27 October 2008

GIO: Fixing the Westen US

Question 14: What is a realistic, comprehensive plan to deal with water problems in the western US?

Please give your thoughts, opinions, facts, arguments, etc. in the comments.

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7 comments:

  1. I was going to say stop letting people move here. But then I realized you said "realistic".

    In a world that respected prior rights, bringing another 50 million people to settle in the American West would require a 20th-and 21st-century version of the Desert Lands Act and the Reclamation Act, except for urban growth. The general idea would be that you can come here, if you can bring the water (principle of the Desert Lands Act).
    Or, if you come here, the government will provide water to you (principle of the Reclamation Act).

    Instead, urban growth policy in the American West is...just show up, ag's got plenty of water.

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  2. One of the main issues with water management is the data that people have to make decisions on water management is generally deficient - and until this is fixed, the likelihood of adopting the most appropriate policies for a given water resource are little better than random.
    The kinds of problems I have seen include:
    - There may be no data at all
    - Data may be available, but in the wrong spatial or temporal scale for the decision being made (for example trying to manage stream flows with data that is weeks old and taken from only a few sensor points)
    - Data may be available, but fragmented between multiple stakeholders, databases etc (for example, trying to aggregate usage data on the scale of the water resource being managed).
    - With that fragmentation comes incompatible data formats, standards etc, preventing aggregation of the data to create an accurate view for the water resource as a whole.
    - Conversely, there may be too much data to analyze and visualize(for example, it is estimated that only 10% of climate data is actually used)
    - Data may be present as needed, but the models used to derive conclusions are incompatible (for example, similar but different run-off models may be used by different stakeholders, resulting in a different picture of the impact of, say, a housing development, or agriculture in a given area).)
    Until the data aspect of the water infrastructure is fixed, huge sums will continue to be spent without fixing the problem. The technology is available to fix it, and yes my company, IBM sells it. But so do others. My point is the water industry badly needs to raise its game in this area. Then it can get on to issues like water rights, water pricing, conservation policies, recycling and the like...

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  3. @CF: I'd say that ag can sell it :)

    @Peter: I'm trying to get the data organized. Funny thing is that those who have water data (farmers more than most) have *reasons* not to share it...

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  4. Perhaps a new Water Accounting system is needed which does the following:
    1. Allocates enough water for basic Human needs (20L/Day WHO)
    2. Provides enough water for the ecosystem services to function (The topic of Eflows explains what this takes)
    3. Creates a new method for fair allocation of water to industry and agriculture. (This requires a break from legal history of who owns what)

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  5. Dave - I think you're right that farmers have reason not to share water data. The reason is that comprehensive assembly of water data is a precursor to regulation. Regulation, in turn, tends to allocate water away from existing use to whatever use has the most power at the ballot box.

    In other words, farmers rightly fear that water rights are going to migrate away from them as soon as the guv'mint gets isself in a position to regulate.

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  6. Peter Williams - Your post here about data collection was spot on! The problem as I see it is the collected data is assumed to be correct (accurate) from an end user and decisions are made on the results. Most users are not aware that there are many factors that determine the quality of the data.
    PW: One of the main issues with water management is the data that people have to make decisions on water management is generally deficient - and until this is fixed, the likelihood of adopting the most appropriate policies for a given water resource are little better than random.
    dw: Spot on!
    PW: The kinds of problems I have seen include: - There may be no data at all.
    dw: Ditto. I've seen 'months' of inaccurate data due to field problems that were not discovered in a timely fashion. A prime example of this is the Lake Lanier Shaft Encoder Problem http://www.epw.senate.gov/109th/Walsh_Testimony.pdf . Simple mistake + not detected + assumptions made on faulty data = big time problem.
    PW: Data may be available, but in the wrong spatial or temporal scale for the decision being made (for example trying to manage stream flows with data that is weeks old and taken from only a few sensor points).
    dw: End users make assumptions about data. They assume that due diligence was exercised in the collection and the QA/QC processes. They assume that the sensors were accurate, they assume that the collection location was ideal. The list goes on......
    PW: Data may be available, but fragmented between multiple stakeholders, databases etc (for example, trying to aggregate usage data on the scale of the water resource being managed).
    dw: Whenever the SAME DATA is collected at a common site from different parties, there WILL be a difference in the data. Factors here include the sensor type used, method of collection and QA/QC standards utilized by the maintainer(s). These are differences located at the SITE. The problem takes on a new dynamic when the data is deposited in the data base.
    PW: With that fragmentation comes incompatible data formats, standards etc, preventing aggregation of the data to create an accurate view for the water resource as a whole.
    dw: The problem with incompatible data formats is minimal with the software tools that are available today. Importing data from one format to another is commonplace. The trick is to make sure that the collection times 'line up' correctly when importing the data.
    PW: Conversely, there may be too much data to analyze and visualize(for example, it is estimated that only 10% of climate data is actually used)
    - Data may be present as needed, but the models used to derive conclusions are incompatible (for example, similar but different run-off models may be used by different stakeholders, resulting in a different picture of the impact of, say, a housing development, or agriculture in a given area).)
    Until the data aspect of the water infrastructure is fixed, huge sums will continue to be spent without fixing the problem. The technology is available to fix it, and yes my company, IBM sells it. But so do others.
    dw: Peter, again your comments are spot on. I can think of several software modeling packages used by USACE, USGS, USBR, USDA (and others) that will provide different results. The reason? The software was developed for the end requirements of the user. Commercial modeling software is also available. All are tools. Which is best? This depends on the needs of the end user. Technology, you say? Yes, there has been major gains here. When I became involved in data collection, we used Stevens chart recorders to collect data. From there, we migrated to electronic data loggers, radio systems and microprocessor based sensors. Major gains in accuracy and precision in the data was archived. Technology is a great thing. However, it is a two edged sword. Technology requires the field support person to understand how to use it correctly. Today, the field tech has to have a basic understanding of sensor operation, electronics, and computer systems/software. In an ideal world - things are supposed to work 'out of the box' to give the desired result. In the real world - it doesn't work that way. To properly use technology requires knowledge and training. Educating and maintaining a staff that can support modern collection systems is a problem.
    PW: My point is the water industry badly needs to raise its game in this area. Then it can get on to issues like water rights, water pricing, conservation policies, recycling and the like...
    dw: I agree.

    DZ: I'm trying to get the data organized. Funny thing is that those who have water data (farmers more than most) have *reasons* not to share it...
    dw: Dave, I've seen this first hand. Farmer collects 'data' to track his usage. Will NOT share data with water district. Reason? Ditch rider normally meters out more water than the order.

    'Just my take on this topic'
    dw

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