14 Jul 2011

Bleg -- what to study?

A potential student asks for your thoughts on possible research needs as they relate to helping people better understand planning and management of resources, i.e.,
What are currently the most important research needs regarding the availability and use of water in arid climates -- particularly in the Western United States?

For a student planning to continue graduate level education in water resources, what courses or line of study would be the most relevant and important -- Law? Natural Resources Management? Hydrology? Resource Economics? Community and Regional Planning? Other? All of the above?


  1. Resource economics doesn't get us too far when the economist does not understand the resource (what makes it, where it is concentrated, whether it is renewable or extractive), how it is used, and why. In the case of water, this means more than passing understanding of weather/climate and geology. In the Western US, since agriculture is the largest user of developed water, some basic, and even some more advanced agronomy study is in order. I am astounded at the number of highly educated self appointed experts who have not a clue about how plants grow, plant pathology, what soil types mean, and therefore why farmers make the operational choices they make. I'm not talking PhD stuff; a lot is just just the basic science that used to be taught in college and high school. Those courses largely consist of memorizing opinionated drivel these days. Another topic, which is really not too complicated, is basic salmonid biology. I took a *one day* course at Davis about ten years ago, and many of those attending were people in important regulatory positions. One can only imagine the depth of their ignorance coming in, and wonder at the level of knowledge they have today. "Let the staffers tell me" they will say. That's real leadership!

  2. Research needed on large scale rainwater harvesting, storage (in groundwater aquifers? Cisterns?) and reuse.

  3. Whatever you choose to study, go for both depth and breadth. If you're looking specifically at the availability and use of water in the western United States, you'll likely need to both understand technical information and discuss that information with non-technical stakeholders (government, private, etc). Basic aquatic ecology, water law, planning, and negotiations courses will all be useful.

    If you're interested in technical work, there's a growing need for modelers who can model water supply and demand under future conditions. if you're interested in non-technical work, negotiation and mediation will become more important as communities development climate change adaptation strategies.

  4. Study All of the Above, speaking as someone who studied all of the above. Develop a specialty within that breadth, so you have both. Know the limits of your education and experience, so when to bring in specialists and not have the arrogance that one can do it all. Bring specialists together so the sum is greater than the parts.

  5. no

    I think one of the most important questions - especially in California is what is the cost/value of all subsidies (federal, state, local) for our water?

    this would include the acquisitions, conveyance, storage, treatment, conveyance etc of water from source(s) to markets.

    In LA by area (showing the difference in subsidy cost for ocean front property vs. inland mountain properties), in San Diego, etc.

    We all talk about the cost of these subsidies, but to my knowledge no one has ever actually done this work.

    The point being - what is the "actual" cost of water in each of these markets. subsidy, local rate, etc.

    Then people like me can make the argument that private suppliers may be able to compete in a "real" market.

    I'm very confident I can in northern parts of California, especially north of San Francisco. but still I don't have a number to compete against other than their local rate and some (unknown) subsidy cost.

  6. Maybe I should check your blog before posting mine. I addressed a similar question, from the same potential student.



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