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Page 1 Executive Summary As the United States progresses into the twenty-first century, its water resources are likely to be subjected to much greater pressures than in the past. Dramatic projections of population increases in the United States and abroad, mostly in urban areas, have fueled legitimate concerns about the nation's ability to provide sufficient quantities of high-quality water. This challenge will be increased by factors such as unpredictable economic growth in a globalizing economy, the introduction of new technologies whose potential side effects are unknown, increasing recognition of the need to preserve and enhance aquatic ecosystems, and the uncertainty related to climate variability and subsequent hydrologic predictions. The capability of the nation to successfully meet these interrelated challenges while sustainably managing its water resources will depend, in large part, on employing new knowledge gained through research. The policies that guided water resources research and development in the twentieth century generally focused on water quantity, were uncoupled from water quality, and too often resulted in programs that focused on short-term and narrowly defined problems. They lacked coordination and sometimes failed to anticipate the emergence of critical, long-term problems. These policies are not suited to addressing the daunting water problems of the twenty-first century. Rather, the progressive intensification of water scarcity in the face of competing demands for water will necessitate proactive and innovative scientific, technological, and institutional solutions. What is needed for understanding water resources is a more holistic conceptual framework that encompasses regional-scale hydrologic systems, land–atmosphere interactions, and the biogeochemical cycles that control contaminant transport. To address this need, this report outlines an agenda for water resources research in the new century. Coordination of the water research agenda should be achieved by creating a national organization that involves state and federal governments, research institutions, users and purveyors, nonprofit organizations, and public interest groups. Water resource problems are extremely complex and dynamic in time,
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Page 2 necessitating that their solutions cross traditional disciplinary and societal boundaries. These sobering realizations suggest that these problems cannot be solved with the current level of investment in water resources research. A substantial commitment of new funds to support expanded programs of research, on the order of several hundred million dollars, will be essential for the protection of this increasingly scarce resource. This investment should support efforts in the following three areas: Water Availability. Investigations of surface water and groundwater availability should focus on the development of supply-enhancing technologies, on understanding the coupled hydrologic and biogeochemical cycles that control water quality, and on developing means of preventing further declines in water quality. Data from networks of continuous ground-based and remote sensing instrumentation are critical for understanding responses to variable climates at different temporal and spatial scales. Monitoring is important not only for resource planning and regulatory activities, but also for assessing the effectiveness of water policies and management efforts. Water Use. There is a great need to better understand the determinants of consumptive water use, the importance and scale of agricultural water use, and the nature and impact of environmental uses of water. Research on the technologies and infrastructure for water conservation and recycling will be critical to meeting future water needs. Water Institutions. Research leading to the development of improved water management institutions should receive much more emphasis in the research agenda of the twenty-first century than it has in the past. Efforts should focus on legal and economic institutions and should involve researchers from a broad array of social science disciplines. The 43 research issues identified in these topical areas are summarized in the following list: Water Availability Develop new and innovative supply-enhancing technologies Improve existing supply-enhancing technologies such as wastewater treatment, desalting, and groundwater banking Increase safety of wastewater treated for reuse as drinking water Develop innovative techniques for preventing pollution Understand physical, chemical, and microbial contaminant fate and transport
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Page 3 Control nonpoint source pollution Understand impact of land-use changes and best management practices on pollutant loading to waters Understand impact of contaminants on ecosystem services, biotic indices, and higher organisms Understand assimilation capacity of the environment and time course of recovery following contamination Improve integrity of drinking water distribution systems Improve scientific bases for risk assessment and risk management with regard to water quality Understand national hydrologic measurement needs and develop a program that will provide these measurements Develop new techniques for measuring water flows and water quality, including remote sensing and in situ techniques Develop data collection and distribution in near real time for improved forecasting and water resources operations Improve forecasting the hydrologic cycle over a range of time scales and on a regional basis Understand and predict the frequency and cause of severe weather (floods and droughts) Understand recent increases in damage from floods and droughts Understand global change and its hydrologic impacts Water Use Understand determinants of water use in the agricultural, domestic, commercial, public, and industrial sectors Understand relationship of agricultural water use to climate, crop type, and water application rates Develop improved crops for more efficient water use and optimize the economic return for the water used Develop improved crop varieties for use in dryland agriculture Understand water-related aspects of the sustainability of irrigated agriculture Understand behavior of aquatic ecosystems in a broad, systematic context, including their water requirements Enhance and restore species diversity in aquatic ecosystems Improve manipulation of water-quality parameters to maintain and enhance aquatic habitats
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Page 4 Understand interrelationship between aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems to support watershed management Water Institutions Develop legal regimes that promote groundwater management and conjunctive use of surface water and groundwater Understand issues related to the governance of water where it has common pool and public good attributes Understand uncertainties attending to Native American water rights and other federal reserved rights Improve equity in existing water management laws Conduct comparative studies of water laws and institutions Develop adaptive management Develop new methods for estimating the value of nonmarketed attributes of water resources Understand use of economic institutions to protect common pool and pure public good values related to water resources Develop efficient markets and marketlike arrangements for water Understand role of prices, pricing structures, and the price elasticity of water demand Understand role of the private sector in achieving efficient provision of water and wastewater services Understand key factors that affect water-related risk communication and decision processes Understand user-organized institutions for water distribution, such as cooperatives, special districts, and mutual companies Develop different processes for obtaining stakeholder input in forming water policies and plans Understand cultural and ethical factors associated with water use Conduct ex post research to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of past water policies and projects
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