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Confronting the Nation’s Water

Problems: the Role of Research

Water Science and Technology Board

National Research Council
Henry Vaux, University of California at Berkeley
2001 WSTB report
Envisioning the Agenda
for Water Resources
Research in the 21st

43 high priority research

needs in the areas of:

Water availability
Water use
Water institutions

Organizing for water research

Excerpt from Conference Report on
FY2002 Interior Appropriations Bill

“The managers concur with the House

direction to contract with the National
Academy of Sciences to examine
water resources research funded by
all Federal agencies and by significant
non-Federal organizations."
Statement of Task
 Refine and enhance findings of the Envisioning

 Examine current and historical patterns of

investment in water resources research and generally
assess its adequacy

 Address the need to better coordinate the nation’s

water resources research enterprise

 Identify institutional options for the improved

coordination, prioritization, and implementation of
research in water resources.
Committee on Assessment of
Water Resources Research
Henry Vaux, University of California, Chair (economics)
David Allan, University of Michigan (stream ecology)
James Crook, consultant (water reuse)
Joan Ehrenfeld, Rutgers University (wetland ecology)
Konstantine Georgakakos, Hydrologic Research Center (hydrology,
climate change)
George Hallberg, Cadmus Group (drinking water, agr., water quality)
Debra Knopman, RAND (hydrology; policy; public administration)
Lawrence MacDonnell, Porzak, Browning & Bushong (water law)
Thomas MacVicar, MacVicar, Federico & Lamb (water management)
Rebecca Parkin, The George Washington University (public health)
Roger Patterson, Nebraska Department of Natural Resources (states)
Frank Schwartz, Ohio State University (groundwater hydrology)
Amy Zander, Clarkson University (environmental engineering)
Motivations (Chapter 1)
U.S. water problems growing in frequency and

Research necessary to solve tomorrow’s water

resources problems needs to be initiated today

The type and quantity of research needed are

unlikely to be adequate if no action is taken at the
federal level

Responsibility for water resources research has

devolved to the states, resulting in neglect of long-term
basic research
Water Resources Research in the
20th Century (Chapter 2)
Fluctuated in response to scientific, political, and
social movements

Numerous research agendas have been produced

since the early 1960s

Reappearance of topics over and over suggests

research is not being done

No structure is in place to take advantage of research

agendas of various groups—everything ad hoc

Why bother with yet another proposal?

National Water Resources
Research Agenda (Chapter 3)

The 43 research topics from the Envisioning

report are the current best statement of
research needs, although this list is expected
to change as circumstances and knowledge

An urgent priority for water resources research

is the development of a process for regularly
reviewing and revising the entire portfolio of
research being conducted.
A Set of Criteria for Updating a
National Research Agenda

Federal role? Time scale

Expected value? Source of expertise
Source of problem
National significance? 3 Envisioning
Fill a gap in knowledge? 4 themes

How well is this research area progressing?

Does it complement the overall portfolio?

Survey of Water Resources
Research Funding (Chapter 4)
Similar to FCCSET exercise in 1965–1975

71 subcategories of water resources research (11 new)

Requested total expenditures for FY 1999–2001

Other questions:
current and projected future activities
how research performance is measured
mix of research in terms of fundamental vs. applied,
internal vs. external, and short-term vs. long-term
Participating Agencies and
Agriculture Interior
Commerce NSF
Defense AWWARF
Corps WERF
ONR The Nature Conservancy
SERDP/ESTCP State Water Resources Research
Energy Institutes
Health and Human Services NV
Modified FCCSET Categories

I. Nature of Water VII. Resources Data

II. Water Cycle VIII. Engineering Works
III. Water Supply Augmentation IX. Manpower, Grants, and
and Conservation Facilities
IV. Water Quantity X. Scientific and Technical
Management and Control Information
V. Water Quality Management XI. Aquatic Ecosystem
and Protection Management and
VI. Water Resources Planning
and other Institutional Issues
Trends in Total Funding 1964–2001

Total Water Resources Research Funding


Funding Total (K$))



