January 26, 2015 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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James E. Nickum, who is Vice President of AWRA’s sister organization IWRA and Editor-in-Chief of its journal, Water International, penned an article, ‘Revsiting Water Paradigms’, for the current copy of the IWRA newsletter (download below). I have taken the liberty of posting the article below. The title is a subtheme of the upcoming IWRA XVth World Water Congress in Edinburgh, 25-29 May 2015.
Water scarcity, water governance, water security, water productivity, virtual water, water footprints, green water, IWRM, hydrocentricity, hydrocracy, hydro-hegemony, hydrosolidarity, water grabs, resilience, river basin trajectories, water poverty, the water-food-energy nexus, water justice, adaptive management….It would be tempting to say that the water world is being inundated with a flood of concepts, frames, even paradigms, except that eventually floods recede. With new terms, there is no sign of aba- tement.
Hence it is timely for ‘revisiting water paradigms’ to be designated a subtheme of the XVth World Water Congress. In order to keep from being swamped, we need not only to be aware of the strengths and limitations of the words we use, but also to consider how and why we use them.
The stakes are high. Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman (2011: 277) has warned that “once you have accepted a theory and used it as a tool in your thinking, it is extraordinarily difficult to notice its flaws. If you come upon an observation that does not seem to fit the model, you assume that there must be a perfectly good explanation that you are somehow missing. You give the theory the benefit of the doubt, trusting the community of experts who have accepted it.”
Once in a great while there has been a challenge to the hegemony of terms, such as the critical analyses of IWRM written by Biswas (2004) [the second most cited article in Water International] and Molle (2008), or of water crisis by Rogers et al. (2006). More often there have been attempts to give them some practi- cal content and coherence, for example, Grigg’s well-reasoned 2008 overview of IWRM, which is still the most read article online in Water International. Despite their popularity, these efforts have done little to deter the continued, profligate, and unreflective use of terms new and no longer so new.
Hence it is a pleasure to read the recently published marvellous little volume edited by Lautze (2014) on key concepts in water resource management (note: this is an unsolicited plug). According to Lautze, the insights generated by the flow of neologisms are “often encumbered by ambiguity, confusion and even fatigue”. Looking at the most commonly used terms, he and his colleagues find that:
1) Water scarcity is often conflated with water stress, and lumps together high quantity uses such as agriculture that have low economic and human security value with the more modest but critical requirements of drinking water. Also, when prices are set at anything below market clearing levels, there is always economic water scarcity; and even then there are likely to be unmet needs by the poor, socially or physically defined.
2) Water governance, which should be about process, including that of defining goals, “is frequently inflated to include issues that go well beyond governance,” adopting a priori goals that are “often derived from the tenets of IWRM” and including institutions as well as processes.
3) Water security, “has come to infiltrate prominent minent discourse in the international water and development community … [but] understandings of the term are murky” and rarely quantified. Indeed, attempts at quan- tification highlight the difficulty of bringing disparate risk-based issues into one termino- logical rainbow.
4) Water productivity, “holds value when employed together with other indicators [but] does not add value when applied in isolation in a particular location”; in those cases, related extant concepts such as water efficiency or agricultural productivity can do a better job.
5) Virtual water and water footprints may help raise awareness but “do not contain sufficient information to determine smart public policies or to guide discussions regarding international trade” ; in fact, their use in those ways could inflict unnecessary harm on producers and households in areas where the opportunity cost of water is relatively low.
6) Green, blue, and otherwise coored water do not add scientific value to existing concepts and “can also prove dangerously misleading.”
So much for the big ones. In an appendix, Hanjra and Lautze touch base on 25 more trendy terms, including all the ones this essay began with aside from the last two, which they missed somehow. Some of these terms may help in bridging the science-policy interface, by framing problems in attention grabbing metaphors, but that can lead to a policy environment that is actually divorced all the more from a sound scientific understanding. In the end, to bring us back to the topic at hand, Lautze et al. suggest that we begin by setting out the critical challenges to the water sector, then adopt those concepts that can tackle those challenges. Those terms can then be elevated to “’paradigmatic’ status” .
