Why Water Resources?

First ...the way it has been.

For more than a hundred years, different government entities have separately planned and managed the nation's water resources -- the water supply, natural water quantity and quality, flood control, fish and wildlife habitat. These entities developed strategies around specific areas within a water basin, rather than approaching problems from a basin-wide perspective. The public was not often involved in the decision-making process. As the problems became more complex, increasing numbers of attorneys and judges became critical players, but they were not particularly knowledgeable about water resources. Of course, scientists have always helped with water resources management. The water scientists, however, paid little heed to the political, economic or social aspects of basins. Universities mirrored the traditional approach to water resources management by educating individuals in a single field of study. Students learned how to think in terms of silos but not how to connect the silos of learning. 

Next....the problems this has caused. 

The traditional approach is not fixing water problems. A few of the reasons: 

  • the problems require detailed knowledge of local situations

  • water basins are characterized by intertwined social, legal, scientific, economic and engineering issues

  • water basins cross federal, state, county and city lines

  • decisions are delayed or not implemented because of court battles by local people who are also demanding a democratic, community-wide approach to the decision-making process

  • water problems have grown so complicated that the solutions are beyond single-function public entities

Upping the ante ...the water crunch.

If the world was the same as it was a century ago, perhaps we could glide along without change, even given the deficiencies of the traditional approach to water resources management. Rather, here's a snapshot of what has aggravated the situation: -- growth of the world's population at an unprecedented rate; an estimated 90 million people – one-third of the United States – is now being added each year to the world population -- a steady process of urbanization that has no end in sight; According to a UN report, “The year 2008 marks the first time in history that fifty percent of the world's population lives in cities; 70 percent will be city dwellers by 2050.” -- water infrastructure is facing risks due to diminishing snow packs, bigger storms, more frequent droughts and rising sea levels -- growing global water scarcity, so much so that The John Hopkins University School of Public Health reported that 48 countries will be affected by water scarcity by 2025 and, by the middle of the next century, there will be only three or four countries that have not experienced a major crisis -- interest by major companies, and even some political units, in the privatization of water 

Water Resources Solutions: long term, affordable.

The problems stemming from the traditional approach to water resources management have, obviously, been made worse by escalating worldwide pressures on water resources. The Water Resources Program was spearheaded by nine UI faculty members, who, according to Director Jan Boll, want to “revolutionize the decision-making process.” One goal is to help communities find affordable, long-term strategies so they can keep their water resources indefinitely. Another goal is to educate the individuals who will be leaders in solving increasingly complex water resources problems. To bring about a new paradigm, they believe what is needed is: 

  • attorneys and judges who are knowledgeable about water science

  • scientists who understand the political and social aspects of water basins

  • water planners and other experts who are comfortable working with individuals from other disciplines

  • a decision-making approach that uses the findings and facts of the many dimensions of a basin, from science to community values to economic development plans and more

  • community and stakeholder participation that goes beyond public hearings and informational campaigns

  • basin-wide management strategies

  • problem-centered training

Academic program: unique in many ways

Water Resources now offers a rigorous course of study, research, networking and community involvement that teaches students: -- deep knowledge in chosen disciplines -- how to communicate with professionals from other disciplines to find creative interdisciplinary solutions -- that water policy decisions must be informed by science but that social values and economics affect whether or not a solution is desirable or feasible -- how to engage in collaborative research that transcends traditional disciplinary boundaries -- how to study and interact with stakeholders and communities to gain understanding of attitudes and norms, support, and trust -- how to be the leaders and experts needed to solve the emerging and monumentally complex water issues.
Water Resources offers master's of science and doctoral degrees in engineering & science; science & management; and law, management & policy. Water Resources is the only program in the nation to offer a concurrent JD/PhD or JD/MS in each of the water resources option areas and to require a thesis or dissertation of its master's and doctoral students that reflects interdisciplinary thinking. While other universities offer interdisciplinary programs in various fields, this program stands apart. Fritz Fiedler, a UI faculty member who is on the Water Resources team said, “I have never seen a program, that, as a whole, is as integrated and interdisciplinary as this one.” 

Basin analysis performed by Waters of the West (WoW) and stakeholders 

Waters of the West (WoW), the research and outreach arm of the Water Resources Program, recently began working off-campus to help communities reach solutions to their water basin problems. Its method is to deploy one team, comprised of WoW faculty and students from different fields, to do an integrated analysis of a water basin. 

“An integrated analysis,” explained Boll, “is a study that focuses on one central question that needs the expertise of people from different disciplines.” The studies last from one-to-two years. Stakeholder and community member participation is imperative. What does the team and the community analyze? The answer depends upon the basin. But what is common to each analysis is that multiple dimensions of a basin are explored. Some examples: How much water is in an aquifer? How is it recharged? What is the geology of the water basin? What water laws are in effect? What type of growth is the community planning? What solutions are within the financial capacity of the community? And much more. 
That's the process WoW is using in its first basin – the Palouse Basin. It is analyzing the question: How can a long-term balance between water supply and water demand be achieved? Or, in other words, what policy or policies can be developed that result in preserving the natural water supply for community users and future generations? Faculty consider this particular basin analysis a pilot study as they are still developing a framework for collaborating, which, when completed, will be adapted for use in other basins. The WoW team partners with basin stakeholders, who use the research findings to determine the solution most appropriate to the community. WoW facts and findings are presented at meetings, presentations and a community web site. 

WoW Basin Analysis Fund: Helping Communities Help Themselves

This WoW fund is an innovative and rare opportunity for people to truly participate in solving water problems. Each basin analysis is estimated to cost about $250,000, of which 75 percent is the cost for graduate student assistantships. Contributions to this fund will enable WoW to help communities find long-term, affordable solutions to water resources challenges. During this early phase, the capital will be used for integrated analyses of water basins in the states of Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Utah and Montana. Contributions will be used for research, student assistantships, equipment, supplies and travel. Donations can be earmarked for a specific use or a specific basin. Organizations who want to create matching programs should contact WoW Director Jan Boll. All contributors will be invited to become WoW members – a special group of people who will be kept current on WoW activities and invited to special WoW-sponsored events. Send donations payable to UI Foundation Inc. to: Waters of the West: The Water Basins Fund, PO Box 443147, Moscow, ID 83844-3147.