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The Oxford Handbook of Water Politics and Policy

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25 Integrated Water Resources Management Core Research Questions for Governance

Mark Lubell is Professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy and Director of the Center for Environmental Policy and Behavior at the University of California, Davis.

Carolina Balazs is a Postdoctoral Scholar in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at the University of California, Davis.

  • Published: 07 July 2016
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Integrated water resources management (IWRM) has become a globally recognized approach to water governance. However, the definition of IWRM remains abstract, and implementation challenges remain. This chapter analyzes IWRM from the perspective of adaptive governance, which conceptualizes IWRM as an institutional arrangement that seeks to solve collective-action problems associated with water resources and adapt over time in response to social and environmental change. Adaptive governance synthesizes several strands of literature to identify the core social processes of water governance: cooperation, learning, and resource distribution. This chapter reviews the existing research on these ideas and presents frontier research questions that require continued investigation to understand how IWRM contributes to the sustainability and resilience of water governance. It argues that an adaptive governance lens allows movement beyond the contentious normative debate surrounding the appropriate definition of IWRM to analyze the core social and political processes driving its decision-making processes.


Across the globe, integrated water resources management (IWRM) has become the most widely recognized approach to water governance ( Rahaman and Varis 2005 ). The Global Water Partnership (GWP) Technical Advisory Committee (2000) defines IWRM as “a process which promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land and related resources in order to maximize economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems.” This definition highlights functional integration between land and water resources, including multiple issues such as water supply, water quality, flood management, climate change, and biodiversity. Such functional integration focuses mostly on the structure of human-built and ecological systems and is typically analyzed from natural science and engineering perspectives.

IWRM also encompasses the human dimensions of water management, stressing the interdependence among social, political, and ecological processes ( Jeffrey and Gearey 2006 ; Pahl-Wostl, Craps et al. 2007 ; Pahl-Wostl, Tábara et al. 2007 ). IWRM seeks to coordinate decision-making across and within multiple levels of government ranging from local to international. It strives to strengthen the link between science and policy, with the goal of making better informed and adaptive decisions that respond to changing ecological conditions. IWRM provides greater opportunities for stakeholder and citizen participation, as well as for bridging ideological divides between economic, environmental, and other types of coalitions. The equitable distribution of the costs and benefits of water management and environmental justice are also core concerns.

IWRM is usually contrasted with a top-down and technocratic approach to water management, which tends to compartmentalize different aspects of water management without fully recognizing their interdependence across issues, sectors, and scales ( Gleick 2003 ). In the top-down models, technical experts have the most influence over the decision process, and public participation is often nonexistent or symbolic and is perceived as raising management costs instead of adding value. Command-and-control regulations are usually preferred to voluntary, market-based, or incentive-based policies. Centralized infrastructure investments such as large water storage and conveyance systems are more likely to be funded than are decentralized, demand-side water management approaches. Economic efficiency often receives more emphasis than other aspects of sustainability such as ecosystem services, social equity, and political legitimacy.

Proponents argue that the more bottom-up, participatory style of IWRM can provide better solutions to water management problems in the long run and find synergy among economic, environmental, and social goals. However, despite the theoretical promise, there is substantial and long-running debate about the effectiveness of IWRM (Biswas 2004 , 2008a , 2008b ). This chapter analyzes and reviews the debate through the lens of adaptive governance. Adaptive governance conceptualizes IWRM as an institutional arrangement that seeks to solve collective-action problems associated with water resources while making decisions under uncertainty and adapting over time in response to new information ( Folke et al. 2005 ; Geldof 1995 ; Huitema et al. 2009 ; Scholz and Stiftel 2010 ).

Collective action problems occur when interdependent water users and policy stakeholders make self-interested decisions that ignore social costs, which lead to socially undesirable outcomes. For instance, a classic collective-action problem is groundwater overdraft. In this situation, each user prefers to continue pumping even if other users reduce their pumping rates to a more sustainable level, thus leading to a tragedy of the commons and overdepletion of the aquifer. Solving collective-action problems entails three core processes: learning about possible policy solutions for different water problems, cooperation among policymakers and resource users to implement the solution, and equitable distribution of the benefits and costs of collective action. The adaptive governance perspective goes beyond the contentious normative debate surrounding IWRM to analyze the core social and political processes driving decision-making.

We divide the chapter into three sections. First, we review the state of the practice of IWRM in terms of the international dialogue about how it is defined and how IRWM programs are being deployed across the world. Second, we review the adaptive governance literature highlighting how IWRM represents an institutional arrangement for solving water collective-action problems. By identifying the relationships among the three core processes of cooperation, learning, and equity in resource distribution, the adaptive governance approach allows for linking previously disparate ideas in the IWRM and environmental governance literature. We conclude by describing four priority research questions for IWRM moving forward, involving continued research on environmental effectiveness, the extent to which IRWM fits different social-ecological contexts, how IWRM is integrated into broader complex institutional systems, and whether IRWM contributes to environmental justice goals.

IWRM: State of the Practice

Before providing a theoretical analysis of IWRM, it is important to describe how it is defined in the global policy dialogue, including the various meanings of integration that are used across the literature. Sketching out the pathways by which IWRM is incorporated into water management in different countries provides an idea of the global scope of the approach.

Defining IWRM

Definitions of IWRM have evolved over a century of global dialogue among researchers, politicians, water users, and administrators ( Cardwell et al. 2006 ; Jønch-Clausen and Jens Fugl 2001 ; Molle 2008 ; Ward 1995 ). Building on the United Nation’s Mar del Plata 1977 Water Conference and the 1987 Brundtland Report, the Rio-Dublin principles are the most consolidated statement relevant to IWRM ( Snellen and Schrevel 2004 ). Subsequently, the GWP, an international organization, has refined the Rio-Dublin principles and created a global transnational advocacy network that aims to implement IWRM on multiple scales. The Rio-Dublin and GWP definitions are widely employed in international dialogue. Table 25.1 summarizes these ideas and also lists related adaptive governance concepts, which are discussed in the second section of this chapter.

The international definitions of IWRM have inherited many of the same problems as the preceding concept of sustainable development. The goals are broad, normative, and vague. The actual details of what is meant by the approach, who should implement it, and how to evaluate it are left to interpretation, at best (Biswas 2008a , 2008b ). Numerous case studies exemplify the challenge of actually integrating water resource management along hydrologic boundaries ( Blomquist and Schlager 2005 ; Saravanan, McDonald, and Mollinga 2009 ; Van der Zaag, 2005 ). Others criticize IWRM as part of a larger neo-liberal, technocratic agenda that fails to grapple with the underlying role of power and politics that drive water management and allocation ( Perreault 2014 ; Zwarteveen and Boelens 2014 ). Critics have thus called IWRM a “nirvana” ( Molle 2008 : 131) or “elastic” concept that is vulnerable to green-washing and symbolic politics ( Lubell 2004 ). Because it is difficult to measure the effectiveness of IWRM at achieving its goals, it is easy for any particular actor to claim they are being achieved even if IWRM is being used only symbolically. Out of these critiques emerges, among other things, the idea that “integration” should be acknowledged as a political process and as such should be analyzed in terms of “how integration actually takes place” ( Saravanan et al. 2009 : 77).

Dimensions of Integration

In defining IWRM, Lubell and Edelenbos (2013 ; see also Hering and Ingold 2012 ) argue that IWRM includes at least three dimensions of integration: functional, societal, and institutional. Functional integration refers to decisions that account for ecological interdependency and interconnectedness among watershed functions, such as flood management, water supply, water quality, biodiversity, and land use. Societal integration refers to civic engagement through public participation, as well as collaboration among stakeholders with different preferences. Institutional integration refers to coordinated decision-making among different geographical, hydrological, and jurisdictional scales. Arguably there are finer distinctions within each of these categories. Within functional integration, it is important to consider technical integration between water systems, such as interties between different drinking water systems, which is sometimes a response to drought or a strategy to increase water system reliability. Societal integration could also mean a stronger integration of science into policy decisions. Institutional integration can include vertical cross-scale linkages as well as horizontal within-scale linkages across geography.

Regardless of the dimension of integration, each requires developing boundary-spanning policy networks that facilitate information exchange and collaboration ( Schneider et al. 2003 ). Furthermore, there may be positive or negative feedbacks between different aspects of integration such that achieving one type of integration makes it harder or easier to achieve other types. Exactly what mix of integration and boundary-spanning networks makes IWRM more or less effective across different contexts remains a major open question.

Multilevel International Deployment

Although we know of no global census of IWRM approaches, examples are found all over the world, in both developed and developing countries (e.g., Braga and Lotufo 2008 ; Garcia 2008 ; Lubell and Edelenbos 2013 ; Varis, Muhammed, and Stucki 2008 ; World Health Organization 2012 ). The key question in each of these cases is how IWRM is translated into the different contexts in which it is deployed. In some cases, IWRM principles are explicitly referenced in policies (e.g., see Garcia 2008 ), while in other cases a decentralized, watershed management approach will implicitly reflect IWRM principles.

In the European Union, the most important policy for IWRM is the European Water Framework Directive (WFD). The legislative history of the WFD shows a close engagement with the international dialogue on IWRM. The WFD requires each member-state to incorporate WFD principles and requirements into national legislation and ultimately identify and develop IWRM plans for individual watershed basins. Exactly how this happens depends on the domestic political context of each country; some countries have implemented the WFD more quickly and effectively than others ( Liefferink, Wiering, and Uitenboogaart 2011 ).

In developing countries, transnational coalitions such as the GWP work to implement IWRM at multiple levels, including contributing to the international dialogue, partnering with national governments to create stronger water management institutions that reflect IWRM principles, and working with individual communities to implement on-the-ground projects. IWRM ideas are also commonly used by the broader set of international aid organizations, including both public and private foundations and contractors. These international aid organizations manage large-scale programs and usually partner with domestic nongovernmental organizations and government agencies at multiple scales, in order to increase in-country fiscal and technical capacity. For example, the IWRM is a core principle of the water resources strategy of the World Bank, which funds many water projects throughout the world ( World Bank 2010 ).

Unilateral action at the domestic level in some countries and in subnational units has occurred. For instance, in the United States the 1972 Clean Water Act includes a number of watershed-based programs that implicitly incorporate IWRM principles. Examples include the requirement to develop total maximum daily load plans for watersheds that violate water quality standards and the National Estuary Program, which develops plans for coastal estuaries. The Clean Water Act establishes national standards, and individual states develop their own implementation plans, which are approved by the Environmental Protection Agency but also reflect local political, economic, and social contexts. This parallels the way in which individual EU countries interpret the WFD to meet EU guidelines and involves a similar set of challenges of delegating the implementation of national law to individual states. These are some of the same issues involved in the international debate about decentralization in environmental governance. There are also large-scale ecosystem management programs such as those in the Everglades and Chesapeake Bay ( Heikkila and Gerlak 2005 ), along with thousands of smaller watershed programs throughout the United States ( Lubell et al. 2002 ). However, these programs mostly implicitly reference IWRM ideas under the broader rubric of ecosystem or watershed management. Natural resource agencies in the United States have only recently engaged directly with IWRM in its own right ( Shabman and Scodari 2012 ).

Individual states have also pursued IWRM-style programs. For example, since the 2000s, integrated regional water management (IRWM) has been California’s dominant approach to water planning and funding. IRWM seeks to support multibenefit, multistakeholder water management solutions at regional levels. Currently, California is divided into forty-eight IRWM regions, which receive funding allotments from the California Department of Water Resources. Funds for IRWM are currently derived from Proposition 84 and Proposition 50, 1 which are ballot initiatives that specifically authorize state funds for watershed management. As with the international context, funding for local activities is a key aspect of IRWM. Within each IRWM region, one to several IRWM “groups” exists, and each has developed integrated regional water management plans. These groups facilitate collaboration among stakeholders and prioritization of water projects to obtain Department of Water Resources grant monies. Subnational units in other countries have also adopted IWRM policy innovations. For example, different states and water regions in Brazil have experimented with building IWRM principles into water governance institutions, with varying degrees of success ( Engle et al. 2011 ; Veiga and Magrini 2013 ).

Overall, how IWRM is translated into the political culture and institutions of different countries is a key issue. Lubell and Edelenbos (2013) argue that economic development and administrative decentralization are the two most important factors that influence how deeply IWRM principles are integrated into domestic public policies. As economic development increases, countries have a greater capacity to implement IWRM and are more likely to incorporate the environmental and social aspects of IWRM principles. Developing countries tend to rely on international organizations to implement IWRM and have incentives to focus IWRM on basic water development rather than ecosystem goals. Administrative decentralization entails trade-offs in IWRM—decentralized countries are better able to meet the goals of public participation, but centralized countries are better at actually convincing public agencies to work together to implement integrated technical solutions. However, more analysis is needed to see exactly how the translation of IWRM into different local social-ecological contexts influences overall effectiveness.

