20 June 2008

Educating Water Managers

This short academic paper [PDF] by Daniel Loucks (professor of civil engineering at Cornell) gives a good view of how water managers (usually engineers) are made. It also, unintentionally, highlights how those managers are myopic to issues of economics and human behavior.

To give you an idea of what these "future water resource managers" are learning, note that "manage(r/ment)" and "plan(ner/ing)" appear 52 and 21 times, respectively, in the 4 page piece. The words "price" and "market" do not appear in the text. This is how command and control water managers are made.

Here are some more (snarky? perceptive?) comments on the text:

Currently the world’s water resource systems are not able to provide everyone reliable potable water at reasonable costs. Why is this? Because prices set on cost lead to demand that exceeds supply. (He also displaces responsibility for this from water managers to "the world’s water resource systems" -- who is it/they?)

This has prompted the well-known concept called the hydro-illogical cycle illustrating the lack of interest in planning for floods during periods of drought, or in planning for droughts when experiencing a flood. I like this observation. How to solve the problem? Do not plan or manage -- set up a system that automatically adjusts to hydrological conditions, i.e., a market. (Ever notice how umbrella salesmen are all around when it starts to rain?)

Engineers, economists, and ecologists especially need to appreciate each other’s approaches to problem solving. Yes, I like this. Unfortunately, this idea is buried in an avalanche of plan, design, manage, etc. terms that only an engineer could love.

Bottom Line: People are not passive widgets in a schematic diagram. They regularly move around it, tear it up and add new connections. Water managers need to take more classes in economics, politics, psychology, sociology and ecology. If not, we will continue to see hydro-illogical policies and outcomes.

via WaterSISWEB

1 comment:

pragzz said...

Thanks for bringing this excellent paper to our notice.

I couldn't agree more with needing better educated water managers. I went back to graduate school with the intent of getting a more well-rounded education. Sadly, I was the only one of my graduate water engineering program to take classes outside the core engineering curriculum. Most people thought I was being "too soft." But the issues were extremely important, and I needed to see where my peers (economists, political scientists, urban planners and policy-types) were coming from. Quite often, I'd the be the lone voice of dissention in the classroom...which made things very difficult. The issues and debates were so educational that I ended up staying on for a policy degree. But conversely, I was annoyed with the policy-types who hadn't ventured into a more technical class. They didn't understand the design constraints that engineers were under, or how they were trained to think. So personally, I think it goes both ways. Curricula on both sides need to be more interdisciplinary.

But here's the catch. I'm that interdisciplinary engineer that everyone thinks they want but no one wants to hire. The engineers find me too "soft"; the policymakers find me too "technical." So what's the incentive for anyone to take the path I've taken...to be "more educated"??