiveness of the strategic response chosen and permits identification of other potential anomalies. Of course, one serious
ESSENTIAL STUDY ELEMENrTS 85 problem in designing any monitoring system is the assumption that someone knows what substances to monitor. Had a well-designed water monitoring system existed in the San Joaquin Valley prior to the discovery of problems at Kesterson NWR, it probably would not have provided advance indication of the selenium contamination because there was no basis in experience that warned researchers to monitor explicitly for selenium. The National Irrigation Water Quality Program (NIWQP) the cre- ation of which was inspired by the San Joaquin Valley experience provides an example of the kind of basic data collection and monitoring that is nec- essary to identify irrigation-related contamination problems. This program Is an attempt to anticipate and identify contamination problems before they take on Kesterson-like proportions, and it relies on a series of evaluative steps ranging from desk reviews to reconnaissance-level field studies to detailed field studies at sites showing potential problems. Given that the nation now is aware of these types of problems and their potential con- sequences, this committee believes some program of this type will remain necessary in the long term. Interpreting the Data Converting the assembled data Into information is as important to problem solving as experimental design is to data gathering. One ele- ment of any information-gathering process should be an information base management system. The data acquisition/interpretation plan supplies an operational mechanism for information exchange and catalyzes the interdis- ciplinary interaction. Interdisciplinary research requires a concerted effort to force researchers to address the data/information base in its broadest interpretive context. A well-designed information management system should be more than just computer software or a commercial data management system. It should incorporate human creative elements using interpretive aids to display the data conveniently, summarize its information, induce thinking about its content, and facilitate its use as an instrument of reasoning. The data base manager is a key individual in the interdisciplinary team. The individual should have the technical expertise needed to critically evaluate the data and function as an aid to retrieval and analysis. All projects benefit from the broader perspective of a competent generalist. Thus one central role for information management is to provide the day-to-day continuity that keeps the systems design approach productive. Chapter 5 addresses data interpretation in more depth, as it is fundamental to the tasks of identifying and evaluating alternative responses and strategies.
86 IRRIGATION-INDUCED WATER QUALITY PROBLEMS COMPLEXITY AND STUDY DESIGN Many descriptions of environmental problems begin by stating that the problems are complex. Although this may appear to be a statement of the obvious, study designs seldom exhibit a truly thoughtful examination of the claimed complexity. Irrigation-induced water quality problems are indeed complex. But one central role for natural science is "to show that complexity, correctly viewed, is only a mask for simplicity" and "to find pattern in apparent chaos" (Simon, 1981~. The solutions to complex problems are not always themselves complex, although they must take into account the relevant complexity. Complexity can be addressed through study design. Two types of complexity descriptive and interactive-need to be considered. Descriptive Complexity Descriptive complexity results from observers with different perspec- tives and institutions with different missions using different approaches to dissect a system into subsystems (Box 4.D). This often results in poor problem definition, and one consequence of this is that too much time is spent trying to solve the wrong problems. Descriptive complexity occurs because inherent differences of scale whether spatial or temporal are addressed differently by individuals with differing objectives. For example, a farmer whose objective is economic survival will describe a problem in a more short-term light; a resource manager, given a mandated responsibility for the resources being managed; is likely to describe the complexity more broadly in terms of both time and space. The difference in the perception of beneficial or adverse effects also varies given the perspective-environmental, agricultural, or societal. To accommodate descriptive complexity, dynamic and flexible approaches to problem solving are necessary. The approaches must be interdisciplinary and must involve the public. The distinction between "interdisciplinary" and "multidisciplinary" is more than semantic. Simply including studies from several disciplines does not ensure that relevant system interactions will be uncovered or that integrative, interpretive solutions will be obtained. Humans are adept at recognizing complexity but often avoid implementing remedies that require widespread changes in behavior. The complexity itself becomes an excuse for lack of action. This makes problem definition and planning key steps in problem solving. Complex problems often have a hierarchical structure, and solutions require the use of formal systems analysis. Systems are collections of things that function together, and the study of these collections is called systems