But wait! These are concepts – or perhaps terms. How can we call them paradigms? Alas, that is another word on the loose that seems to have taken a number of concepts with it. Lautze associates “paradigm” with concept. That may work to give them a pseudo-scientific cachet in a media-dominated policy world, but we must acknowledge that it is not exactly the use of the term as Thomas Kuhn (1962) brought it into current usage, as a framework for organizing and interpreting scientific observations, not rebundling policy domains or aspirations. The hydrological cycle is a paradigm in this sense; IWRM or water security are not. Perhaps they are discourses or frames? Pandora has more than one box of terms, or, to stay in metaphor, floods come from many directions.
We have much to discuss in the halls of Edinburgh.
- Biswas, A. (2004). Integrated water resources mana- gement: a reassessment. Water International 29(2): 248-256.
- Grigg, N.S. (2008). Integrated water resources ma- nagement: balancing views and improving practice. Water International 33(3): 279-292.
- Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. Far- rar, Straus and Giroux.
- Kuhn, T (1962). The Structure of Scientific Revolution (2d Edition). University of Chicago Press.
-Lautze, J. ed. (2014). Key Concepts in Water Resource Management: A review and critical evaluation. Routledge (Earthscan).
- Rogers, P., M.R, Llamas, and L. Martínez-Cortina, ed. (2006). Water Crisis: Myth or Reality?. Taylor and Francis/Balkema.
Curious to see how much discussion this generates in Edinburgh. Is this a big deal? Or is this just ‘hydro-paradigmgate’?
Great place to be presenting a talk on hydrophilanthropy! Yes, I will be there.
Your comments are appreciated.
See you there!
Thanks to Slobodan P. Simonovic for alerting me to Nickum’s article.
“If you’re going through hell, keep going.” - Winston Churchill
January 25, 2015 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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G. Tracy Mehan III, an attorney and a Mississippi River basin kid just like authors Christine A. Klein and Sandra B. Zellmer, penned this excellent review of their book, Mississppi River Tragedies: A Century of Unnatural Disasters.
No spoilers from me, just this excerpt:
Nevertheless, we are seeing improvement in national policy. As I have observed before in this space, The Corps is evolving from “flood control” or “flood damage reduction” to “flood risk management.” Katrina and Sandy have moved it and other agencies toward a more re- silient strategy incorporating natural and built systems and risk commu- nication. Congress needs to support them in this policy shift.
I’ll close with the same quote with which I concluded my post:
“The problem of the Mississippi is a fascinating one, but more a problem of your national psychology than of your river. You treat the Mississippi as if it were a river apart, differing utterly from all other streams. It is nothing of the sort.” - Sir William Willcocks, British engineering expert, 1914, interview in the New York Times, 1914 (see page 57 of the text)
January 23, 2015 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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For those of you who enjoyed The Oregon Water Conference (TOWC) in 2011 we are hoping to resurrect it in 2016. We will likely be partnering with the immensely successful OSU Hydrophiles’ Water Research Symposium.
Enjoy this week’s water summary – and jobs. Click here.
January 22, 2015 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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These comments are directed to water professionals (real or wanna-be) and not to hoi polloi (not intended as a derogatory term). Some faithful readers might get a sense of déjà vu when they read this post. I feel obliged to repeat that December 2008 missive.
Of course, like your checking account, water outflows should not exceed water inflows, lest your hydrologic system becomes depleted. It’s a good analogy, easily understood. I first heard it 45 years ago in Marty Fogel’s Watershed Management class at the University of Arizona. I use it in my classes. But I don’t teach it as a water management tool.
1) Few ‘checkbook hydrologists’ talk about the stocks, only the flows. If you don’t know how much water you have in your system (analogous to the checking balance) you cannot accurately assess how depleted your system is. If you see your outflows exceeding inflows, you know you’re going to be in trouble if that keeps up, but you don’t know when. 10 months? 10 years? 100 years?
2) The stock assessment is generally more difficult for groundwater systems than surface water systems. People lament higher outflows relatively to inflows but do not know how much is stored in the system. So what’s the % of depletion?
3) Inflows, outflows and stocks do (more often than not) vary with time. So your systems are transient, not steady state, which means you need to keep measuring and calcuating.