Adaptive Governance and Collective Action in IWRM

While IRWM’s utility and effectiveness is actively debated in the literature, discussion of its governance mechanisms typically focuses on policies and rules associated with its practice rather than analyzing the core social and political processes underlying water management. Without analyzing these core processes, it is hard to identify the variables that influence IRWM effectiveness, how to measure effectiveness from a social perspective, or how social aspects of IWRM link to the ecological system. The adaptive governance perspective attempts to remedy this situation and in so doing sheds light on a broader way of assessing the effectiveness of IWRM. By framing water management as a set of dynamic social processes, the adaptive governance perspective helps identify the key variables that might influence IWRM effectiveness. Consequently, this perspective goes beyond describing the status of various laws and programs currently deployed.

Lemos and Agrawal (2006 : 299) define environmental governance as “the set of regulatory processes, mechanisms and organizations through which political actors influence environmental actions and outcomes.” Within this broad definition, adaptive governance conceptualizes IWRM as an institutional arrangement for solving collective-action problems associated with water management (Libecap 1989 , 1994 ; Ostrom 1990 ; Scholz and Stiftel 2010 ), where institutional arrangements adapt over time in response to changing ecological, social, and political processes. Adaptive governance combines ideas from Ostrom’s (1999) institutional analysis and development (IAD) framework, as well as from adaptive management, social learning, and collaborative policy. The common theme among these frameworks is analyzing how institutions such as IWRM affect the logic of collective action.

As we argue in more detail later, adaptive governance requires the three core social processes of cooperation, learning, and equitable resource distribution. These processes encompass a broad set of literature on IWRM and water management, which tries to identify the variables that influence sustainable water management and how to evaluate its impacts ( Pahl-Wostl 2009 ; Timmerman, Pahl-Wostl, and Möltgen 2008 ). The processes are related to the transaction costs of collective action, which include the costs of searching for different policy options, bargaining over the distribution of costs/benefits of those options, and monitoring and enforcing the resulting political agreements. Transaction costs are partly influenced by the type of institutional arrangements in place, including the presence of IWRM. To illustrate these concepts, we use the aforementioned example of IRWM in California throughout the following sections.

Collective Action, Institutions, and IWRM

IWRM attempts to resolve many different collective-action problems at the basin or watershed level. Ostrom (1990) identified two classic collective-action problems associated with environmental resources such as water: (a) appropriation from a common-pool resource (CPR), such as groundwater, and (b) provision of public goods, such as water infrastructure. For both types of problems, individual actors have incentives to free-ride on the cooperation of others. The involved actors are inherently interdependent and engage in strategic behavior. Relative to the normative criterion of economic efficiency, these incentives lead to the overexploitation of CPRs and the underprovision of public goods.

In the case of IWRM, appropriation problems affect both surface water and groundwater supply, where users have incentives to ignore the social costs of water use. For example, water quality may be considered a CPR problem, where actors overuse the capacity of water to absorb pollution. Public goods problems include building new infrastructure such as water storage and conveyance or restoring natural habitats such as riparian vegetation and wetlands. When operating at the watershed level, IWRM recognizes the linkages among these different collective-action problems. For example, groundwater pumping can reduce surface water flow and availability, which has consequences for water quality and supply. Hence, one aspect of integration is trying to achieve sustainable resource use across multiple watershed problems and water uses. Sustainable management of the broad set of “ecosystem services” provided by watersheds thus requires IWRM to solve multiple collective-action problems.

The effectiveness of IWRM as adaptive governance depends on three core processes theorized to solve collective-action problems: cooperation, learning, and equitable distribution of costs and benefits ( Lubell 2013 ). Cooperation entails actors working together to develop and implement policy solutions; water users must use resources in appropriate ways and policymakers must coordinate policymaking and implementation activities. Learning means finding out what types of policy solutions provide mutually beneficial outcomes. Learning is especially important in the case of adaptive governance, where water stakeholders must deal with uncertainty and adjust institutional rules and management activities over time. Distribution refers to how the costs and benefits of IWRM are distributed across different users. IWRM generally seeks to attain some normative notion of fairness or equity in distribution; procedural fairness is necessarily implicated in this process.

The three core processes are related to the transaction costs of collective action, as elaborated by new institutional economics ( Eggertsson 1990 ; North 1990 ) and employed by the IAD framework. The transaction costs of collective action, which can impede cooperation, include searching for mutually beneficial solutions, bargaining over the potential solution set, and monitoring and enforcing the resulting agreement. Institutions that reduce transaction costs are hypothesized to be more effective. From this perspective, the question is whether IWRM entails lower transaction costs in comparison to other approaches to water governance (e.g., command-and-control regulations).

Cooperation and IWRM

The effectiveness of IWRM depends on cooperation at multiple levels of decision-making, ranging from international to on-the-ground resource use. At the resource-use level, cooperation refers to environmental behaviors that alleviate CPR problems or contribute to public goods. For example, IWRM may require farmers to reduce groundwater pumping rates to prevent overextraction, promote the conjunctive management of surface and groundwater, or reduce levels of pesticide and fertilizer use to meet water quality goals. In other cases, resource users might be asked to contribute labor or funding to the maintenance of water management infrastructure such as irrigation ( Ostrom and Gardner 1993 ) or levee systems. Many IWRM programs ask organizations such as special water districts or local governments to provide funding for the development of new water infrastructure. Since IWRM targets different types of water management issues, a range of different types of users may be asked to adjust their environmental behaviors.

Cooperation also becomes necessary among decision-makers at multiple levels. These decision-makers are not directly using resources but rather are involved in making collective decisions about the rules that will ultimately structure resource use. Here, IWRM involves many different types of policy actors—government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, resource user groups, scientists, and others. Developing and implementing IWRM requires each of these actors to provide specialized knowledge and resources. In a classic analysis, Bardach (1977) compares policy implementation to an “assembly line” where different actors must coordinate their actions, while Edelenbos, van Buuren, and van Schie (2011) argue that IWRM requires “synchronization” of multiple types of water management activities.

IWRM also requires cooperation in the formation of political advocacy coalitions ( Sabatier and Jenkins-Smith 1993 ), especially at national and international levels of policy. In these political arenas, advocates of IWRM are often trying to influence the international policy agenda or change national-level water laws in ways that incorporate IWRM principles. IWRM advocates may often face opposing coalitions that prefer to maintain the traditional technocratic approach to water management that continues to compartmentalize different aspects of water management, defer decisions to technical experts, and eschew meaningful public participation. Alleviating conflict among opposing coalitions is an important goal of IWRM. Ultimately, IWRM proponents form epistemic communities that work together for policy change ( Conca 2005 ; Haas 1989 ); such epistemic communities have the capacity to bridge across previously conflicting coalitions.

California’s IRWM program requires cooperation among diverse actors and stakeholders at the regional level, which provides funding for planning and project implementation. When putting together an IRWM plan, these actors collaborate to identify priority projects that provide multiple regional benefits. Selection and implementation of these projects requires joint action by multiple actors. In some cases, the projects try to change resource-use behaviors among specific groups, such as asking farmers to reduce nonpoint source pollution. In other cases, the projects entail joint infrastructure investments such as levee improvements or development of groundwater recharge areas. One evaluation of the San Francisco Bay IRWM suggests that such cooperation is slow to evolve and should not be expected to occur instantly when funding is provided ( Lubell and Lippert 2011 ). At least one reason for expecting only incremental change is that existing institutions are path-dependent, creating fairly stable norms and behaviors that are difficult to transform to a new way of interaction.

Social Learning and IWRM

Learning among actors is a key component of IWRM and has been addressed by a broad literature on social learning ( Gerlak and Heikkila 2011 ; Pahl-Wostl 2007 , 2009 ; Pahl-Wostl, Craps et al. 2007 ; Tippet et al. 2005 ). The adaptive governance approach attempts to integrate this strand of research into a broader framework that shows the relationship among social learning, cooperation, and equity. Social learning refers to the capacity of different stakeholders to learn from each other in order to manage resources effectively. This learning is influenced by social structures and practices and can also ultimately change these structures ( Pahl-Wostl and Hare 2004 ).

Social learning plays a pivotal role in solving collective-action problems since stakeholders must transform existing governance structures and develop policy solutions that provide mutual benefits. For example, IWRM programs explore many different technical and institutional solutions in an attempt to find ones that fit the particular context. IWRM programs also provide funding for research, monitoring, and model development in order to better understand particular social-ecological systems. IWRM programs incorporate scientists and community members into the policy process and attempt to increase the technical capacity of stakeholders. Given the high levels of uncertainty and complex ecological dynamics of watersheds, learning and adaptive management also needs to occur over time and decisions must be made without complete information.

A number of scholars have developed social learning frameworks that are useful for understanding this aspect of IWRM and water governance ( Gerlak and Heikkila 2011 ; Sabatier 1988 ; Weible 2008 ). Of particular interest is the social learning framework developed by Pahl-Wostl, Craps et al. (2007) , which describes how learning occurs over different time scales and levels of governance. Pahl-Wostl et al. describe three levels of learning: single-, double-, and triple-loop learning. In single-loop learning , stakeholder awareness and capacity are refined to improve performance of the water governance regime in the short term , but guiding assumptions and established institutions are not challenged ( Pahl-Wostl, Craps et al. 2007 ). In double-loop learning , the frame of reference of the governance regime changes and guiding assumptions are called into question in the medium-term time scale. Stakeholders may change goals and problem framing and expand their social networks, resulting in more diverse groups ( Pahl-Wostl 2009 ; Pahl-Wostl, Tábara et al. 2007 ). In triple-loop learning , there is a “transformation of the structural context and factors that determine the frames of reference” as actors recognize and change paradigms and existing structural constraints ( Pahl-Wostl 2009 : 359). This type of learning tends to take place on a long-term time scale ( Pahl-Wostl, Craps et al. 2007 ). Essentially, the institutional arrangements change, actors’ networks are transformed to include new actor groups, power structures shift, and new regulatory frameworks are introduced ( Pahl-Wostl 2009 ).

The application of social learning frameworks allows for a critical analysis of the impacts of IWRM in terms of structural changes to governance institutions. For example, Pahl-Wostl (2009 : 359) notes that much “double-loop learning can only be effective if accompanied by triple-loop learning” since it is often the case that the dominant paradigm can shift only if the underlying structural context is in question. In a related case study examining the role of one California IRWM project in incorporating environmental justice goals, Balazs and Lubell (2014) found that social learning among various stakeholders in the region had short and medium-term effects of increasing access to information regarding socioeconomically disadvantaged communities, increasing avenues for their participation and developing initial foundations for structural changes to water governance. They concluded that long-term change in their case’s regional IRWM institution is, at best, in its early phases. Ultimately, their results highlight how various learning environments enable consideration of how to change local IRWM governance structures to better address the needs of politically marginalized communities. Thus social learning is a key mechanism that allows equity goals to be pursued and structural change to (potentially) occur.

Equitable Resource Distribution and IWRM

The equitable distribution of the benefits and cost of water management is a key goal of IWRM ( Zwarteveen and Boelens 2014 ). From the adaptive governance perspective, solving collective-action problems increases economic efficiency and thus creates benefits for involved actors. At the same time, actors incur costs when planning and implementing IWRM activities. Simple models of collective action often assume that mutual cooperation delivers symmetric benefits to participating actors. However, there is no a priori reason for the cost and benefits of cooperation to be symmetrically distributed—cooperation makes the pie bigger, but the gains still must be divided. Therefore more nuanced notions of equity, distributive and procedural justice, and the role of political power within the context of resource distribution are necessary.

A core challenge for achieving social equity in IWRM is identifying what normative principles of equity and justice should be used and who should define them (Biswas 2008a , b ; Zeitoun and McLaughlin 2013 ). Critics argue that IWRM relies on a norm of technical neutrality that tends to emphasize economic efficiency over environmental and social equity goals. For instance, the idea of integration is often boiled down to creating a portfolio of cost-effective and reliable water supply options, which may include multiple supply sources and demand-side strategies. Technical neutrality potentially overlooks power asymmetries and political trade-offs among stakeholders ( Zeitoun and McLaughlin 2013 ).

