A Summary of the 2005 National Water Resources Policy Dialogue

What follows is a synopsis of the Second National Water Resources Policy Dialogue held Feb. 14-15 in Tucson, Ariz. Hosted by the American Water Resources Association, the event was supported by several federal agencies and co-sponsored by over three dozen organizations...

Second National Water Resources Policy Dialogue
February 14-15, 2005
Tucson, AZ

The Second National Water Resources Policy Dialogue (WPD II) provided a forum for participants from all levels of government, as well as public and private organizations to discuss critical water resources challenges facing the Nation and the policy choices that need to be made to effectively address these challenges. The second dialogue was a follow-up to the highly successful First National Water Resources Policy Dialogue held in September, 2002 in Washington, D.C. Like the first dialogue, WPD II was national in scope, but because of its location, had a greater emphasis on western water issues.

Convened by the American Water Resources Association (AWRA), the dialogue was sponsored by nine federal agencies within the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Interior, and Commerce, and the Environmental Protection Agency. In addition, 40 organizations representing a broad spectrum of water resources interests co-sponsored the dialogue.

The dialogue was attended by 250 participants representing government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, the private sector, and academia.

Dialogue Format
-- Two keynote addresses opened the dialogue and focused on water policy issues from state and Congressional perspectives respectively (The Honorable Janet Napolitano, Governor of Arizona; and The Honorable Pete Domenici, U.S. Senator, New Mexico). Additionally, The Honorable Bennett Raley provided a perspective on water issues from the vantage point of a former senior administration official.
-- Three panels focused on critical water resources issues (Water Resources Supply and Demand; Infrastructure Management; and Environmental Quality).
-- Three small-group facilitated discussions on each of the same panel topics solicited views from dialogue participants on key actions that Congress and the Administration should take to address critical water resources issues. A dot voting procedure was used to gain a sense of relative priority of the views expressed during these sessions.
-- Five Leadership Insight Sessions conducted by water resources leaders explored policy-relevant topics (Science and Water Availability; Oceans and Climate; Water and Agriculture; Eastern Interstate Water Issues; and Western Water Negotiations).
-- Luncheon speakers (The Honorable Cesar Herrera Toledo, Director General of Mexican National Water Commission; Robert Glennon, University of Arizona; and The Honorable Tom O'Halleran, Arizona House of Representatives) discussed water policy issues from international, national and state perspectives respectively.
-- A concluding Feedback session incorporated views from three "Provocateurs," from selected panelists, and from an open discussion with dialogue participants.

Dialogue Outcomes
The participants in WPD II identified four significant - and very much interrelated - water resources challenges facing the nation, noting the close link to similar challenges identified in the first water policy dialogue. Additionally, two issues - financing water resources improvements and public education needs - run through all the challenges. Each challenge and cross-cutting issue is summarized below.

The Four Challenges
1. Promoting More Integrated Approaches. There is a need to address the Nation's water issues in an integrated manner, focusing not on single isolated projects but on programs that present watershed-level solutions. The cooperative and holistic efforts evidenced in the programs to restore the Everglades, manage the California Bay Delta, and protect Coastal Louisiana need to be replicated across the country.

Participants generally concluded that integrated management is the key to effectively resolving water resources problems. Characteristics of integrated water resources management include: using systems approaches and comprehensive GIS-based data to understand the connection between natural and man-made systems; analyzing water resources problems on basin or watershed scales; addressing water quality, water quantity, surface water and groundwater issues together; striving to achieve multiple goals and purposes using water resources in a balanced manner; and using collaboration across all levels of government and with all stakeholders to find appropriate solutions. Participants noted there are many obstacles to achieving integrated approaches. Those most frequently discussed include the following:
-- The absence of clear policy promoting integrated water resources management;
-- The presence of multiple, often conflicting, agency mandates and priorities;
-- The lack of coordinating mechanisms and forums for dealing with differences among agencies, and among stakeholders; and
-- The lack of adequate scientific data to permit basic understanding of complex physical and biological issues, and to facilitate good decisions.

2. Reconciling the Current Ad-Hoc National Water Policy. There is a need to reconcile the myriad laws, executive orders, and Congressional guidance that have created the current disjointed ad-hoc national water policy and clearly define our 21st century goals and objectives. Many important laws were passed early in the last century when national objectives and physical conditions were far different. Many of these directives conflict with each other, placing executing federal departments in tenuous and sometimes adversarial situations and creating disharmony among states and localities.

Participants felt that too many conflicting goals and mandates are being pursued at the federal level. Priorities are too often pursued in isolation and create needless conflict and gridlock. Participants called for clarification of roles and responsibilities among federal agencies, for establishment of a clearer vision for uses and priorities for the nation's water resources, and for the development of coordinating mechanisms to harmonize and reconcile policy differences before they lead to gridlock. A national commission was discussed as one means of addressing this critical need.

3. Developing Collaborative Partnerships. The fiscal realities facing the nation underline the need to more effectively coordinate the actions of federal, state, tribal, and local governments in managing with water. Collaboration instead of competition will provide more effective and fiscally efficient use of scarce resources and assist in overcoming decision gridlock on key water programs.