4) Steady-state budgets are especially dangerous as a tool to manage a groundwater system. Reason: as you develop (start pumping) the groundwater, the budget becomes invalid. Discharge (outlfow) and recharge (inflow) change, and the increase in discharge might cause an increase in recharge (by harvesting ‘rejected recharge’ in Figure 1 below from Theis ). How about that – increase withdrawals from your checking account to increase deposits!
5) Declining water levels in an aquifer – whether a confined or unconfined one – do not signify a state of ‘groundwater mining’. What declining water levels signify is that the aquifer is seeking a new equilibrium and some water is coming from storage.
John D. Bredehoeft (‘The Water Budget Myth Revisited: Why Hydrogeologists Model’, Ground Water, Volume 40, Issue 4, pages 340–345, July 2002) said it best:
Within the ground water community, the idea persists that if one can estimate the recharge to a ground water system, one then can determine the size of a sustainable development. Theis addressed this idea in 1940 and showed it to be wrong-yet the myth continues. The size of a sustainable ground water development usually depends on how much of the discharge from the system can be “captured” by the development. Capture is independent of the recharge; it depends on the dynamic response of the aquifer system to the development. Ground water models were created to study the response dynamics of ground water systems; it is one of the principal reasons hydrogeologists model.
Download Theis_source_of_water (original published paper)
Download Theis-1940 (better copy – open-file report)
Another great resource: Another excellent resource is the U.S. Geological Survey’s Circular 1186, Sustainability of Ground-Water Resources, by W.M. Alley, T. E. Reillly, and O.L. Franke.
Upshot: water budgets are useful for illustrative purposes, but otherwise (water resources devlopment and management) must be used with great caution, especially for groundwater systems (don’t even think about it).
”It is our responsibilities, not ourselves, that we should take seriously.” - Peter Ustinov (thanks to Faruck Morcos)
January 16, 2015 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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A few pictures from my brief (4 days) trip to Iran.
Here is a shot of a viewing platform in a large urban park in Tehran. At the top of the steps my PSU colleague Hamid Moradkhani is taking my picture. Just to the left of this structure was a skateboard park where a young man in baggy pants was practicing to the beat of K-pop. Don’t know where the religious police were.
Welcome to Esfahan (aka ‘Isfahan’)!
Click here to view the weekly water news summary.
“A blind man who sees is better than a sighted man who is blind.” - Persian proverb
January 13, 2015 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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Ralph had a distinguished career with the USGS. It was quite remarkable, especially when one considers that he possessed only a Bachelor’s degree in geology from UNC-Chapel Hill. Still, Heath had the chops to be named the Darcy Distinguished Lecturer by the NGWA in 1990. He lectured on, “Hydrogeology and Hazardous Waste Disposal”, which you can still view on theNGWA site.
What I most remember about Heath is his gem of a publication, the 1983 Water-Supply Paper 2220, Basic Ground-Water Hydrology.
A classic if there ever was one, BGWH has been printed ten times and translated into German and Portuguese. Those versions are ones I know for sure; I suspect there is a Spanish version out there somewhere. It’s a remarkable little book, cover the basics of groundwater hydrology with short chapters (a few pages) on various topics. Whe I taught introductory groundwater hydrology I used WSP 2220 as a supplementary text. The students generally loved it, as it simplified concepts or cut through the verbiage and described things simply. I still use it for myself today. I’m on my third copy.
After discharge from the Navy he returned to UNC Chapel Hill, receiving a BS degree in geology in 1948. During a career as a hydrogeologist with the U.S. Geological Survey from 1948 to 1982, he worked in Florida, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and North Carolina. His positions in the Geological Survey included that of Acting District Engineer in Tallahassee, District Geologist in Albany for New York and southern New England, District Chief of New York, and District Chief in Raleigh for North Carolina. While serving as District Chief in Albany he taught courses in groundwater hydrology at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute at Troy, NY.
Following retirement from the Geological Survey, Mr. Heath began a second career as a consulting hydrogeologist. He also became an Adjunct Professor of Civil Engineering at NC State University, Lecturer in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Duke University, and Adjunct Professor of Geology at East Carolina University. He taught courses in groundwater hydrology at NC State and Carolina in the 1980′s and at Duke into the 1990′s. Later, he taught short courses in the Duke Senior Executive Program, for the National Research Council in Denver, for the NC State University Soil Science Department, and for Olson Enterprises of Tabor City, NC.
