Jacobs, K., and R. Pulwarty, 2004: Water resource management: Science, planning and decision-making. In Water: Science, Policy, and Management, R. Lawford, D. Fort, H. Hartmann, and S. Eden (Eds.), AGU, 177-204.


Scientists have much to contribute to water resource management, but they may lack the socio-environmental context necessary to see their contributions fully utilized. They are often unable to provide information at geographic scales commensurate with water management1 boundaries, and may not have a full understanding of the institutional and political ramifications of their suggestions. At the same time, water managers are frequently unaware of scientific information that could be useful to them, and may not know the constraints faced by the science community. Overcoming some of these coordination issues can improve both the usefulness of the scientific information that is developed and the quality of water management decisions.

Water management in the United States (US) occurs at multiple levels and involves substantial complexity. The degree of complexity and the number of constraints on institutional flexibility are generally not well appreciated by the public or the scientific community. In addition to issues of complexity, regulatory institutions are generally resistant to change, and there are huge public and private investments reinforcing the status quo. This means that changes to water rights systems, water supply management and decision-making approaches that may make sense from a scientific perspective are difficult to implement or may be inappropriate for a given management situation. To a large degree, private sector investments have been optimized based on the current regulatory circumstances, so even changes that are designed to gradually increase resilience and efficiency may generate opposition. Therefore, improving the relevance of scientific products and working with water managers to identify potential applications will address only a portion of the issues in the science/decision-making context. New types of partnerships and institutional changes are needed to improve the efficiency of the water management system in the context of increasing pressures on limited water supplies.

1 In this paper, we are using the term "water management" to refer to decisions regarding the use, storage, allocation, delivery or treatment of water. Just as the term "scientist" refers to individuals in broad spectrum of disciplines with multiple perspectives, water managers are involved in a wide range of activities from policy to operations.