200,000 Federal Agencies

Nonfederal Organizations
1964 1969 1974 1979 1984 1989 1994 1999
Agency Breakdown for FY2000 Funding
NSF 17%



Category Breakdown for FY2000 Funding
I. Nature of Water
XI. Aquatic Ecosystem 1.6%
Management and
Protection 23% II. Water Cycle

X. Scientific and Technical III. Water Supply

Information 0.2% Augmentation
IX. Manpower, Grants, and Conservation
Facilities 4% 2%

IV. Water Quantity

VIII. Engineering Works 9% Management and Control
VII. Resources Data 1.3%
VI. Water Resources Planning 1.5%
V. Water Quality Management
and Protection
Conclusions—Total Funding
Real levels of total spending remained relatively
constant (around $700 million in 2000 dollars) since
the mid 1970s.

When Category XI (aquatic ecosystems) is

subtracted, the total funding level has declined over
the last 30 years.

Funds have declined severely since the mid 1970s for

III (water supply augmentation and conservation)
V (water quality management and protection)
VI (water resources planning and institutional issues)
VII (resources data)
Conclusions—Total Funding
Water resources research funding has not paralleled
growth in demographic and economic parameters such
as population, GDP, or budget outlays.
Comparison of Funding in Water Resources
Research: mid 1970s to late 1990s
3.5 0.08

1973-1975 1973–1975
3 0.07
WRR/GDP or budget (%)
2.5 1999-2001

WRR/capita ($) 0.05

1999–2001 0.04


0.5 1999–2001 0.01

0 0
WRR/capita WRR/GDP WRR/budget
Conclusions—Topical Areas

The topical balance has changed since the 1965–1975

period, such that the present situation is inconsistent
with current priorities.

Underfunded: water demand/use

water law and other institutional topics
water supply augmentation/conservation

If enhanced funding to support research in these categories is

not diverted from other categories, the total water resources
research budget will have to be enhanced.

10 percent of the total water resources research budget

should be allocated to combined water use/institutional topics.
Conclusions—Overall Mix

The current water resources research portfolio

appears heavily weighted in favor of short-term
research. A mechanism should be developed to ensure
that long-term research accounts for one-third to one-
half of the portfolio.
Data Collection (Chapter 5)

Key legacy monitoring systems in areas of

streamflow, groundwater, sediment transport,
water quality, and water use have been in
substantial decline and in some cases have nearly
been eliminated.

The consequences of the present policy of

neglect associated with water resources
monitoring will not necessarily remain small.
Coordination and Organization
(Chapter 6)
The multiple looming water crises across the U.S.
suggest that the $700 million currently spent on water
resources research is not sufficiently focused or is not
effectively addressing national needs.

Water resources research across the federal enterprise

has been largely uncoordinated for the last 30 years,
although there have been periodic ad hoc attempts to
engage in interagency coordination.

The sum of individual agency priorities does not add up

to a truly comprehensive list of national water resources
research needs.
Coordination Actions
conduct a regular survey of water resources research
using input from federal agency representatives

advise OMB and Congress on the long-term national

water resources research agenda every three to five years

advise OMB and Congress on the adequacy of mission-

driven research budgets of the federal agencies

advise OMB and Congress on key priorities for a

competitive grants program ($20 million per year for water
institutions, $50 million per year for water use)

engage in vertical coordination with states, industry, and

other stakeholders
3 Models for Coordination

Subcommittee on Water Availability and Quality

arrangements in place and agency roles defined
approach has yet to demonstrate that it can be an
effective forum for looking beyond agency missions
Neutral third party
independence from the agencies
may engender resentment from the agencies or
disinterest from OMB
formally tied to the budget process
potential conflicts of interest
Last Thoughts

The creation and maintenance of a coordinated,

comprehensive, and balanced national water resources
research agenda, combined with a regular assessment
of the water resources research activities sponsored by
the federal agencies, represents the nation’s best chance
for dealing effectively with the many water crises sure to
mark the 21st century.