Mr. Heath was the author or co-author of more than 70 scientific publications, including an introductory groundwater textbook and hydrogeologic maps of the United States and of North America. His Geological Survey publication entitled Basic Ground-water Hydrology has been printed 10 times, and translated versions have been printed in both Germany and Brazil.
His professional honors include both Distinguished Lecturer and the Henry Darcy Distinguished Lecturer of the National Ground Water Association, the first Founders Award of the American Institute of Hydrology, Award for Distinguished Service in Hydrogeology of the Geological Society of America, and the Meritorious Service Award of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
For me, Ralph C. Heath will forever by synonymous with basic groundwater hydrology. So I won’t soon forget him. But I’m sorry, Ralph, ‘ground water’ is now ‘groundwater’.
I’ll also remember him for the following quote:
‘Seldom has so much money been spent so unwisely to accomplish so little.’ - Ralph C. Heath, referring to the Superfund program, 1990 (apologies to Winston Churchill
January 9, 2015 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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Off to Tehran in a few hours!
My WaterWired blog is 8 years old today. Check out the first post. I used to worry that I would not have enough information to do many posts…3,030 so far, a bit over 1 per day.
Click here for the weekly water news summary.
”Because the only thing better than self-promotion is mixed-method self-promotion.” -
January 2, 2015 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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Not as much activity on Twitter this past week.
I added a new category right at the top featuring those Tweets that described ‘Best of 2014′ and related posts.
Click here to view last week’s water news summary.
‘Imagine a world in which we are all enlightened by objective truths rather than offended by them.’ - Neil deGrasse Tyson
January 1, 2015 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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Here is a report by Emanuele Lobina (of PSIRU) from Corporate Accountability International and the Public Services International Research Unit? It’s titled, Troubled Waters: Misleading Industry PR and the Case for Public Water:
The report is international in scope.
Since 2003, numerous U.S. municipalities, including Atlanta, Indianapolis and others have reclaimed control of their water supplies, ending less-than-favorable public private partnerships (PPPs).
According to a new report released by Corporate Accountability International and the Public Services International Research Unit, titled Troubled Waters: Misleading Industry PR and the Case for Public Water, 33 cities have remunicipalized (or taken back control of) their water systems – five in the past year. In 2014, 10 more have set the legal wheels in motion to regain control. Globally, the number of cities remunicipalizing water exceeds 100.
In many cases, the report claims, cities globally have saved millions by reclaiming water supplies. For example, Paris, France, saved $46 million in the first year after terminating its contract with private water companies Veolia and Suez.
“This report exposes what many communities across the country have
learned the hard way: when you invite the private water industry into the picture, you jeopardize public health, affordable water, and the sustainability of your water system,” Erin McNally-Diaz, director of Corporate Accountability International’s Public Water Works! Campaign said in a statement.
The report cities specific failed examples of public private partnerships between municipalities and water companies. In many New Jersey municipalities, Untied Water was criticized for failing to pay for critical infrastructure upgrades leading to increased costs, and in St. Louis, public opposition to questionable business practices caused Veolia to withdraw its bid for privatization.
And others are being cautious in light of the failures. Fort Worth, Texas and Redding, Calif., put water privatization proposals under careful scrutiny, and in doing so found they should continue with public operations.
However, in some instances partnerships with the private sector have worked well. Recently Rialto Water Services partnered with Rialto, Calif., to invest $41 million in capital improvements to the municipal water system, and the National Association of Water Companies says that over 2,000 communities across the nation are benefiting from similar arrangements.
The association recently praised a federal report, titled Public Private Partnerships: Balancing the Needs of the Public and Private Sectors to Finance the Nation’s Infrastructure, which found that when properly executed, PPPs can be an effective tool for maintaining overall infrastructure, including water systems, roads, bridges and maritime systems. However, the report warned that PPPs aren’t a “silver bullet.”
John J. Duncan Jr., leader of the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Panel on PPPs, said although these arrangements cannot provide the sole solution to America’s growing infrastructure problems, they can offer significant benefits, particularly for expensive and complicated projects.