Theories of justice, particularly as defined within the field of environmental justice, can be applied to broaden the technical neutrality view on resource distribution to encompass broader concepts of equity in IWRM. Liberal, Rawlsian ( Rawls 1971 ) notions of distributive justice examine how environmental goods and harms are distributed ( Taylor 2000 ). Procedural justice considers fairness in the implementation of programs and policies and whether all people are able to participate actively in the decision-making process ( Schlosberg 2004 ; Shrader-Frechette 2002 ).

A core factor shaping the outcomes of resource governance and achievement of justice is power. Specifically, political power is an important consideration for whether and how distributive and procedural justice can be achieved in IWRM. Because the benefits of collective action are not necessarily symmetric, actors use political power to bargain over resources ( Knight 1992 ). They form advocacy coalitions that lobby for different water management outcomes that favor their interests ( Sabatier and Jenkins-Smith 1993 ). Socioeconomically or politically marginalized communities (due to race, class, gender, etc.) and environmental groups are often less able to participate or less effective at political participation than economic actors with more resources. As a result, political trade-offs often favor more powerful actors, at the expense of less powerful ones ( Zeitoun and McLaughlin 2013 ; Zwarteveen and Boelens 2014 ). Ultimately, knowledge and power can further consolidate along technocratic lines ( Zwarteveen and Boelens 2014 ), and IWRM can “hide or sanction processes of dispossession and accumulation of water,” resulting in processes that are far from the stated goals of distributional and procedural justice ( Zwarteveen and Boelens 2014 : 145).

These concepts can be applied to adaptive governance and IWRM. Here, concepts of distributive justice can be applied to consider how the costs and benefits of collective action should be distributed among various actors. Procedural justice considerations can be used to assess whether particular stakeholders engage in decision-making processes of IWRM and whether they can effectively express their interests. Ultimately, the achievement of these forms of justice impact resource users’ perspectives on policies; research on fairness suggests that people who think policies are fair are more likely to cooperate and to believe that decisions are legitimate ( Tyler 1990 ).

In California, engaging and addressing the needs of socioeconomically disadvantaged communities 2 within IRWM illustrates the application of these theories to IWRM. Lubell and Lippert (2011) found that water management stakeholders in the San Francisco Bay area felt IRWM was least effective on this dimension. The reasons for this are multiple. The highly technical cultures of IRWM have barred disadvantaged communities from participating in governance. This technocratic culture and history of domination by “big water interests” (i.e. agriculture and municipal) can create hostile or uninviting environments for stakeholders who have not previously engaged in water management ( Balazs and Lubell 2014 ). Without appropriate technical capacity, training, and education about IRWM, disadvantaged communities and other traditionally marginalized water stakeholders have a harder time developing funding applications, accessing related monies, and influencing governance structures. Thus, without equitable participation and the possibility of a level political playing field, IWRM can simply become dominated by what Lubell and Lippert (2011) term “water politics as usual.”

Recognizing the particular limitations for disadvantaged communities, the California Department of Water Resources set aside $2.5 million to fund pilot outreach programs for seven IRWM groups across the state to explore how best to increase participation of disadvantaged communities in IRWM and increase their ability to access funding. While early evaluations of these projects suggest some initial progress has been made in terms of social learning and changes to local governance structures at the regional level, broader institutional changes at higher levels of governance are still needed to fully incorporate distributive and procedural goals of environmental justice ( Balazs and Lubell 2014 ).

Frontier Research Questions for IWRM

While IWRM has become the dominant water planning paradigm across the globe, understanding how and whether IWRM can truly lead to effective water governance requires developing several lines of inquiry. Here we identify four important questions that have not received enough attention. We believe these questions offer an opportunity to broaden the practice, theory, and research on adaptive governance and IWRM and bring it into conversation with additional literatures, where relevant. Certainly, given the amount and diversity of IWRM research, it is impossible to be inclusive here; other researchers will have different perspectives. Furthermore, we do not want to leave the impression that previously mentioned topics do not require further research. Yet in relation to frontiers in adaptive governance, we find these four questions are particularly relevant.

Is IWRM Effective?

Of all the open questions about IWRM, the most debated is whether IWRM is effective at achieving its water management goals and how to measure this ( Giordano and Shah 2014 ; Jeffrey and Gearey 2006 ; Koontz and Thomas 2006 ). Jeffrey and Gearey (2006 : 4) state it plainly: “Empirical evidence which unambiguously demonstrates the benefits of IWRM is either missing or very poorly reported.” Although research continues to advance, this assessment is still largely accurate. Effectiveness includes efficacy and impact of policy outputs such as changes in attitudes and plans, as well as environmental and sociopolitical outcomes resulting from the availability, distribution, reliability, and quality of water resources. Measuring environmental outcomes is especially difficult in complex water systems where outcomes emerge from dynamic hydrological processes, monitoring is fragmented over space and time, and changes often occur on a much longer time frame than those for which evaluations allow. Assessing effectiveness is further complicated by disagreement on what the goals of IWRM should be and potential trade-offs between different evaluative criteria.

Three sets of related literature provide some insight into the variables that influence the effectiveness of IWRM: local governance institutions for CPR, collaborative governance, and case studies of IWRM. The longest running literature has evolved from Ostrom’s work on CPRs and the overall IAD framework. Ostrom (1990) posited the following set of design principles for effective local CPR institutions: clearly defined boundaries, congruence between institutional rules and local conditions, individuals affected by the operational rules can participate in changing them, monitoring of resource use, graduated sanctions for rule violations, low-cost conflict resolution, recognition of rights to organize, and nested layers of institutions. To the extent these design principles are in place, CPR management will be more effective at sustaining the flow of environmental benefits over time. These design principles serve as central hypotheses in the growing empirical literature on IWRM and can be helpful for understanding key factors that contribute to IWRM’s success.

In addition to the aforementioned factors, the set of variables considered important for CPR governance has continued to expand as the IAD framework has evolved into a broader focus on social-ecological systems ( Agrawal 2001 ; Ostrom 2009 ). This literature has measured the effectiveness in terms of environmental outcomes, such as research projects like the International Forest Resources and Institutions that collect actual biophysical data from many different locations ( Coleman and Steed 2009 ; Persha, Agrawal, and Chhatre 2011 ). In a meta-analysis of ninety-one different CPR studies, Cox, Arnold, and Villamayor (2010) found substantial support that Ostrom’s design principles are correlated with improved environmental outcomes. Important additional evidence is emerging from studies of forest and irrigation systems that apply a common methodological framework to many different cases. Based on a set of Bolivian forest management case studies, Andersson (2004) found that horizontal and vertical actor networks positively influence institutional performance, which consequently alleviates deforestation ( Andersson and Gibson 2007 ). Across a broader global set of forest management case studies, Andersson and Agrawal (2011) found that group inequalities reduce institutional performance. Coleman (2009) showed a positive relationship between monitoring and sanctioning institutions and forest outcomes. Collectively, these studies indicate that many of Ostrom’s design principles are relevant for solving environmental collective-action problems.

Researchers examining collaborative governance frameworks have also identified key variables linked to effectiveness ( Ansell and Gash 2008 ; Emerson, Nabatchi, and Balogh (2012) . Lubell, Leach, and Sabatier 2009 ; Plummer and Armitage 2007 ; Sabatier et al. 2005 ). Because IWRM falls within the broader category of collaborative governance, these variables are relevant. For example, trust, boundary-spanning networks, perceived fairness, leadership, and adequate scientific information have all been found to increase effectiveness. However, this literature has mainly focused on the effectiveness of policy outputs rather than of environmental outcomes. There is less agreement on which policy outputs should be measured, especially if there are trade-offs between processes such as political participation and environmental outcomes.

Last, a growing number of case studies highlight key lessons learned about the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of IWRM. Many of these case studies focus on the challenges and limits of IWRM relative to the normative promise of the concept. Blomquist and Schlager (2005) point out the political pitfalls of watershed management, such as the difficulty of establishing political accountability and defining watershed boundaries. Lubell and Lippert (2011) suggest that IWRM only incrementally changes the status quo of water politics in California; it adds new collaboration partners, without fundamentally changing how projects are selected or implemented. International case studies of IWRM provide a large number of evaluation examples. While space limitations prevent a full review, there are a few special issues of journals that provide a good entry point ( Hooper 2009 ; Lubell and Edelenbos 2013 ; Nhapi et al. 2005 ; Tortajada 2014 ). In general, these international case studies indicate that achieving the goals of IWRM is thwarted by resource scarcity, weak governance institutions, conflict, and other institutional barriers (Biswas 2008a , b ).

In sum, there are several points of agreement in the evaluation literature related to institutions and environmental collective-action problems. First, there is sparse empirical evidence about effectiveness in terms of environmental outcomes. Second, the literature continually indicates an implementation gap where real-world examples of IWRM fail to meet all of the normative goals. Third, many of the same variables identified by Ostrom are considered by multiple literatures to be important predictors of effectiveness and receive at least some limited empirical support. Future IWRM research would benefit from conducting comparative analyses of multiple cases and merging biophysical assessments of ecosystem services with sociopolitical assessments. The definition of “effectiveness” needs further refinement, especially if there are trade-offs between policy outputs and environmental outcomes.

What Is the Role of Institutional Fitness?

The typical discussion of IWRM implies a one-size-fits-all approach where the decentralized, bottom-up IWRM model is compared to a more centralized, top-down model. But, in reality, IWRM comes in many different varieties reflecting the social-ecological context in which it is implemented. This makes it easy to criticize IWRM when it does not have every component of the normative definition. However, it is possible that a diverse set of institutional rules might be combined in different ways to achieve IWRM goals. At the same time, IWRM may not work in all contexts; evaluating contexts for which it is useful is necessary.

The idea of “institutional fitness” is a useful concept for analyzing these issues, but it remains understudied in IWRM. Institutional fitness refers to how well governance institutions fit different water management contexts ( Young 2002 ). Institutions with higher fitness should be more effective at solving collective-action problems. However, institutional fitness is not equivalent to effectiveness because it refers to the structure of institutions and associated networks—effectiveness is an output of decision-making within these institutions. Theories are just beginning to emerge that try to identify what types of governance institutions are better fit to different social-ecological contexts. Bodin and Tengö (2012) argue that social networks should be correlated with ecological connections, so that actors collaborate when they manage interdependent resources. Berardo and Scholz (2010) hypothesize that centralized institutions and networks are more effective when the underlying collective-action problems represent coordination games, but more decentralized networks with lots of “closed” structures are better for managing free-riding incentives. In the network governance literature, Provan and Kenis (2008) identify the different types of network structures that should be used depending on the number of actors, levels of trust, and types of expertise needed to solve different problems. All of these frameworks provide hypotheses about how different institutions and networks match the context in which they are applied.

The analysis of institutional fitness requires understanding how institutions evolve and change over time. IWRM evolves from what is perceived to be an ineffective status quo of water governance, where existing institutional rules are either weak or cause conflict. Since the status quo does not solve all of the collective-action problems, institutional change offers the chance to obtain the benefits of cooperation. Evolutionary processes involve both variation and selection, which in the case of water governance are guided by intentional human action and decisions. Policy actors experiment with different types of governance arrangements and learn over time which types of institutions are effective. Those institutions that are effective at solving collective-action problems are maintained, and ineffective institutions are abandoned. The process is more adaptive to the extent institutional arrangements can be adjusted to new information about changing social-ecological parameters.

These theories provide some good starting hypotheses regarding the role of institutions in IWRM, but testing them will require far more empirical research on how IWRM evolves in many different locations ( Abers 2007 ; Abers and Keck 2013 ). Such research should follow the comparative design of projects like the International Forest Resources and Institutions, where the same methodology is applied across cases. To capture the evolution of institutional fitness, the research will also have to measure institutional structure, networks, behaviors, and outcomes over time. The current IWRM literature is severely hampered by the reliance on qualitative case studies without a comparative, longitudinal research design. Of course implementing such designs is expensive and difficult, so generating the required investment is a major challenge.

How Does IWRM Fit into Complex Institutional Systems?

Another problem with existing research is that it often fails to recognize that there are few, if any, cases where some type of IWRM process is the only water management institution operating in a particular watershed context ( Lubell 2013 ; Pahl-Wostl 2007 ). In most cases, there are many other institutions also involved in collective decisions about water resources. Some of these institutions are more top-down and regulatory, and the different institutions vary in terms of how much they incorporate IWRM principles into their decision-making. Furthermore, there is usually more than just one collaborative institution operating in a particular watershed, which may or may not explicitly rely on IWRM ideas.

