A few days ago, I featured a trenchant post by Jay Famiglietti that was oriented towards the hydrologic community.
He has now written a more accessible post (less oriented towards 24/7 WaterWonks like yours truly) with a 'bit of leadership throw down and a grand challenge mixed in':
Here’s the set-up. A critical problem that we face in the U.S. is that as a country, we lack the vision and leadership to clearly articulate our fundamental water issues, and to implement a comprehensive plan to tackle them. As usual, my focus is on water quantity for large regions such as nations and continents, which is my area of expertise.
I’m talking about big picture issues here – the forest, not the trees – because many of our local, state, and federal agencies are doing a superb job with their targeted missions. The USGS, NASA, NOAA, DOE, the National Weather Service, the Army Corps, the Bureau of Reclamation, etc., are all doing great things with the limited resources that they have.
But we need to step up and recognize that there’s a lot that we don’t know about water availability, and even more that we can’t predict. The general public and our elected officials need to know the issues so that we can make the investments that we need today, in order to propose technologically advanced, science-based management and solution strategies for tomorrow. The forest is in trouble, and the trees are already dying off. It’s time to act.
To illustrate my point, here are a few of what I’ve been calling the ‘unfortunate realities’ of modern hydrology. I’ve been elaborating on these this year in a series of lectures, called the Birdsall-Dreiss Distinguished Lectureship, sponsored by the Geological Society of America. The lecture tour has provided a rare opportunity to visit with colleagues in the U.S. and abroad, and to construct a holistic picture of the water landscape of the 21st century.
Unfortunate Reality #1. We don’t know how much fresh water we have on land. Not stored as groundwater, or surface water, as soil moisture, or as snow.
Unfortunate Reality #2. Our knowledge of Earth’s water environment at the surface and shallow subsurface remains appallingly insufficient. We know very little about the topography that we can’t see beneath the water surface, for example, the bathymetry of hundreds of thousands of river channels, floodplains, and lakes.
Unfortunate Reality #3. Our nation’s hydrologic modeling assets — the computer models that we use to understand and forecast water availability, flooding, and drought — are simply not up to the task of addressing our most pressing societal issues of food, energy, water, and national security. We are behind where we need to be, and we are falling behind other nations.
Famiglietti then discusses the need to deal with the above so we can manage water sustainably. But he asks:
How can we accomplish this? Since we lack a national water czar, policy, or agency in the U.S., much of what I’m writing about here has fallen through the cracks for too long. There’s no one there to take ownership.
Consequently, vision and leadership are sorely needed. We need champions. Our elected officials must embrace this sustainable water challenge through awareness, commitment, and focus.
I couldn't agree with him more; he is spot-on. Be sure to read his entire post, especially the grand challenges.
But let me step in here to note that it is not as though we've been sitting on our hands waiting for the Water Messiah or water tablets from above. A number of us, myself included, have been calling for a national water policy (or vision, or strategy) for years. Beginning in 2002, my organization, AWRA, has held four national water policy dialogues (here is a summary). AWRA has formally called for a national water vision and promoted IWRM (which includes sustainability) as a means to achieve that vision. Here is my latest 'vision talk'.
Other organizations (e.g., EWRI/ASCE) have been active in the call for a national water policy/vision/strategy, as have nonprofits such as the Clean Water America Alliance (CWAA), the Johnson Foundation and govenrment agencies like the USACE (mainly through the efforts of Steven L. Stockton, Director of Civil Works, and his assistant Ada Benavides).
Folks like Jim Thebaut, whose Running Dry films first (in 2002) exposed the water issues now making the rounds in Last Call at the Oasis, Erik Webb, and Peter Gleick have all spoken on the need for national water policies, visions, or strategies. Thebaut also orchestrated an educational and informational event at the UN last September.
We have also been working the halls of Congress, where there have been water champions - Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and former Rep. John Linder (R-GA) are two with whom I've worked. There are others.
So while Famiglietti is right - we do need a vision and champions - many individuals and organizations have recognized this and have been working towards it. But as Ringo Starr lamented, 'It don't come easy.'
But that is no reason not to continue trying. In fact, the post from someone with Famiglietti's scientific stature has renewed my enthusiasm. So thanks, Jay!
I may even continue reading the 1973 National Water Commission report!
BTW: Jay Famiglietti is now on Twitter
"Finally, communication and public education are essential to achieve broad awareness and consensus. People care deeply about water. The environment requires it to maintain its health and function. Both will be best served only when our critical water issues are elevated to the level of everyday understanding. Only then can we make a complete commitment to a sustainable water future for America." - Jay Famiglietti