ESSENTIAL STUDY ELEMENTS BOX 4.D Descriptive Complexity in the San Jonquils Valley Some of the complexity that characterizes the situation in California's San Joaquin Valley came about because events inevitably mixed together people who held incompatible values. Different people express their goals in different terms: tons of cotton, waterfowl, human health, money, influence, or esthetics. Thus the San Joaquin Valley case is also a "complexity of values," generally expressed as special interests. Nowhere was the potential for conflicting perspectives more apparent than in the seemingly simple task of exactly defining the problem in the San Joaquin Valley. Is the principal issue how to better manage water on the farm so that the volume of drainage, and thus contaminated waste water, is minimized? Or is it how to protect water quality and in-stream values? Is the question one of broad economic benefits for the nation, or of continuing the historic agricultural lifestyle in the San Joaquin Valley? Is the issue the protection and enhancement of wildlife resources, particularly waterfowl habitats? Are the events in the valley an isolated problem or are they representative of a broad national issue? These questions reflect the different perspectives, levels of authority, and interests of the many people involved and potentially affected by the answers. Local governments often perceive the issues much differently than do federal agencies. In fact, although many institutions exist to examine separate pieces of the water use puzzle, none has shown the breadth and flexibility needed to integrate water policy across the disciplines. 87 analysis (Haith, 1982~. There are obvious advantages in treating environ- mental problems as systems. Problems can be considered in their totality, and the most effective points of control can be sought. A consequence of a systems perspective on environmental quality is the broadening of pos- sible control options and subsequent opportunities for efficient, integrated management strategies (Haith, 1982~. A formal, collaborative systems analysis can help identify the levels of the problem hierarchy and provide a useful mechanism for breaking down the problem into its essential elements. This decomposition allows the various parts of a complex system to be considered in isolation, but still in the context of the whole. Decomposition makes it easier to identify any part of the problem that needs particular attention, and it is easy to put things back together when the decompositions are formal. This is how science seeks to simplify. The levels of the hierarchy are characterized by shared properties, such as spatial scale and temporal frequency, each subject to different degrees of resolution during data collection phases of empirical science (Box 4.E). Formal examination of the levels of the hierarchy permits the
88 IRRIGATION-INDUCED WATER QUALITY PROBLEMS BOX 4.E The Problem Hierarchy in the San Joaquin Valley When a problem is analyzed, spatial resolution determines how much area is examined and temporal resolution determines the length of time. Three geographic scales are obvious in the San Joaquin Valley example: Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), the San Joaquin Valley, and the arid West. Three time scales are appropriate: short term (years), medium term (decades), and long term (centuries). Cleanup at Kesterson NWR represents a local, short-term goal. Reassessing water management in the San Joaquin Valley addresses a watershed on the medium term. Achieving a balance between sustainable agriculture and environmental values would be a long-term goal. A hierarchy of problem levels is clearly present. The discharge of drainage water into the ponds at Kesterson NWR has left a serious toxic cleanup problem; this is commonly referred to as the "Kesterson problem." Second, the plugging of the contributing drains has aggravated drainage problems for much of the irrigated land on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, and this is referred to as the "San Joaquin Valley drainage problem." Third, the documentation of toxic concentrations of selenium in the drainage water raises the spectre of similar problems elsewhere in the West, and this broad issue is called the "irrigation-induced water quality problem." It is easy to see how these differences in perspective add to complex- ity. The drainage problems in the San Joaquin Valley have been examined according to a variety of different organizational strategies. Economists, politicians, ecologists, and legal analysts each simplified the issues by assum- ing that the others' views were fixed. The extradisciplinary information then was included as a constant or discarded as irrelevant. problem-solving team to identify essential communication channels in the interdisciplinary structure. Many disagreements, particularly those that are hard to settle, are characterized by the disagreeing parties having addressed the issue at different levels, or in different contexts, with different values influencing their perspectives. Such disagreements are not resolved by factual information. When it is realized that no answers are possible in which all parties win, the estab- lishment of a common ground followed by compromise becomes the only realistic goal. - In essence, there are no win-win situations, only compro- mises in which all parties must give a little to attain a solution acceptable to all. The systems approach to problem solving provides a rubric for such problem definition and a structure for interdisciplinary collaboration.