The resulting complex institutional systems are very fragmented with positive and negative spillovers between decisions made in different institutions. When a new IWRM process is created within such a system, it is difficult to analyze how it might affect the transaction costs of collective action throughout the system. Analyzing the transaction costs within just a single IWRM process is not sufficient because the overall system of governance is what determines water management outcomes over time. One approach is to attempt an analysis of transaction costs across the entire system, recognizing that no single institution is determinant. However, the literature on environmental governance and IWRM has mainly focused on single institutions and partnerships and is only starting to consider complex institutional arrangements overall.

Researchers (Lubell 2013 , 2015 ; Lubell, Henry, and McCoy 2010 ) have begun to analyze such institutional complexity using the “ecology of games” metaphor first coined by Norton Long (1958) . A “policy game” occurs when multiple actors participate in a collective decision-making process affecting one or more interconnected water issues. Most watersheds feature multiple policy games, operating at different levels of government. Lubell et al. (2010) showed that, in some cases, new collaborative partnerships can decrease cooperation in other existing games. Lubell, Robins, and Wang (2014) used network analysis to illustrate the coordinating roles of government agencies and collaborative partnerships in these complex systems and also found evidence of advocacy coalitions jointly participating in similar policy venues.

Overall, studying complex institutional arrangements will benefit from incorporating ideas from complex adaptive systems ( Levin et al. 2013 ), where overall system structure emerges from self-organizing and evolutionary processes. The complex adaptive system literature also emphasizes the extent to which systems are resilient in the face of changing conditions and external shocks, which roughly means the system is capable of reorganizing to provide the same level of ecosystem services. Given the existence of complex institutional arrangements, it is important to analyze not only the internal dynamics of a particular IWRM the program but also how IWRM programs and ideas affect the overall structure, function, adaptive capacity, and resilience of complex institutional systems.

How Can IWRM Address Questions of Equity and Environmental Justice?

As discussed, the distribution of the costs and benefits associated with collaboration and the potential to participate in decision-making reflect notions of distributive and procedural justice as relevant to the adaptive governance–IWRM literature. Rarely, however, does adaptive governance grapple with how political power structures in the broader society manifest in water management. IWRM usually does not address the root social causes of political power structures but rather attempts (if at all) to manage the resulting social inequities. This has prompted critical analyses of power within the “hydrosocial” landscape and an assessment of how the mutual interaction of nature, technology, and society, or “hydrosocial networks,” influences and shapes the distribution of water resources ( Bakker 2002 ; Swyngedouw 2005 ). This echoes Okereke’s (2010) argument that international environmental governance regimes must grapple more critically with intergenerational notions of distributive justice, as these regimes play both regulative and distributive roles, requiring a just and fair distribution of resources. Thus our final suggested line of inquiry is to further develop assessments and theories of equity and justice in IWRM.

This work entails an assessment (and critique) of the discourses, institutions, policies, and technologies that articulate water distribution and water governance ( Zwarteveen and Boelens 2014 ). Here, political ecologists suggest examining power, politics, and water justice along at least three core dimensions: distributive, procedural, and recognition (i.e. of rights; Perreault 2014 ; Schlosberg 2004 ; Zwarteveen and Boelens 2014 ). Along these dimensions, it is important to assess distributional trade-offs in how goods and harms are produced and distributed, the nature of allocation and dispossession of water resources, and the scale at which these processes occur ( Molle 2008 ; Perreault 2014 ). A focus on procedural justice allows for an assessment of the role of participation in decision-making processes (i.e. procedural justice) and an assessment of which actors are able to shape IWRM goals and outcomes. An assessment of rights of recognition would motivate a thorough assessment of whose knowledge, realities, and discourses are actually considered in IWRM.

Several analytical frameworks may be useful for examining the role of power and politics in IWRM and for assessing whether the processes and outcomes produced by IWRM are equitable. Zeitoun and McLaughlin (2013) suggest that observing the way trade-offs are governed helps provide an indicator of procedural justice, while an examination of the outcomes help gauge distributive justice. Zwarteveen and Boelens (2014) suggest four focal points through which to examine equity in IWRM: (a) the distribution of water; (b) the contents, rules, and norms that govern water; (c) the authority that governs water; and (d) the discourses used to articulate and solve water management problems. Though focused on water justice and governance more broadly, Lu, Ocampo-Raeder, and Crow (2014) recommend an integrative, multiscalar, and cross-disciplinary framework to account for patterns and dynamics of inequity and related decision-making. Balazs and Lubell (2014) argue that an examination of the types of social learning can be used to assess whether environmental justice goals are occurring in IWRM. These frameworks seek to link the narrow conceptualization of environmental justice typically portrayed by adaptive governance to the political power structures of the “hydrosocial” landscape, in order to adequately evaluate the contribution, or lack thereof, of IWRM to social equity.

Despite IWRM being a phenomenon with many practical examples throughout the world, there is still no consensus on whether it is more effective than more centralized approaches or what variables are the main drivers for solving collective-action problems related to water. One reason for this is that the global policy dialogue focuses on normative, decontextualized, and vague definitions of IWRM, which can be applied to many different situations but do not adequately specify the underlying social processes driving IWRM.

By conceptualizing IWRM as a set of institutional rules for addressing collective-action problems, an adaptive governance approach specifies some of the key underlying social processes as well as some hypotheses about the variables that will influence IWRM effectiveness. The adaptive governance approach allows for a synthesis of different strands of research that have been applied to IWRM (e.g., social learning and environmental justice) and lends itself to expanding to include the broader equity and justice analyses noted in the previous section.

Finally, an adaptive governance lens requires moving beyond the stereotype of IWRM as one particular approach that operates in isolation from other water and resource management institutions. In reality, IWRM comes in many diverse forms that reflect the social-ecological context and operates in conjunction with complex institutional systems, on top of visible and invisible power dynamics. IWRM should not be conceptualized as a single type of institutional arrangement that can be analyzed in isolation but rather as a part of a broader system of governance that needs to be evaluated for its capacity to solve collective-action problems. Fully understanding and evaluating IWRM from this vantage point will require comparative, longitudinal research designs using common theoretical and empirical frameworks. Ultimately, the resilience and sustainability of water resources depends on understanding how IWRM contributes to cooperation, learning, and equitable resource distribution in social-ecological systems.

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  • Published: 31 January 2023

Global water resources and the role of groundwater in a resilient water future

  • Bridget R. Scanlon   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-1234-4199 1 ,
  • Sarah Fakhreddine 1 , 2 ,
  • Ashraf Rateb 1 ,
  • Inge de Graaf   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-7748-868X 3 ,
  • Jay Famiglietti 4 ,
  • Tom Gleeson 5 ,
  • R. Quentin Grafton 6 ,
  • Esteban Jobbagy 7 ,
  • Seifu Kebede 8 ,
  • Seshagiri Rao Kolusu 9 ,
  • Leonard F. Konikow 10 ,
  • Di Long   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-9033-5039 11 ,
  • Mesfin Mekonnen   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-3573-9759 12 ,
  • Hannes Müller Schmied 13 , 14 ,
  • Abhijit Mukherjee 15 ,
  • Alan MacDonald   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-6636-1499 16 ,
  • Robert C. Reedy 1 ,
  • Mohammad Shamsudduha 17 ,
  • Craig T. Simmons 18 ,
  • Alex Sun 1 ,
  • Richard G. Taylor 19 ,
  • Karen G. Villholth 20 ,
  • Charles J. Vörösmarty 21 &
  • Chunmiao Zheng   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-5839-1305 22  

Nature Reviews Earth & Environment volume  4 ,  pages 87–101 ( 2023 ) Cite this article

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An Author Correction to this article was published on 29 March 2023

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Water is a critical resource, but ensuring its availability faces challenges from climate extremes and human intervention. In this Review, we evaluate the current and historical evolution of water resources, considering surface water and groundwater as a single, interconnected resource. Total water storage trends have varied across regions over the past century. Satellite data from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) show declining, stable and rising trends in total water storage over the past two decades in various regions globally. Groundwater monitoring provides longer-term context over the past century, showing rising water storage in northwest India, central Pakistan and the northwest United States, and declining water storage in the US High Plains and Central Valley. Climate variability causes some changes in water storage, but human intervention, particularly irrigation, is a major driver. Water-resource resilience can be increased by diversifying management strategies. These approaches include green solutions, such as forest and wetland preservation, and grey solutions, such as increasing supplies (desalination, wastewater reuse), enhancing storage in surface reservoirs and depleted aquifers, and transporting water. A diverse portfolio of these solutions, in tandem with managing groundwater and surface water as a single resource, can address human and ecosystem needs while building a resilient water system.

Net trends in total water storage data from the GRACE satellite mission range from −310 km 3 to 260 km 3 total over a 19-year record in different regions globally, caused by climate and human intervention.

Groundwater and surface water are strongly linked, with 85% of groundwater withdrawals sourced from surface water capture and reduced evapotranspiration, and the remaining 15% derived from aquifer depletion.

Climate and human interventions caused loss of ~90,000 km 2 of surface water area between 1984 and 2015, while 184,000 km 2 of new surface water area developed elsewhere, primarily through filling reservoirs.

Human intervention affects water resources directly through water use, particularly irrigation, and indirectly through land-use change, such as agricultural expansion and urbanization.

Strategies for increasing water-resource resilience include preserving and restoring forests and wetlands, and conjunctive surface water and groundwater management.

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A Correction to this paper has been published: https://doi.org/10.1038/s43017-023-00418-9

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B.R.S. conceptualized the review and coordinated input. S.F. reviewed many of the topics and developed some of the figures. A.R. analysed GRACE satellite data and M.S. reviewed this output. Q.G. provided input on water economics. E.J. reviewed impacts of land-use change. S.R.K. provided data on future precipitation changes. L.F.K. provided detailed information on surface water/groundwater interactions. M.M. provided data on water trade. C.J.V. provided input on green and grey solutions. All authors reviewed the paper and provided edits.

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Scanlon, B.R., Fakhreddine, S., Rateb, A. et al. Global water resources and the role of groundwater in a resilient water future. Nat Rev Earth Environ 4 , 87–101 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43017-022-00378-6

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research questions on water resources

National Academies Press: OpenBook

Confronting the Nation's Water Problems: The Role of Research (2004)

Chapter: 3 water resources research priorities for the future, 3 water resources research priorities for the future.

The pressing nature of water resource problems was set forth in Chapter 1 . The solution to these problems is necessarily sought in research—inquiry into the basic natural and societal processes that govern the components of a given problem, combined with inquiry into possible methods for solving these problems. In many fields, descriptions of research priorities structure the ways in which researchers match their expertise and experience to both societal needs and the availability of research funding. Statements of research priorities also evolve as knowledge is developed, questions are answered, and new societal issues and pressures emerge. Thus, the formulation of research priorities has a profound effect on the conduct of research and the likelihood of finding solutions to problems.

Statements of research priorities developed by a group of scientists or managers with a common perspective within their field of expertise can have a relatively narrow scope. Indeed, this phenomenon has resulted in numerous independent sets of research priorities for various aspects of water resources. This has come about because water plays an important role in a strikingly large number of disciplines, ranging from ecology to engineering and economics—disciplines that otherwise have little contact with each other. Thus, priority lists from ecologists emphasize ecosystem integrity, priority lists from water treatment professionals emphasize the quantity and quality of the water supply, and priority lists from hydrologists emphasize water budgets and hydrologic processes. In recent years, the limitations of discipline-based perspectives have become clear, as researchers and managers alike have recognized that water problems relevant to society necessarily integrate across the physical, chemical, biological, and social sciences. Narrowly conceived research produces inadequate solutions to such problems;

these in turn provide little useful guidance for management because critical parts of the system have been ignored. For example, the traditional subdivision of water resource issues into those of quality and quantity is now seen as inadequate to structure future research, given that water quality and quantity are intimately, causally, and mechanistically connected. Similarly, theoretical studies of water flows (hydrology) and aquatic ecosystems (limnology) can no longer be viewed as independent subjects, as each materially affects the other in myriad ways. Finally, the physical, chemical, and biological aspects of water cannot adequately be investigated without reference to the human imprint on all facets of the earth’s surface. Thus, the challenge in identifying water resources research needs is to engage researchers in novel collaborations and novel ways of perceiving the research topics that they have traditionally investigated.

Water resources research priorities were recently extensively considered by the Water Science and Technology Board (WSTB) in Envisioning the Agenda for Water Resources Research in the Twenty-first Century (NRC, 2001a). This resulted in a detailed, comprehensive list of research needs, grouped into three categories ( Table 3-1 ); the reader is referred to NRC (2001a) for a detailed description of each research need. The category of water availability emphasizes the interrelated nature of water quantity and water quality problems and it recognizes the increasing pressures on water supply to provide for both human and ecosystem needs. The category of water use includes not only research questions about managing human consumptive and nonconsumptive use of water, but also about the use of water by aquatic ecosystems and endangered or threatened species. The third category, water institutions , emphasizes the need for research into the economic, social, and institutional forces that shape both the availability and use of water.