Participants wanted to see all levels of government working in collaboration with each other and with other partners to achieve sustainable water resources solutions. They noted that incentives need to be put in place by government to encourage greater cooperation among agencies and with diverse stakeholders. Dialogue participants strongly supported more partnerships and collaboration to create productive opportunities for resolving water resources issues:
-- Integrate water quality and water quantity management - they aren't separate and shouldn't be treated independently;
-- Establish/invigorate forums to resolve differences in federal agency policy and mission focuses and to deal with multi-jurisdictional coordination, interstate, and cross-jurisdictional water management issues;
-- Cut across boundaries at all levels - encourage federal/state/local partnerships to address water resources comprehensively and in an integrated manner; and
-- Determine how best to assign the "lead facilitator" or "lead integrator" role in collaborative frameworks.

4. Providing Information for Sound Decision Making. The nation is blessed with access to superb scientific capabilities and cutting-edge information technologies. These capabilities should be focused on supporting water policy decision makers as they carry out their challenging responsibilities.

Participants at the dialogue concluded that decisions on the uses of America's water resources must be based on good science and complete information. Science and information need to be available to all stakeholders and responsible authorities so that decisions can be made in open, collaborative ways in a trusting environment. Many participants believe that information on water use, availability, water quality, environmental impacts, results being achieved in pollution control, as well as projections on water demand and use, need to be more accurately quantified. Further, these participants believe that such data be better coordinated at all levels so that appropriate information can be marshaled for integrated water management and problem solving. A national assessment of water availability and use is thought by many to be long overdue.

The Two Cross-cutting Issues
1. Financing Water Resources Improvements. Our nation's water resources infrastructure - its ports, channels, flood control works, irrigation systems, water works, distribution systems, and treatment facilities - provides a foundation for our economic prosperity and quality of life, and is a key component of our national security. Yet funding for these vital systems is not keeping pace with the repair, replacement, and renovation requirements. There is a need for innovative cost-recovery, pricing, and financing mechanisms to address infrastructure funding needs.

Participants in the dialogue recognized that there are many competing national requirements for public funds. Many felt frustration that the water resources community has not done a good job of conveying the risks associated with continued under-funding of the nation's water infrastructure. Others pointed out that in the climate of fiscal austerity there has of necessity been greater prioritization, conservation, public-private partnerships, reliance on market forces, and other innovations in cost recovery and funding mechanisms than would probably have occurred if resources were plentiful. These innovations have been helpful; however, most agreed that more needs to be done. Many called for leadership to step up to the need for rate increases, to encourage the expanded use of innovative self-financing mechanisms such as trust funds, and to provide additional funding where appropriate for water infrastructure.

2. Educating the Public and Public Officials about Water Resources Challenges. Much of the public at large and many public officials lack an understanding of the water resources challenges facing the nation and the corresponding risk to our prosperity, quality of life, and national security. An education program must be conducted in parallel with efforts to address the nation's water resources challenges.

Participants continually stressed the need to better educate/inform the public as well as decision makers in local, state and federal governments about the conflicts and limitations associated with water availability and use. Topics in need of coverage include: the value of water; real cost of water; environmental needs and the consequences of use; trade-offs associated with different uses; importance of balancing needs and uses; availability of supplies vs. demands; risks associated with an aging infrastructure; importance of regional solutions to water use; long-term consequences of unwise use; and impacts of political/jurisdictional decisions/differences.

Calls for Action
As suggested by the key challenges and cross-cutting issues, Congress and the Administration are called upon to take a lead roll by initiating the following:
-- Develop a national water vision. Work with all levels of government and the private sector to establish a framework for the future of water resources; address competing goals and objectives; and establish broad priorities for resource allocation and expenditures.
-- Formulate policy principles for translating the vision into action. Focus on shared responsibilities and accountability at all levels of government, as well as the private sector for addressing our water resources challenges in an integrated, holistic, and cooperative fashion.
-- Insist that appropriate coordination and cooperation takes place. Federal agencies must work together more collaboratively and with other levels of government about water resources issues.
-- Assess water resources information and policy needs and propose solutions. Rapidly examine the water issues we now face and propose strategies for dealing with the issues and conflicts surrounding them. A national commission was discussed as one means of accomplishing such a comprehensive assessment.

On balance, WPD II had a hopeful tone. Participants and panelists all acknowledged that the nation is facing a wide array of daunting water resources challenges - making adequate water available for economic growth and other needs, allocating water to competing uses, maintaining and improving water quality, rehabilitating an aging water infrastructure, balancing economic needs for water with ecosystem requirements, etc. However, the watchwords of the first national water policy dialogue - integrated management, building partnerships, and addressing problems in a comprehensive manner - were much in evidence at this dialogue as participants described successful and innovative solutions to pressing water problems. A key conclusion, from WPD II indicates, therefore, that the themes and recommendations for responding to water challenges put forth in the first dialogue are working and need continued support and nurturing.

The Second National Water Policy Dialogue was a significant event that has helped propel the United States toward confronting serious water resources challenges. National groups such as AWRA can continue the dialogue and various government agencies can improve certain inefficiencies - including inter-agency cooperation and collaboration. The first and second dialogues have made a good beginning, but the next steps are crucial to sustaining the progress thus far. Improving, harmonizing and reconciling the troubling and difficult policy issues we now face will require Congressional and Administration action.


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