ESSENTIAL STlJDY ELEMENTS 89 Interactive Complexity While descriptive complexity is the result of problem perception, in- teractive complexity is characteristic of natural systems. It is the result of direct or indirect interactions among variables within a subsystem or of interactions between subsystems. For example, the question of cadmium toxicity to humans cannot be adequately addressed without understanding the status of zinc. The toxic interaction between these two elements is mediated by natural biochemical processes occurring in human cells. Most environmental problems contain many significant interactions. Thus an engineer, chemist, or biologist might view complexity in terms of the num- ber and magnitude of system interactions. Unless these interactions are identified and understood, the solutions proposed are likely to fail. In a complex problem the relevant complexity must be accounted for, but the key to useful solutions is to reject the irrelevant complexity and uncertainty. It has become all too common to claim that "everything is connected," but good study design reflects the fact that most things can be looked at separately and that most connections are weak and can be ignored. On the other hand, it is essential to recognize and deal with significant interactions and to be aware that the sum of a number of weak interactions may be significant. It would be an error to think that when a dominant cause has been identified, the other factors are irrelevant. Thus a good study design should create a data-gathering structure that is capable of discovering unanticipated interactions and determining the magnitude of expected interactions. Failure to adequately address interactional com- plexity during problem definition leads to short-term solutions that can be long-term disasters. In addition to variable interactions within a domain of study, interac- tions between domains also introduce complexity that must be addressed in a study design. Although adequate theory may exist to predict interactions within a study domain, theory that identifies and permits quantitative assess- ment of interactions between apparently disparate domains is lacking. For example, interactions between elements of the technical domain and the social and economic domains that is, the linkages between science and values are poorly understood. Furthermore, few theoretical constructs exist to link phenomena occurring at different scales. This means that predictability at large scales (regional, continental, or global) or far into the future is not yet possible. UNCERTAINTY Given a good problem representation and a recognition of relevant interactions, the problem solver must then map the consequences of the
go IRRIGATION-INDUCED WATER QUALITY PROBLEMS alternatives, recognizing that some predictions will be more certain than others. Thus, to understand the nature of complexity and its consequences in a problem-solving endeavor, the problem solvers must examine the role of uncertainty. Since the consequences of actions may be far reaching and long lasting, a predictive capability is useful for assessing the effects of human activity. Accurate prediction, however, requires a theoretical understanding of the phenomena to be predicted as well as reliable data. Unfortunately, available scientific theories often are incomplete, and the available data are uncertain. Successful problem solving must be based on a strategy that addresses complexity and recognizes that uncertainty is an inherent part of any problem. Uncertainties can be of two types: those that people know how to remove without extraordinary effort, and those that people do not know how to remove without extraordinary effort or that may not even be recognized in the problem. The first type of uncertainty includes the random errors associated with measurement, and measurement limitations imposed by methods with insufficient sensitivity, data gaps, and so on. Although sometimes problem- atic, these can be minimized without too much effort. If these uncertainties cannot be ignored, then problem-solving procedures must determine the added cost of reducing the uncertainty to acceptable levels and must com- pare that cost with the cost of not having the additional information. For example, improving the measurement precision by a factor of two could easily increase the cost of the measurement by a factor of four. It is not always clear that the reduced uncertainty in a few measurements will proportionally improve the final uncertainty in complex systems. In any case, quantitative information regarding the measurement process and con- tinuous performance surveillance are essential parts of problem solving. The crucial role of a quality assurance and quality control program will be described in more detail below. The second type of uncertainty deals with uncertainties that arise out of science's incomplete understanding of how things work. Uncertainties of this type include the variabilities of human behavior, the weather, political events, and similar factors where judgments are based on assumptions rather than facts. Even with extraordinary efforts, these uncertainties cannot be modeled adequately. Hidden variables perturb the system in unanticipated directions, which makes prediction very uncertain even when the uncertainties related to measurement type have been minimized. Since these uncertainties arising from exogenous events cannot be quantified, attempts are made to deal with them by estimating the prob- abilities that they might occur (another assumption) using risk analysis (sordid and Rodricks, 1987; Hogan and Hoel, 1989), as highlighted in