After review and reconsideration, the committee concluded that the priorities enumerated in the Envisioning report constitute the most comprehensive and current best statement of water resources research needs. Moreover, successful pursuit of that research agenda could provide answers to the central questions posed in Chapter 1 . However, the list of research topics is not ranked, either within the three general categories or as a complete set of 43. An absolute ranking would be difficult to achieve, as all are important parts of a national water resources research agenda. Furthermore, the list of research priorities can be expected to change over time, reflecting both changes in the generators of such lists and in the conditions to which they are responding. This chapter, thus, provides a mechanism for reviewing, updating, and prioritizing research areas in this and subsequent lists. It should be noted that the 43 research areas in Table 3-1 are of varying complexity and breadth. In addition, the committee expanded research area #21 (develop more efficient water use) from the version found in the Envisioning report to include all sectors rather than just the agricultural sector.

The increasing urgency of water-related issues has stimulated a number of scientific societies and governmental entities, in addition to the WSTB, to produce

TABLE 3-1 Water Resources Research Areas that Should Be Emphasized in the Next 10–15 Years

their own lists of research priorities. For example, the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography recently convened a workshop to draft a list of emerging research issues (ASLO, 2003). These issues included the biogeochemistry of aquatic ecosystems, the influence of hydrogeomorphic setting on aquatic systems, the impacts of global changes in climate and element cycles, and emerging measurement technologies. This list builds on the comprehensive analysis of research priorities for freshwater ecosystems set forth in The Freshwater Imperative ( Box 2-1 ; see also Naiman et al., 1995). Another list of research priorities was recently assembled by the European Commission (2003), Task Force Environment–Water, which emphasizes water availability and water quality and the social, economic, and political aspects of water management. Like the NRC (2001a) report, this research agenda sets forth broad areas of research, with more specific “action lines” within high-priority areas. However, the approach differs from NRC (2001a) in that water quality is separated from water availability, and the socioeconomic and political research agenda is oriented toward crisis management. The U.S. Global Change Program also identified interrelated issues of quantity, quality, and human society as key research needs (Gleick et al., 2000);

this research agenda emphasizes the development of models and methods of prediction as well as data collection and monitoring systems, and it emphasizes research on the socioeconomic and legal impacts of climate change.

This brief review of selected contemporary lists of research priorities, as well as the lists of research priorities shown in Box 2-1 , illustrates that the articulation and the ranking of research topics vary with the entity charged to develop a research agenda. It can be anticipated that future lists of priorities will also differ from these.


The business of setting priorities for water resources research needs to be more than a matter of summing up the priorities of the numerous federal agencies, professional associations, and federal committees. Indeed, there is no logical reason why such a list should add up to a nationally relevant set of priorities, as each agency has its own agenda limited by its particular mission, just as each disciplinary group and each committee does. There is a high probability that research priorities not specifically under the aegis of a particular agency or other organization will be significantly neglected. Indeed, the institutional issues that constitute one of the three major themes in Table 3-1 are not explicitly targeted in the mission of any federal agency. This is the current state of affairs in the absence of a more coordinated mechanism for setting a national water resources research agenda.

A more rigorous process for priority setting should be adopted—one that will allow the water resources research enterprise to remain flexible and adaptable to changing conditions and emerging problems. Such a mechanism is also essential to ensure that water resources research needs are considered from a national and long-term perspective. The components of such a priority-setting process are outlined below, in the form of six questions or criteria that can be used to assess individual research areas and thus to assemble a responsive and effective national research agenda. In order to ensure the required flexibility and national-scale perspective, the criteria should also be applied to individual research areas during periodic reviews of the research enterprise.

Is there a federal role in this research area? This question is important for evaluating the “public good” nature of the water resources research area. A federal role is appropriate in those research areas where the benefits of such research are widely dispersed and do not accrue only to those who fund the research. Furthermore, it is important to consider whether the research area is being or even can be addressed by institutions other than the federal government.

What is the expected value of this research? This question addresses the importance attached to successful results, either in terms of direct problem solving or advancement of fundamental knowledge of water resources.

To what extent is the research of national significance? National significance is greatest for research areas (1) that address issues of large-scale concern (for example, because they encompass a region larger than an individual state), (2) that are driven by federal legislation or mandates, and (3) whose benefits accrue to a broad swath of the public (for example, because they address a problem that is common across the nation). Note that while there is overlap between the first and third criteria, research may have public good properties while not being of national significance, and vice versa.

Does the research fill a gap in knowledge? If the research area fills a knowledge gap, it should clearly be of higher priority than research that is duplicative of other efforts. Furthermore, there are several common underlying themes that, given the expected future complexity of water resources research, should be used to evaluate research areas:

the interdisciplinary nature of the research

the need for a broad systems context in phrasing research questions and pursuing answers

the incorporation of uncertainty concepts and measurements into all aspects of research

how well the research addresses the role of adaptation in human and ecological response to changing water resources

These themes, and their importance in combating emerging water resources problems, are described in detail in this chapter.

How well is this research area progressing? The adequacy of efforts in a given research area can be evaluated with respect to the following:

current funding levels and funding trends over time

whether the research area is part of the agenda of one or more federal agencies

whether prior investments in this type of research have produced results (i.e., the level of success of this type of research in the past and why new efforts are warranted)

These questions are addressed with respect to the current water resources research portfolio in Chapter 4 .

How does the research area complement the overall water resources research portfolio? The portfolio approach is built on the premise that a diverse mix of holdings is the least risky way to maximize return on investments. When applied to federal research and development, the portfolio concept is invoked to mean a mix between applied research and fundamental research (Eiseman et al., 2002). Indeed, the priority-setting process should be as much dedicated to ensuring an appropriate balance and mix of research efforts as it is to listing specific research topics. In the context of water resources, a diversified portfolio would capture the following desirable elements of a national research agenda:

multiple national objectives related to increasing water availability, improving water quality and ecological functions, and strengthening institutional and management practices

short-, intermediate-, and long-term research goals supporting national objectives

agency-based, contract, and investigator-driven research

both national and region-specific problems being encompassed

data collection needs to support all of the above

Thus, the water resources research agenda should be balanced in terms of the time scale of the effort (short-term vs. long-term), the source of the problem statements (investigator-driven vs. problem-driven), the goal of the research (fundamental vs. applied), and the investigators conducting the work (internally vs. externally conducted). An individual research area should be evaluated for its ability to complement existing research priorities with respect to these characteristics. Definitions of these terms are provided in Box 3-1 , and the appropriate balance among these categories is addressed in Chapters 4 and 6 .

Furthermore, it is important to consider whether the research fills gaps in the desired mix of water availability, water use, and institutional topics (as demarcated in Table 3-1 ). A final level of evaluation would consider how well the research responds to the four themes described in this chapter (interdisciplinarity, broad systems context, evaluation of uncertainty, and adaptation).

To summarize, a balanced water resources research agenda will include items of national significance for which a federal role is necessary; fill knowledge gaps in all three topical areas (water availability, water use, and institutions); incorporate a mixture of short-term and long-term research, basic and applied investigations, investigator-initiated and mission-driven research, and internal and external efforts; and build upon existing funding and research success. As noted above, some of these issues are addressed in subsequent chapters, with respect to the current water resources research agenda (see Table 3-1 ). The remainder of this chapter expands upon the four overarching themes that should form the context within which water resources research is conceptualized and performed.


There are several common underlying themes that should be used to (1) integrate and reconcile the numerous lists of research priorities currently being generated by agencies and scientific societies and (2) provide some overall direction to the multiple agencies and academic entities that carry out water resources research. These themes are interdisciplinarity, a broad systems context, uncertainty, and adaptation in human and ecological response to changing water resources.

The term interdisciplinarity refers to the fact that no question about water resources can be now adequately addressed within the confines of traditional disciplines. The research community recognizes that the physical, chemical, and biological/ecological characteristics of water resources are causally and mechanistically interrelated, and all are profoundly affected by the human presence in the environment. Therefore, it is necessary to understand water resources with reference to a range of natural and social scientific disciplines.

The phrase broad system context refers to the perception that all properties of water are part of a complex network of interacting factors, in which the processes that connect the factors are as important as the factors themselves. Both interdisciplinarity and broad systems context place water resources within the emerging field of complex systems (Holland, 1995; Holland and Grayston, 1998).

Uncertainty —the degree of confidence in the results and conclusions of research—has always been an important component of scientific research. All measurements and observations entail some degree of error, as do methods of data analysis, estimation, and modeling. Understanding the sources and amounts of uncertainty attached to estimates of flow, water quality, and other water resource variables is crucial, because so many practical and often expensive decisions hinge on the results. In short, understanding and measuring uncertainty are central to making informed decisions about water resources. Furthermore, an emphasis on uncertainty also implies attention to the extent and quality of the data available for generating estimates of important variables; this attention in turn implies a need to improve technologies for research and monitoring. Finally, an understanding of the uncertainties in data, models, and scientific knowledge lies at the heart of risk analysis and the development of policies and strategies to handle complex environmental problems (Handmer et al., 2001).

Finally, adaptation is a key component of the human, as well as ecological, response to the ever-changing environment. Human society has always changed in response to changing resources; the challenge is now to anticipate environmental changes and develop adaptive responses before catastrophe or conflict force such evolution. This is particularly pressing as research ascertains the impact of human activities on ecosystems, such as greenhouse gas release into the atmosphere and deforestation. Adaptation may involve modifying social mores and norms or forming new government policies including economic policies. For

example, there is little doubt among many researchers that emerging water scarcity will demand greatly altered expectations and behaviors in society. It may also involve new methods of managing resources in which flexibility to respond to unanticipated or rapidly occurring problems is the guiding principle.

These four themes are illustrated below, using a subset of the research priorities developed in Table 3-1 . The portfolio of existing water resources research tends not to be organized along these thematic lines.


The need for expertise from many disciplines to solve individual water resource problems is widely recognized and has produced repeated calls for collaborative, interdisciplinary approaches to research (Cullen et al., 1999; Naiman and Turner, 2000; Jackson et al., 2001). For example, aquatic ecosystems research now emphasizes the tight linkages between the traditional biological and ecological issues and both hydrology and human use of water (Poff et al., 1997; Richter et al., 1997). Similarly, the transformations of nutrients and pollutants reflect the interplay of hydrology and microbial ecology (Brunke and Gonser, 1997). Examples of several research areas from Table 3-1 are given below to elaborate on the interdisciplinary nature of water resources research.

research questions on water resources

outline of contaminant fate and transport makes it clear that this research priority necessitates a collaborative effort by physical chemists, soil scientists, hydrologists, geologists, microbiologists, plant scientists, and ecologists.

Similarly, wetlands are structured by water regimes in which very small variations in flow timing and amounts, in seasonal patterns of flow variation, in flow extremes, and in the duration of wet and dry events have very large effects on the biota (Mitsch and Gosselink, 2000; NRC, 2001b). Withdrawals of both groundwater and surface waters for human use can alter the flow regime, such that even subtle alterations can have large effects on the biota and function of the downgradient wetlands. Current controversy about the failure of mitigation methods and policy to meet the goal of “no net loss” of wetlands (Turner et al., 2001) is rooted in the difficulty of reproducing wetland hydrology in created and restored wetlands (NRC, 1995, 2001b). At the same time, the institutions and policies that are used to implement the goal of “no net loss” are being questioned and challenged. Wetland restoration thus demands research that integrates hydrology, plant and animal ecology, and social science.

approach is urgently needed. There are numerous factors that can confound the successful operation of irrigation projects on a sustainable basis. Problems related to climate variability, soil salinity, deterioration of the irrigation infrastructure, and social instability contributed to the collapse of the ancient empires, like the Akkadians and Sassanians who lived in the Tigris and Euphrates River valley, or the Hohokams who prospered for a millennium along the Gila and Salt rivers of now south-central Arizona (Postel, 1999). Today’s challenges are expected to be similar, because irrigation agriculture is associated with arid and semiarid environments where climate variability significantly impedes the successful long-term operation of these systems. In modern times, storage provided by large dams has reduced the impact of short-term fluctuations in climate. However, the looming prospect of global climate change, coupled with water demands of growing populations, has tremendous implications for irrigated agriculture in the next century (NAST, 2000).