The report offered some recommendations to US public officials at state, local and federal levels:
1. Enhance democratic accountability, transparency, and public participation in decision-making on reforming, managing, and financing water supply and sanitation services. Lack of accountability, transparency, and participation are typical problems with water privatization. Asymmetry of information is an obstacle to good decision-making.
2. Ensure that all decision-makers and the public are equipped with real-world information on the problems with privatization, including problems with public-private partnerships (PPPs). An increasing amount of evidence points to the social, economic, and environmental costs of water privatization including PPPs, both in the U.S. and globally. These costs undermine the interests of the communities served by municipal governments. This is why a public discussion is necessary and should be based on real-world evidence, not on public relations materials.
3. Involve community members and community organizations in key decisions on reforming and managing public water services. Social actors—civic organizations, social movements, labor unions, workers, and community members—have an interest in strengthening public water services and can make invaluable contributions to the strengthening of public water systems by sharing their expertise, knowledge, and ingenuity. Their involvement should be prioritized over involving actors with commercial interests in weakening the public sector.
4. Make upfront payments for private water concessions and other PPPs illegal to prevent the distortion of public decisions on water reforms. Upfront payments for private water concessions distort collective decisions by putting the short-term fiscal interest of local governments and the commercial interest of private water corporations before the long-term interest of local communities. This is why they have been outlawed in France by anti-corruption legislation adopted in 1993.
5. Strengthen public water operations and adopt best practices for in-house restructuring and reengineering. International experience shows that the most efficient and effective water operators are found in the public sector. As the public sector is not subject to the profit-maximization imperative, it offers the possibility of reinvesting all available resources for the welfare of local communities. Labor- management partnerships are inclusive and effective ways to successfully implement reengineering.
6. Develop the capacity of public water managers and municipal governments through public-public partnerships (PUPs) and labor-management partnerships. PUPs treat knowledge as a public good to share for the solution of common water-related challenges. Private contracts treat knowledge as a private good, whose access is restricted by commercial confidentiality. This is an obstacle to capacity-building for public operators on how to solve water-related problems and an obstacle for the effective democratic governance of public water systems.
7. Consider alternative project plans developed by public utilities. Often in-house restructuring, reengineering, labor-management partnerships, and PUPs have been adopted in reaction to proposed PPPs and other forms of water privatization. In such cases, in-house restructuring, reengineering, labor- management partnerships, and PUPs have proved to be more effective and efficient than the proposed PPPs, both in the U.S. and internationally.
8. Prioritize public investment in public water infrastructure at every level of government. Public finance is the least expensive way to invest in water systems.290 Public water operators enjoy the advantage of managerial flexibility and democratic control.291 Using public operations and public finance is the most cost-effective way to deliver sustainable water development objectives.292
9. In light of the growing trend of remunicipalization across the globe, U.S. cities currently engaged in PPPs and other types of privatization contracts should take steps to remunicipalize their water utilities. Examples of support for decision-making on remunicipalization include legislation adopted by Lazio’s regional government in Italy, which provides for funding to assist cities with remunicipalizing water services,293 and the French association of public water operators “France Eau Publique,” which disseminates good practices on remunicipalization.294
10. Adopt legislation and policies that support democratic governance, community participation, in-house restructuring and reengineering, labor-management partnerships, and PUPs. While mayors and other public officials often act spontaneously to strengthen public water services,295 legislation and policies aimed at strengthening public water systems define a framework for the systematic enhancement of democratic governance and sustainable management.
I have to include this graphic from the report (page 40). It’s two pages of almost 400 redacted pages received from Veolia when Corporate Accountability International requested its proposal for its ongoing contract with New York City:
All things being equal I favor public agencies but I do not have a knee-jerk opposition to privatization. Whether public or private, T & A – transparency and accountability – are essential.
Happy New Year!
‘Definition of a Public-Private Partnership (PPP): Privatize the profits, socialize the losses.’ - Unknown
December 26, 2014 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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For those of you celebrating a holiday – Winter Solstice, Christmas, Boxing Day, The Impending End of 2014 — or just another day to try to make the world a better place, enjoy!
See you next year!
Today’s picture: looks like a model, right? I’m told it’s the village of Jeram Perdas in Malaysia, where floodwaters are running wild.
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“Each problem that I solved became a rule which served afterwards to solve other problems.” - Rene Descartes (thanks to Faruck Morcos)