ESSENTL4L STUDY ELEMENTS BOX 4.F Risk Assessment Risk assessment is a process that seeks to estimate the likelihood of occurrence of adverse effects due to specific exposures to chemical, physical, and biological agents in humans as well as ecosystems. The assessments may involve qualitative as well as quantitative estimates. Risk assessments often must be made from fragmentary data and with data that were collected for purposes not related to making risk assessments. Thus, by their very nature, risk assessment processes emphasize extrapolations and are sometimes prone to inaccuracies. Risk assessment is but one phase in a much larger process that seeks to prevent adverse effects on public health or ecosystems or the economy. It is closely linked with exposure assessment and with risk management. Risk management combines political, legal, and engineering approaches to manage risks. Potential risks are estimated by considering the probability of occur- rence, the potential effects, and the exposure, all in order to make the assessment of potential risks associated with the exposure to chemicals more tractable. There are, however, generic limitations to risk assessment. For instance, the number of substances for which an adequate amount of in- formation exists for credible risk assessments is limited. Risk assessments for complex mixtures and for intermittent and fluctuating exposures are unreliable. Risk assessments for the protection of ecosystems are only in their early developmental stages. 91 Box 4.F. Risk analysis, based as it is on assumptions, contains significant uncertainties. An alternative or supplementary uncertainty management strategr is to build feedback controls into the study design and solution implementation plan so that plans can be altered as data improve or as more is learned about the system. The three elements outlined here recognizing a problem, defining the problem, and assessing the data base and collecting additional data are essential steps in any problem-solving endeavor. ~ identify appropriate responses-ones that adequately and fairly respond to the stated goals of the problem-solving endeavor requires careful analysis. Technical, eco- nomic, legal, ecological, social, and political criteria must all be evaluated in an attempt to weigh the relative advantages and disadvantages of each proposed approach. The identification and evaluation of appropriate re- sponses is of course the cornerstone of any problem-solving endeavor. These critical steps receive detailed attention in Chapter 5. CONCLUSIONS Environmental quality problems tend to be complex, difficult to re- solve, and controversial. However, a problem's complexity should not be an
92 IRRIGATION-INDUCED WATER QUALITY PROBLEMS excuse for taking no action to solve it. A substantial degree of formality will be necessary to address complex problems successfully. This will help reduce wasted effort, increase the scientific integrity of the process and the solutions ultimately proposed, and foster their public acceptance. When designing studies to resolve environmental problems, it Is im- portant to recognize the nature of complexity- both to acknowledge it and to remove the excuse that, because of the complexity, the problem Is intractable. The hierarchical nature of a large, complex problem ~nvolv- ing many disciplines and interest groups must also be recognized because communication Is possible only at the same hierarchical level. A well-conducted study plan employs, in order, the elements of prob- lem recognition, problem definition, data assessment and collection, gen- eration of alternative solutions, and evaluation of these alternatives. In structuring any study, explicit attention must be paid to quality assurance and quality control, data and information management, monitoring, risk assessment and uncertainty, public participation, and conflict management. One aspect of complexity is that no environmental problem is solely tech- nical or solely institutional in nature. All involve technical, legal, social, and institutional components. A formal systems analysis framework will aid in giving appropriate weight to each of these disciplines and in enhancing communication. A wide range of alternative potential solutions needs to be displayed and analyzed formally. This not only avoids the obvious pitfall of overlooking important possibilities, but it also provides a basis for establishing the costs of the preferred alternatives compared to others. It also increases the credibility of the study recommendations. As indicated in Chapters 2 and 5, the solutions to most environmental problems will involve important technical components. However, such solutions cannot be solely technical but rather must also deal in legal, social, economic, and institutional domains, as emphasized in Chapters 3 and 5. These components should be Integrated throughout the problem-solv~ng process. Viable long-term solutions must be chosen based on societal judgment, and these can be assessed only when accurate information on the economic, legal, and institutional environment Is available. REFERENCES Baker, J. M. 1976. Biological monitoring-principles, methods and difficulties. In Marine Ecology and Oil Pollution. J. M. Baker, ed. John Wiley & Sons, New York. Baldwin, M. M., ed. 1975. Portraits of Complexity: Applications of Systems Methodologies to Societal Problems. Battelle Memorial Institute, Columbus, Ohio. Haith, D. A. 1982. Environmental Systems Optimization. John Wiley & Sons, New York. Hogan, M., and D. Hoel. 1989. Extrapolation to man. Pp. 879-891 in Principles and Methods of Toxicology. 2nd Ed. A. Wallace Hayes, ed. Raven Press, New York.
ESSENTIAL STUDY ELEMENTS 93 Ingram, H. M., and S. J. Ullery. 1977. Public participation in environmental decision-making: substance or illusion. Pp. 123-139 in Public Participation in Planning. ~ R. D. Sewell and J. T. Coppock, eds. John Wiley & Sons, New York. Larkin, P. ~ 1984. A commentary on environmental impact assessment for large projects affecting lakes and streams. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 41, 1121-1127. National Research Council. 1986. Ecological Knowledge and Environmental Problem-Solving: Concepts and Case Studies. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., pp. 104-115. National Research Council. 1987. River and Dam Management: A Review of the Bureau of Reclamation's Glen Canyon Environmental Studies. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. Optner, S. L. 1965. Systems Analysis for Business and Industrial Problem Solving. Prentice- Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Robertshaw, J. E., S. J. Mecca, and M. N. Rerick. 1978. Problem Solving: A Systems Approach. Petrocelli Books, New York. Salthe, S. N. 1985. Evolving Hierarchical Systems: Their Structure and Representation. Columbia University Press, New York. Simon, H. A. 1981. The Sciences of the Artificial. MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Ibrdiff, R. G., and J. V. Rodricks, eds. 1987. Toxic Substances and Human Risk. Plenum Press, New York. 445 pp. Vlachos, E., G. V. Skogerboe, G. E. Radosevich, P. C. Huszar, and W. Dock. 1979. Socio-Economic and Institutional Factors in Irrigation Return Flow Quality Control. Prepared for Robert S. Kerr Environmental Research Laboratory, Office of Research and Development, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA Grant R-8034742~. Warfield, J. N. 1973. An Assault on Complexity. Battelle Memorial Institute, Columbus, Ohio.