The research challenges are to provide better projections of how climate might change and to improve hydrologic observation systems to document these changes (NAST, 2000). In addition, because large-scale structural solutions for water supply for irrigated agriculture are difficult to justify on social and economic grounds (Pulwarty, 2003), social science research on determinants of water use in the agricultural sector and agronomic research on improved crop varieties for dryland agriculture are needed. The problem of sustaining irrigated agriculture becomes even more interdisciplinary when one considers the need to understand the response of soils and surface water systems (in terms of chemistry and ecology) to alterations in irrigation return flows and the need to understand how economics might produce flexible strategies for irrigation. Assessments like those relating to the restoration of the Colorado River delta (Luecke et al., 1999) or the San Francisco Bay delta (McClurg, 1997) make clear the inherent multidisciplinarity of developing water supply systems for irrigated agriculture within an environment of competing demands and constraints.

Efforts are underway to reduce the nonpoint source contamination of the nation’s waters (e.g., Mississippi River Task Force, 2001). However, the enormous scope and scale of the problem are daunting, as land-use practices in several sectors of the economy often result in degradation of water resources in areas far downstream from the site(s) of impact. For example, excessive loading of nitrogen derived mainly from agriculture in the Midwest has contributed to an oxygen-

depleted zone in the Gulf of Mexico that can be as large as the state of New Jersey (Goolsby and Battaglin, 2000). Solving this problem requires not only resolving multiple scientific questions, but also resolving social, economic, and political complexities at scales ranging from the local to the national. Combating nonpoint source pollution will require both basic and applied research. For example, although good progress is being made in elucidating factors controlling contaminant loading (e.g., Alexander et al., 2000; Dubrovsky et al., 1998; Porter et al., 2001), more work is required to understand the fate and transport of nonpoint source pollutants and their fundamental effects on human and environmental health, particularly for pesticides and their transformation products (USGS, 1999). This understanding will require decades of high-resolution chemical and biological monitoring coupled with new analytical and modeling approaches.

The key physical approaches for controlling nonpoint source contamination are local mitigation strategies provided by wetlands, sedimentation ponds, and riparian areas along streams, and land-management strategies that reduce runoff and chemical use. Mitigation is an expensive option, both in terms of implementation and reductions in farmed area. Considerable research will be needed in proof-of-concept, design, and in cost/benefit analyses, requiring the participation of ecologists, soil scientists, hydrologists, and geologists to determine the appropriate size, type, and placement of structures. Changes to farming practices on a continental scale will require equally complex research by agronomists, soil scientists, hydrologists, economists, and social scientists because broad stakeholder education and involvement, voluntary actions, new legislative authority, and coordination across localities and regions will be necessary to implement such changes (Mississippi River Task Force, 2001). Finally, contaminant fluxes from land to streams and rivers may well undergo chronic increases as a result of larger rainfall events associated with future climate change. Thus, progress in controlling nonpoint contamination will require interdisciplinary research linking the historically important areas of agriculture, hydrology, and biology with emerging areas of climate change, natural resource economics, education, and human dimensions of decision making.


The systems approach mandates that a problem be addressed by specifying the entities that contribute to the problem, the linkages among these entities, the logical or physical boundaries to the system, and the inputs and outputs to the system as a whole (in other words, linkages to entities deemed to be outside the system). The idea has its roots in physics, in which a “system” is a thermodynamic concept related to the flow and conservation of energy. The linkages among entities within a system are as important as the entities themselves; thus, a system is more than the sum of its parts (see Box 3-2 ). Systems usually show nonlinear dynamics, and the nonlinearities among sets of linked entities often lead to

unanticipated and complex behavior, and also to surprises—events that cannot be exactly predicted, or that are outside the realm of prior experience. Indeed, these characteristics of system behavior have been highlighted as key aspects of environmental problems (NRC, 1997a). Thus, considering water resources research within a broad systems context implies elucidating interrelationships among entities that, at first glance, might not be thought to be related. This approach also mandates that small-scale problems be viewed within a larger-scale perspective, which may profoundly alter the understanding of causal and quantitative relationships.

The need to view some of the research priorities set forth in Table 3-1 within a broad systems context is illustrated below.

As an example, the Idaho Department of Water Resources increasingly must resolve conflicts among citizens concerning competing demands for (and assertion of rights over) surface water and groundwater, and it also must resolve interstate water conflicts between Idaho and neighboring states (Dreher, 2003). Provision of adequate water for the habitats of endangered and threatened aquatic species is also part of the state’s responsibilities. Idaho contains six aquifers that span interstate lines and that affect surface water flows in adjoining states. Currently, management of both groundwater and surface water supplies is being undertaken without adequate knowledge of the connections between the two sources, leading to conflicts and shortages. The lack of a comprehensive understanding of the entire regional hydrogeologic system and its links to both human use and natural ecosystems is leading to increased litigation, with current needs not being met. In order to help resolve these conflicts, management agencies need

accurate measurements of water flows and water stocks over a range of temporal and spatial scales. Moreover, the influences of natural processes, natural climate variability, and human intervention in the water system must be monitored.

transpiration rates from vegetation and evaporation rates from the soil surface, thus altering soil and atmospheric moisture content and the likelihood of rain and forest fire. These in turn will have large effects on regional hydrology. These connections, which have been well documented for tropical rain forests, are germane to understanding the connections between hydrology and climate worldwide.

Moreover, the driving force for global climate change—the rise in greenhouse gas concentrations associated with human activities—will also affect aquatic ecosystems in ways that may amplify or dampen the effects of hydrologic change alone. For example, higher CO 2 concentrations will alter leaf chemistry and the relative growth rates of different plant species. Both changes may affect the palatability of litter to decomposer and consumer organisms, in turn affecting decomposition rates, nutrient cycling rates, and ultimately the density and species

composition of the plant community. Changing CO 2 concentrations may also affect pH of the water, with cascading effects on the biota, although changes in flow regime may interact with increased dissolution of CO 2 to modify this effect. These feedbacks are being incorporated into the models that are used to predict the effects of greenhouse gas emissions on climate and water resources. Unfortunately, the great complexity of the system results in model predictions that span a range of values too large and uncertain to be usable for regional or local water resource management at this time (Chase et al., 2003).

Just as energy supply interacts with water use in multiple ways, as described above, energy extraction (for example, oil and gas development in the West) similarly affects water use in complex ways. Impacts of energy extraction on biotic resources may affect water supply and water use indirectly, by limiting potential options to manage water resources. For example, recent and rapid development of methane gas resources in the Powder River Basin is causing major disruptions in groundwater supply sources (BLM, 2003). Depending on the method of energy extraction, water quality is often impaired. Drilling muds, for example, frequently contain additives that have the potential to contaminate downstream or downgradient water supplies (EPA, 2000).


Water resource management relies on monitoring data, scientific understanding of processes in the water cycle and the ecology of aquatic ecosystems, and ultimately predictive models that can forecast hydrologic conditions and biotic and human responses. All of these types of information are subject to uncertainty. Uncertainty results from many sources, including measurement systems that are not sufficiently precise or that do not generate sufficient quantities of high-quality data, instrument failures, human errors in designing and implementing studies, and simply a lack of understanding of the processes and phenomena under investigation. Uncertainty affects both the analysis of data and the construction of models to make water resource predictions. Although inherent to research, uncertainty can be managed by explicit recognition of its occurrence coupled with quantitative methods of measuring its importance and incorporating it into decision making. By describing the degree of uncertainty in research results (and by inference the reliability of the measurements and models), researchers can adjust the expectations for the use of their data and models accordingly. Reliable estimates of uncertainty contribute directly to successful risk management and the development of environmental policy (Funtowicz and Ravetz, 1990; Dovers et al., 2001). It should be noted that the above definition of uncertainty is broader than that espoused by some federal agencies (e.g., the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, for which uncertainty refers to situations in which the probability of potential outcomes and their results cannot be described by objectively known probability distributions). Below are examples illustrating the importance of the quantification of uncertainty for some of the research priorities listed in Table 3-1 .

To predict the fate and transport of contaminants from the proposed repository, the DOE has developed a complex mathematical model called Total System Performance Assessment (TSPA) that itself depends on the output of dozens of process-oriented models. The success of the DOE’s license application depends in large measure on the confidence placed in the TSPA predictions of contaminant transport and the technical basis for those predictions. Conceptual and model uncertainty and the explicit quantification of this uncertainty are central to the question of technical basis. As noted by the U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board in a letter to Congress (NWTRB, 2002): “Resolving all uncertainty is neither necessary nor possible. However, uncertainties about the performance of those components of the repository system relied upon to isolate waste are very important, and information on the extent of uncertainty and assumed conservatism associated with the performance of these components may be important to policy makers, the technical community, and the public.” Regardless of policymakers’ and the public’s varying levels of tolerance for uncertainty, it can still be said that results of research to quantify, and perhaps further reduce, uncertainties can contribute to the quality and credibility of impending public policy decisions.

remediate polluted waterbodies. Mandated by the Clean Water Act, a TMDL is a calculation of the maximum pollutant loading that a waterbody can sustain and still meet its water quality standards. If the current loadings are higher, then the TMDL must be accompanied by a remedial plan on how to reduce the loadings via best management practices (BMPs). TMDLs are established for an impaired waterbody by using a combination of fate and transport models for the target pollutant or stressor and available waterbody data. This requires both watershed models (which take into account such processes as the movement of pollutants across land) and water quality models (which incorporate in-lake pollutant transport and transformation). Models are also potentially needed to predict the effectiveness of certain BMPs. Many of the watershed and water quality models in use suffer from inadequate representation of physicochemical processes, inappropriate applicability, and lack of training of model users (EPA, 2002). Similarly, the data on which TMDLs are based may be inconsistent in quality or inappropriate in terms of the frequency and extent of sampling. Finally, the methods used to identify impaired waterbodies are often inadequate because of deficiencies in state monitoring networks. All of these problems generate uncertainties in the applicability and effectiveness of the resulting TMDL. The development of improved methods of quantifying uncertainty in both the models and the listing criteria, especially in setting “margin of safety” criteria, is critical if informed decisions about restoring polluted waterbodies are to be made. Indeed, the central role of uncertainty has been a major conclusion of several recent studies critically examining the TMDL program (NRC, 2001c; Borsuk et al., 2002; EPA, 2002).

Water resource managers are subject to increasingly diverse, often conflicting forces. For example, it was relatively simple to develop the knowledge base needed to provide predictable amounts of water to agriculture when this was the only use for a water supply. It becomes much more complicated when agricultural uses need to be met while new demands come from urbanizing areas and from governmental and nongovernmental entities demanding water for endangered species or aquatic ecosystem support, such that the total demand exceeds the readily available supply. In such contexts, adaptability becomes essential. Managers, users, and advocates need to have the flexibility to imagine and adopt novel solutions to water resource problems, and researchers in their search for solutions need to have the flexibility to adapt their research to problems that may have been unimaginable in the recent past. Furthermore, the complexity of current problems may demand that combinations of solutions be applied creatively to different components of a problem. This emphasis on adaptability of both the research community and the managers and users of water needs to be an organizing concept for water resources research. Thus, “adaptation” is defined as a combination of flexibility in solving problems and, more fundamentally, a shift in

norms and standards that can result from confronting novel situations. A related concept in water resources is that of adaptive management, a learning-while-doing process in which a management action is viewed as an experiment, and as managers learn from their successes and failures, they adjust their management actions accordingly (Holling, 1978; Geldof, 1995; Haney and Power, 1996; Wieringa and Morton, 1996; Lee, 1999; NRC, 1999, 2003b, 2004b).

Below are examples of how adaptation is a key element in addressing some of the research priorities listed in Table 3-1 .

This combination of challenges will require adaptability on the part of both researchers and users. For example, creative water delivery systems, such as inhome gray water recycling or dual-home distribution systems (Wilchfort and Lund, 1997) that bring potable water to a few taps and slightly less pure water to other taps for cleaning purposes or industrial needs, will require research. This includes research to develop the technologies to implement such systems and research to understand how people adapt to new modes of obtaining and using water (see Box 3-3 ) and how such a transition might be effected. Individuals’ views of water-related risks (Loewenstein et al., 2001), in-home uses of water, and the value of water resources (Aini et al., 2001) will also need to adapt in order for these technological changes to be successful in maintaining drinking water quality.

diverse biological community within aquatic and riparian ecosystems. However, human actions to minimize floods and droughts and to provide reliable water for consumption at constant rates can eliminate this natural variability (Dynesius and Nilsson, 1994). In order to balance these effects, management of the water, the ecosystem, and the affected social groups must be adaptive in several respects.

For example, ecological restoration, while guided by ideals of the undisturbed or historical state of the ecosystem, increasingly must accept the lesser but still critical goal of repairing damaged systems to a partially restored state. This will be necessary because of insufficient knowledge of the undisturbed state, permanent alteration of the landscape through built structures and intensive land use, and the prevalence of nearly ineradicable nonnative species. An example is provided by the Laurentian Great Lakes, where overfishing and the onslaught of the sea lamprey brought about the decline of native fishes, including the lake trout. At the same time, exotic species of smaller “forage” fish proliferated, resulting in the famous die-off of alewives that littered Chicago’s beaches in the early 1970s. Fisheries managers attempted a bold experiment, importing coho and king salmon from the Pacific Northwest, a highly successful adaptation to a “collapsing” ecosystem. Now with well over one hundred nonnative species, the Great Lakes pose a continuing challenge to ecologists and fisheries managers seeking to manage and restore the ecosystem.

Adaptation is anticipated to be particularly difficult but absolutely essential in large aquatic ecosystems where there are multiple competing interests (fisheries scientists, communities relying on fishing, farmers, water resource and dam managers, etc.) (Peterson, 2000). The scale of conflicts arising from the plexus of interests involved in large-scale ecosystem restoration is illustrated by the recent Klamath (NRC, 2003a) and Columbia River controversies (Gregory et al., 2002; NRC, 1996, 2004a). Clearly, research is needed to develop adaptive approaches to both managing the resources (water, fish, etc.) as well as the various human populations involved in these issues. Flexibility, an understanding that a variety of alternative strategies are possible, and a willingness to adjust previously assumed “rights” will be essential in finding compromises between competing human and ecosystem demands. In addition, the use of adaptive management procedures will be necessary.

that people know what is expected or required and can act in accordance. Thus, for example, investments can be made with the expectation that changes in law will not undo the hoped-for return that motivated the investment. Actions can be taken without fear that a change in the rules will punish the actor. A stable legal system is important economically and socially.

However, this societal interest in stability may conflict with other emerging societal interests in periods of active change. During the 1970s, for example, Congress imposed far-reaching new legal requirements on those whose activities generated certain types of pollution from readily identifiable (point) sources, forcing massive investment in technologically advanced systems for the treatment of particular pollutants prior to their discharge into the environment. The years immediately following enactment of these laws were ones of considerable turmoil and conflict as uncertainties respecting their implementation were disputed and resolved. With these requirements now firmly embedded into the plans and actions of the regulated community, stability has returned. So too has resistance to any significant change in approach, even if such change might better accomplish the objectives of these laws.

Laws governing human uses of water have traditionally been concerned with determining who may make use of the resource and under what conditions. In those states east of the 100th meridian, owners of land adjacent to waterbodies essentially share the ability to use the water (riparian doctrine). Uses must be “reasonable,” with reasonable use generally being measured by the harm that might be caused to other riparian users. In the western states, uses are established through a process of appropriation of water—that is, establishing physical control—and then applying the water to a “beneficial use.” It is a priority system, protecting full use of available water by those first to appropriate it.

The appropriation system arose in the context of water-scarce settings. Direct use of water from streams initially for mining and then for agriculture was essential, and it required the investment of time and money to build the structures that would make that use possible. Users wanted certainty about their rights of use versus other subsequent users, and the prior appropriation system provided that certainty. The appropriation system does not, however, readily accommodate changing uses of water or integrate new uses. Nor does it incorporate the use of water for serving physical and ecological functions within the hydrologic cycle. This suggests that water laws need to be more adaptable if they are to meet changing societal needs. As a first effort, many western states have adopted water transfer laws to accommodate changing water uses, including environmental needs such as instream flows. These states have successfully combined the certainty of the prior appropriation system with the ability to meet emerging demands.

The process of restoring a sustainable level of physical and ecological integrity to our hydrologic systems must work within long-established legal and institutional structures whose purpose has been to promote and support direct human uses. The challenge is to develop societally acceptable approaches that allow

those uses to continue but in a manner that is compatible with ecosystem functionality.


The articulation of these four themes—interdisciplinarity, broad systems context, uncertainty, and adaptation—is intended to reorient the disparate research agendas of individual agencies as well as individual researchers. The hope is that an emphasis on these overarching themes will lower barriers to research on newly emerging water resources problems. Research agendas of the federal agencies are driven by their specific mandates, such as the agricultural impacts on water (U.S. Department of Agriculture), water as a component of climate (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), or reservoir management (U.S. Bureau of Reclamation). Often there is a need for agencies to center their missions around clearly articulated, politically prominent issues in order to secure funding. These tendencies promote more narrowly focused research and present barriers to addressing difficult, large-scale problems. Furthermore, agencies are locked into policies devolving from their legislative and administrative history, and they cannot create new policies that cut across administrative or management units; thus, research is constrained by policies that easily become antiquated or irrelevant (Stakhiv, 2003). Finally, water resource problems are frequently conceived to match short-term funding cycles (Parks, 2003), resulting in inadequate knowledge for effective water management.

Similarly, individual scientists frame research in terms of their disciplinary training and work environment, which creates barriers to the kind of research needed to solve the complex problems that are now prominent. Indeed, the reluctance of scientists to reach outside their disciplines has been identified elsewhere as a barrier to effective water resources research (Parks, 2003). Institutional and professional constraints on priority setting also mitigate against effective research because they inhibit creative, innovative, and rapid responses to newly emerging or unanticipated problems.

Water resource problems are commonly assumed to be only local or regional in scope because water management entities and water supply systems operate on these scales. However, some water-related problems have become truly national in scope, either because of their very large spatial scale (e.g., the connection of the upper Mississippi drainage basin with hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico) or because controversies rage over the same water issues in many states throughout the nation. Unfortunately, the current organization of water resources research promotes site- and problem-specific research, which results in narrowly conceived solutions that are often not applicable to large-scale, complex problems or to similar issues in other regions of the country (Stakhiv, 2003). Federal agencies may see only the local character of a problem, without understanding the some-

times subtle ways in which local problems are widely replicated around the country, and may conclude that such problems are not appropriately addressed with federal resources. State representatives advised the committee that they rarely have the financial or scientific resources to address problems that have local manifestations but national significance. Thus, such research can fail to be carried out because of limitations at both the federal and state levels.

Finally, the ability to carry out research on water resources may be limited by the availability of adequate long-term data (as discussed in Chapter 5 ). Hydrologic processes are characterized by the frequency with which events of a given magnitude and duration occur. Infrequent but large-magnitude events (floods, droughts) have very large economic, social, and ecological impact. Without an adequately long record of monitoring data, it is difficult, if not impossible, to understand, model, and predict such events and their effects.

By emphasizing interdisciplinarity, broad systems context, uncertainty, and adaptation as overarching research guidelines, the specific research agendas of agencies and, hopefully, individual scientists can be made more relevant to emerging problems. A framework of research priorities based on these overarching themes is more likely to promote flexible, adaptive, and timely responses to novel or unexpected problems than research programs constrained by priority lists developed solely with respect to agency missions. The complexity and urgency of water resource problems demand a framework that widens the scope of inquiry of researchers and research managers and forces them to conduct research in novel ways.


Although the list of topics in Table 3-1 is our current recommendation concerning the highest priority water resources research areas, this list is expected to change as circumstances and knowledge evolve. Water resource issues change continuously, as new knowledge reveals unforeseen problems, as changes in society generate novel problems, and as changing perceptions by the public reveal issues that were previously unimportant. Periodic reviews and updates to the priority list are needed to ensure that it remains not only current but proactive in directing research toward emerging problems.

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. Six criteria are recommended for assessing both the scope of the entire water resources research enterprise and also the nature, urgency, and purview of individual research areas. These criteria should ensure that the vast scope of water resources research carried out by the numerous federal and state agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and academic institutions remains focused and effective.

The research agenda should be balanced with respect to time scale, focus, source of problem statement, and source of expertise. Water resources research ranges from long-term and theoretical studies of basic physical, chemical, and biological processes to studies intended to provide rapid solutions to immediate problems. The water resources research enterprise is best served by developing a mechanism for ensuring that there is an appropriate balance among the different types of research, so that both the problems of today and those that will emerge over the next 10–15 years can be effectively addressed.

The context within which research is designed should explicitly reflect the four themes of interdisciplinarity, broad systems context, uncertainty, and adaptation. The current water resources research enterprise is limited by the agency missions, the often narrow disciplinary perspective of scientists, and the lack of a national perspective on perceived local but widely occurring problems. Research patterned after the four themes articulated above could break down these barriers and promise a more fruitful approach to solving the nation’s water resource problems.

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Richter, B. D., J. V. Baumgartner, R. Wigington, J. David, and D. P. Braun. 1997. How much water does a river need? Freshwater Biology 37:231–249.

Risbey, J. S., and P. H. Stone. 1996. A case study of the adequacy of GCM simulations for input to regional climate change assessments. J. Climate 9:1441–1467.

Saulnier, G. J. 2002. Use of One-on Analysis to Evaluate Total System Performance. ANL–WIS– PA–000004 Rev. 00 ICN 00. Las Vegas, NV: Bechtel SAIC Company.

Shukla, J., L. Marx, D. Paolino, D. Straus, J. Anderson, J. Ploshay, D. Baumhefner, J. Tribbia, C. Brankovic, T. Palmer, Y. Chang, S. Schubert, M. Suarez, and E. Kalnay. 2000. Dynamical seasonal prediction. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc. 81(11):2593–2606.

Slovic, P. 2000. The Perception of Risk. London: Earthscan Publications.

Stakhiv, E. Z. 2003. Disintegrated water resources management. Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management 129:151–155.

Stevens, L. E., T. J. Ayers, J. B. Bennett, K. Christensen, M. J. C. Kearsley, V. J. Meretsky, A. M. Phillips, R. A. Parnell, J. Spence, M. K. Sogge, A. E. Springer, and D. L. Wegner. 2001. Planned flooding and Colorado River riparian tradeoffs downstream from the Glen Canyon Dam, Arizona. Ecological Applications 11(3):701–710.

Stokes, D. E. 1997. Pasteur’s Quadrant: Basic Science and Technological Innovation. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.

Strauss, D. 1993. The midlatitude development of regional errors in a global GCM. Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences 50(16):2785–2799.

Terry, N., and G. Banuelos (eds.). 2000. Phytoremediation of Contaminated Soil and Water. Boca Raton, FL: Lewis Publishers.

Turner, R. E., A. M. Redmond, and J. B. Zedler. 2001. Count it by acre or function—mitigation adds up to net loss of wetlands. National Wetlands Newsletter 2(6):5–6,15–16.

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). 1999. The Quality of Our Nation’s Waters—Nutrients and Pesticides. U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1125. 82 p.

Valentini, R., D. D. Baldocchi, and J. D. Tenhunen. 1999. Ecological controls on land–surface atmospheric interactions. Pp. 117–145 In Integrating Hydrology, Ecosystem Dynamics and Biogeochemistry in Complex Landscapes. J. D. Tenhunen and P. Kabat (eds.). Chicester, UK: John Wiley and Sons, Ltd.

Wang, X. L., and F. W. Zwiers. 1999. Interannual variability of precipitation in an ensemble of AMIP climate simulations conducted with the CCC GCM2. Journal of Climate 12:1322–1335.

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Wieringa, M. J., and A. G. Morton. 1996. Hydropower, adaptive management and biodiversity. Environmental Management 20:831–840.

Wilchfort, G., and J. R. Lund. 1997. Shortage management modeling for urban water supply systems, Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management-ASCE 123(4):250–258.

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In order to confront the increasingly severe water problems faced by all parts of the country, the United States needs to make a new commitment to research on water resources. A new mechanism is needed to coordinate water research currently fragmented among nearly 20 federal agencies. Given the competition for water among farmers, communities, aquatic ecosystems and other users—as well as emerging challenges such as climate change and the threat of waterborne diseases— Confronting the Nation's Water Problems concludes that an additional $70 million in federal funding should go annually to water research. Funding should go specifically to the areas of water demand and use, water supply augmentation, and other institutional research topics. The book notes that overall federal funding for water research has been stagnant in real terms for the past 30 years and that the portion dedicated to research on water use and social science topics has declined considerably.


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  • Minnesota Water Research Digital Library Search water research relevant to Minnesota with access to all types of water research, enabling water managers, researchers, engaged citizens and others to easily find, share, and coordinate research to support their efforts to protect, conserve, manage and restore water in Minnesota.

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Project Description

Water body research questions.

In the span of one month, GLOBE schools around the world will collect various data about the condition of water in their local communities. To support this initiative, the GLOBE Water Bodies team has created a set of research questions participants can use to direct their research. Participants will use the Water Temperature, pH and Macroinvertebrates protocols to study their surrounding water bodies. Additionally, GLOBE encourages the addition of any other Hydrosphere protocols during this data gathering initiative.   

  • To increase GLOBE participation and collaboration among schools
  • To take a geographic snapshot of water conditions
  • To interact with scientists before, during and after the data collection event  

Expected Outcomes

  • An increased amount of submitted student research projects, participation in International Virtual Science Symposium (IVSS) and collaboration activities
  • Increased awareness and connection towards fulfilling Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs) in local communities 
  • Expanded GLOBE data sets, maps, data visualizations and student analyses

How to Participate

  • Become trained in the GLOBE Hydrosphere protocols
  • Identify a water body or water source in your neighborhood
  • Map the water body and its shores
  • Carry out your investigation following the Hydrosphere protocols
  • Submit your data to GLOBE's database
  • Share your results with other schools as well as with your local community

To answer this research question, participants must make observations using the three required protocols and any of the additional recommended protocols. The measurements for any chosen protocol should be recorded one-to-two times a week on a particular day each week, for example, every Monday and Thursday. 

Learn more about GLOBE Protocol eTraining  

It is important to observe a water body's surroundings because the local habitat has a large influence on the water's quality. To document the surrounding environment, participants can:

  • Document the site using photographs
  • Create a study site map
  • Observe the cloud cover to estimate the water source catchment
  • Measure the land cover and tree height using The GLOBE Program's App, GLOBE Observer
  • Land uses 
  • Tributaries
  • Environmental degradation
  • Presence of factories or industrial infrastructure
  • Any other relevant environmental factors

Tip: Any of the observations above can be conducted up to a distance of 1 kilometer away from the site.

For this question, participants should create three-to-five community-oriented inquiries that they can bring to local leaders or community members. A few examples of appropriate questions include: 

  • How is my community using the water body?
  • How is my community managing the water source?
  • Is there a water user association with in the community and how does it operate?
  • How does the water body interact with other parts of the surrounding environment, like the local air, soil, trees or other environmental parameters?

Note:  The "What does the environment around your water body look like?" and the "What can your community do about the state of the water body and its environment?" research questions make great starting points for students wishing to pursue a submission to the IVSS .

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Our cutting-edge research builds a body of science with direct, actionable results. View the case studies below to learn more.

Practical Considerations for the Incorporation of Biomass Fermentation into Enhanced Biological Phosphorus Removal

Utility analysis and improvement methodology: case studies, food waste co-digestion at derry township municipal authority (pa): business case analysis case study, food waste co-digestion at los angeles county sanitation districts (ca): business case analysis case study, food waste co-digestion at east bay municipal utility district (ca): business case analysis snapshot, food waste co-digestion at oneida county water pollution control plant (ny): business case analysis snapshot, food waste co-digestion at central marin sanitation agency (ca): business case analysis case study, food waste co-digestion at hermitage municipal authority (pa): business case analysis snapshot, food waste co-digestion at city of stevens point public utilities department (wi): business case analysis case study, distributed water case studies.

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Fats and Cholesterol

When it comes to dietary fat, what matters most is the type of fat you eat. Contrary to past dietary advice promoting low-fat diets , newer research shows that healthy fats are necessary and beneficial for health.

  • When food manufacturers reduce fat, they often replace it with carbohydrates from sugar, refined grains, or other starches. Our bodies digest these refined carbohydrates and starches very quickly, affecting blood sugar and insulin levels and possibly resulting in weight gain and disease. ( 1-3 )
  • Findings from the Nurses’ Health Study ( 4 ) and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study ( 5 ) show that no link between the overall percentage of calories from fat and any important health outcome, including cancer, heart disease, and weight gain.

Rather than adopting a low-fat diet, it’s more important to focus on eating beneficial “good” fats and avoiding harmful “bad” fats. Fat is an important part of a healthy diet. Choose foods with “good” unsaturated fats, limit foods high in saturated fat, and avoid “bad” trans fat.

  • “Good” unsaturated fats — Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats — lower disease risk. Foods high in good fats include vegetable oils (such as olive, canola, sunflower, soy, and corn), nuts, seeds, and fish.
  • “Bad” fats — trans fats — increase disease risk, even when eaten in small quantities. Foods containing trans fats are primarily in processed foods made with trans fat from partially hydrogenated oil. Fortunately, trans fats have been eliminated from many of these foods.
  • Saturated fats , while not as harmful as trans fats, by comparison with unsaturated fats negatively impact health and are best consumed in moderation. Foods containing large amounts of saturated fat include red meat, butter, cheese, and ice cream. Some plant-based fats like coconut oil and palm oil are also rich in saturated fat.
  • When you cut back on foods like red meat and butter, replace them with fish, beans, nuts, and healthy oils instead of refined carbohydrates.

Read more about healthy fats in this “Ask the Expert” with HSPH’s Dr. Walter Willett and Amy Myrdal Miller, M.S., R.D., formerly of The Culinary Institute of America

1. Siri-Tarino, P.W., et al., Saturated fatty acids and risk of coronary heart disease: modulation by replacement nutrients. Curr Atheroscler Rep, 2010. 12(6): p. 384-90.

2. Hu, F.B., Are refined carbohydrates worse than saturated fat? Am J Clin Nutr, 2010. 91(6): p. 1541-2.

3. Jakobsen, M.U., et al., Intake of carbohydrates compared with intake of saturated fatty acids and risk of myocardial infarction: importance of the glycemic index. Am J Clin Nutr, 2010. 91(6): p. 1764-8.

4. Hu, F.B., et al., Dietary fat intake and the risk of coronary heart disease in women. N Engl J Med, 1997. 337(21): p. 1491-9.

5. Ascherio, A., et al., Dietary fat and risk of coronary heart disease in men: cohort follow up study in the United States. BMJ, 1996. 313(7049): p. 84-90.

6. Hu, F.B., J.E. Manson, and W.C. Willett, Types of dietary fat and risk of coronary heart disease: a critical review. J Am Coll Nutr, 2001. 20(1): p. 5-19.

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  1. The top 100 global water questions: Results of a scoping exercise

    Questions 24-38 of the top 100 questions in this scoping exercise fall into this thematic area and broadly encompass issues of water safety and quality, a significant emphasis on the management of fecal sludge and wastewater, and how climate change will impact these dynamics in the future. Water safety, quality, and delivery. 24.

  2. 305 questions with answers in WATER RESOURCES

    Question. 21 answers. Aug 26, 2020. Changes in temperature, precipitation, and humidity will significantly impact the quality and quantity of water across the country, where water resources are ...

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    Question. 5 answers. Nov 9, 2023. In Water Resources Engineering, the sizing of reservoirs depends on accurate estimates of water flow in the river that is impounded. For some rivers, long-term ...

  4. Guiding Questions for Water Resources Systems Analysis Research

    Such questions should address the relative importance of normative and positive analysis, the proper formulation of optimization problems, and the fidelity of mathematical representations of water resources systems. After exploring these ideas, we suggest pillars of guiding research questions for the field to support the aim of increasing ...

  5. Integrated Water Resources Management Core Research Questions for

    Across the globe, integrated water resources management (IWRM) has become the most widely recognized approach to water governance (Rahaman and Varis 2005).The Global Water Partnership (GWP) Technical Advisory Committee (2000) defines IWRM as "a process which promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land and related resources in order to maximize economic and social ...

  6. PDF The top 100 global water questions: Results of a

    Drawing on expert analysis, we highlight 100 indicative research questions across six thematic domains: water and sanitation for human settlements; water and sanitation safety risk management; water security and scarcity; hydrocli-mate-ecosystem-Anthropocene dynamics; multi-level governance; and knowledge production.

  7. Water management: Current and future challenges and research directions

    Since 1965, the journal Water Resources Research has played an important role in reporting and disseminating current research related to managing the quantity and quality and cost of this resource. This paper identifies the issues facing water managers today and future research needed to better inform those who strive to create a more ...

  8. Global water resources and the role of groundwater in a ...

    Water is a critical resource, but ensuring its availability faces challenges from climate extremes and human intervention. In this Review, we evaluate the current and historical evolution of water ...

  9. Key Water Science Research Questions and Challenges

    Coordinated Global-scale Observation of Water Reservoirs and the Fluxes of Water and Energy: Regional and continental-scale water resources forecasts and many issues of global change depend for their resolution on a detailed understanding of the state and variability of the global water balance.

  10. PDF Top 100 global water research questions

    research questions which will help direct research, policy and resources towards addressing major water challenges. Please take this opportunity to shape and influence international water research priorities. The survey will only take 5 minutes to complete. The survey is broad and cross-disciplinary and covers all parts of the water sector (e.g.

  11. 61 questions with answers in WATER SCARCITY

    11 answers. Aug 19, 2015. For upcoming years water scarcity will be in peak, in order to reduce the water consumption for irrigation and urban landscapes we have to take some serious step to ...

  12. Water Resources Research Priorities for the Future

    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. Six criteria are recommended for assessing both the scope of the entire water resources research enterprise and also the nature, urgency, and purview of individual research areas.

  13. Getting Started

    A working biologist's index to all aspects of ichthyology, fisheries and aquaculture, including fish management, natural history, and fish health, plus environmental, habitat, and commercial information. Indexes about 1200 journals, plus books, government documents and "grey literature". Coverage dating back to the 1970's. Search water research ...

  14. Water Research

    Research to Protect Our Water Resources. As changing climate patterns, biological and chemical contaminants, and aging water infrastructure systems threaten the availability and quality of water, communities and aquatic ecosystems will increasingly rely on advances in science and technology for resilience.

  15. Water Quality Questions & Answers

    What is in that water that you just drank? Is it just hydrogen and oxygen atoms? Is it safe for drinking? All water is of a certain "quality" (and you can't tell by just looking), but what does "water quality" really mean? It can be thought of as a measure of the suitability of water for a particular use based on selected physical, chemical, and biological characteristics.

  16. PDF WORKING PAPER 127 The Nile Basin Water Resources: Overview of Key

    The Nile Basin Water Resources: Overview of key research questions pertinent to the Nile Basin Initiative. Colombo, Sri Lanka: International Water Management Institute. 34p. (IWMI Working Paper 127) water resources / research institutes / research projects / river basin development / partnerships / Africa / Nile Basin ISBN 978-92-9090-689-6

  17. 191 questions with answers in WATER RESOURCES ENGINEERING

    3 answers. Dec 27, 2013. There is a large dam with a hydro-power plant. There is a need for a regulating reservoir for preventing cold-weather damage and storing excess water in the downstream ...

  18. Research Questions

    To support this initiative, the GLOBE Water Bodies team has created a set of research questions participants can use to direct their research. Participants will use the Water Temperature, pH and Macroinvertebrates protocols to study their surrounding water bodies. Additionally, GLOBE encourages the addition of any other Hydrosphere protocols ...

  19. The top 100 global water questions: Results of a scoping exercise

    This paper identifies the results of an exercise to identify the 100 important research questions on water for the coming decade. These questions show the importance of water researchers working together, from across different disciplines, to tackle problems of access to water and sanitation at the local level but also to connect local problems to global dynamics of climate and human interactions.

  20. Case Studies

    Practical Considerations for the Incorporation of Biomass Fermentation into Enhanced Biological Phosphorus Removal. Case Study. 09/21/2023. 09/21/2023.

  21. Water Use Questions & Answers

    What is most of the freshwater in the U.S. used for? Water is everywhere, which is fortunate for all of humanity, as water is essential for life. Even though water is not always available in the needed quantity and quality for all people everywhere, people have learned to get and use water for all of their water needs, from drinking, cleaning ...

  22. 305 questions with answers in WATER RESOURCES

    The Cheif Engineer, Water Resources Department, State Ground and surface water resources data centre has that due to non-availability of suitable candidates by method of transfer or by recruitment ...

  23. Research

    Science is the foundation. EPA is one of the world's leading environmental and human health research organizations. The Office of Research and Development is EPA's scientific research arm. On this page you can access our products, tools, and events, and learn about grant and job opportunities.

  24. Fats and Cholesterol

    Fats and Cholesterol. When it comes to dietary fat, what matters most is the type of fat you eat. Contrary to past dietary advice promoting low-fat diets, newer research shows that healthy fats are necessary and beneficial for health. When food manufacturers reduce fat, they often replace it with carbohydrates from sugar, refined grains, or ...

  25. Water Basics Questions & Answers

    Here are some water-related questions and answers that may interest you: Why is water the universal solvent? Where does our home water come from? Why can't people drink seawater? How much water falls during a storm? What water data does the USGS gather? How is wastewater treated? Does a little leak in my house really waste water?