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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research 4 Status and Evaluation of Water Resources Research in the United States Establishing a baseline of current research is vital to the task of evaluating whether and how new priorities in water resources research are being addressed. Research is a cumulative enterprise. By necessity, most new research directions will build on existing research infrastructure; other research directions may be established through new research consortia, laboratories, and field sites. Whatever the case, budget initiatives will be cast in terms of departures from the status quo. Unfortunately, the categorization and accounting of water resources research is surprisingly difficult to do under current budgetary procedures. Agencies are not required to report their research to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in standard topical or thematic categories. Further, agencies do not report all their research to OMB. For this reason, the committee gathered budget1 and other data, in the form of a survey, from both federal agencies and nonfederal organizations that fund water resources research. This chapter presents the resulting data and the committee’s analysis of those data, as well as conclusions about the scope of the current investment. The conclusions relate directly to those water resources research priorities expressed in Chapter 3 and in NRC (2001) as being paramount to confronting water problems that will emerge in the next 10–15 years. SURVEY OF WATER RESOURCES RESEARCH A necessary part of this study involved collecting budget information from federal agencies and significant nonfederal organizations regarding their recent 1 Budget in this chapter refers to actual expenditures, unless otherwise noted.
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research expenditures on water resources research. Several methods could potentially be utilized to gather and evaluate such budget information. Ultimately, the committee decided to rely on a format used for over ten years in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Beginning in 1965, the Committee on Water Resources Research (COWRR) of the Federal Council for Science and Technology (FCST), administered out of what was then the President’s Office of Science and Technology, began a yearly accounting of all water resources research conducted by the major federal agencies.2 Budget information, supplied by liaisons from relevant federal agencies, was compiled into ten major categories3 and up to 60 comprehensive subcategories of water resources research. The accounting occurred annually from 1965 to 1975 (except for 1971). The primary goal of COWRR was to facilitate coordination of the various federal research efforts, because it was recognized at that time that water resources research was spread widely throughout the federal enterprise (as it is today). It was also a goal of COWRR to ensure that there was no unnecessary duplication of research efforts, that research was appropriately responsive to current water problems, and that federal resources were available to help solve these problems (COWRR, 1973 and 1974). Nonfederal organizations were not included in the reports. To compare the current budget information with expenditures on water resources research between 1965 and 1975, the committee adopted the FCCSET model of creating a survey for federal agency liaisons to respond to. The present survey includes most of the same categories and subcategories of water resources research as before, and it encompasses the same waterbodies: fresh, estuarine, and coastal. In January 2003, the survey was submitted to all of the federal agencies that either perform or fund water resources research and to several nonfederal organizations that had annual expenditures of at least $3 million during one of the fiscal years covered by the survey. The survey consisted of five questions related to water resources research (see Box 4-1). As part of question 1, the liaisons were asked to report total expenditures on research in fiscal years 1999, 2000, and 2001, in order to allow a comparison to the FCCSET survey data of the past. The remaining four questions were posed to help give the committee a better understanding of current and projected future activities of the agencies, and to obtain a qualitative understanding of how research performance is measured. Unlike the data submitted in response to question #1, the answers to the latter questions in the survey are not evaluated in this report in a quantitative fashion. Responses to the survey were submitted in written form and orally at the third meeting of the NRC committee, held April 29–May 1, 2003, in Washington, 2 In 1976, COWRR came under the aegis of the Federal Coordinating Council of Science, Engineering, and Technology (FCCSET) of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. 3 There were only nine major FCCSET categories from 1965 to 1970. A tenth (Scientific and Technical Information) was added in 1972.
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research BOX 4-1 Survey of Federal Liaisons on Water Resources Research 1a. Please provide budget information for the 11 FCCSET categories for FY1999, FY2000, and FY2001 (as total expenditures, not appropriated funding). A detailed description of each category is attached. b. Please provide an accompanying short (2–3 pages at most) narrative, saying how your programs that encompass water resources research fall into the different FCCSET categories. c. What percentage of these budget numbers were reported to OMB as R&D? (We recognize that there are differences between the OMB definition of R&D and the 11 FCCSET categories.) d. Does your agency conduct research that does not fall into one of the FCCSET categories, but that is considered (by the agency) to be water resources research? Please describe. 2. In no more than 2 pages, provide a summary of your agency’s current strategic plan that governs water resources research. Please include data collection activities. 3. What is being done to coordinate water resources research (1) within your agency, (2) with other agencies, or (3) with external partners (such as the states)? 4. Do you measure progress (i.e., the impact of) in your agency’s water resources research activities? If so, how? (For example, by counting the number of publications, some other metric, etc.) 5. Irrespective of your agency’s mission, what do you think the nation’s water research priorities ought to be? Identify the major water issues that will confront the nation in the next 5 to 10 years and research topics that would be helpful in addressing those major issues. Point out gaps in current data collection system to address these priorities.
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research D.C. At that meeting, questions were asked of the liaisons in addition to those listed in Box 4-1 that speak to the different ways that research is conceptualized and conducted within the federal enterprise. These included questions about (1) how the budget information was gathered and the liaison’s confidence in its accuracy, (2) whether the water resources research included in the survey response was conducted internally or externally, and (3) the typical time frame for water resources research within an agency. (Definitions of research relevant to these questions are provided in Box 3-1.) Revised survey responses submitted by the liaisons in June and July 2003 reflected corrections and responses to specific requests from the committee. The survey requested budget information in 11 major categories (and 71 subcategories) of water resources research. All categories, which are described in detail in Appendix A, closely correspond to categories used in the old FCCSET reports. Nonetheless, some minor changes were made to the old FCCSET categories in order to capture lines of research that were not recognized during the 1960s. Most importantly, new subcategories were added in the areas of global water cycle problems, effects of waterborne pollution on human health, risk perception and communication, other poorly represented social sciences, infrastructure repair and rehabilitation, restoration engineering, and facility protection/ national security. One of the old FCCSET subcategories (VI-C on the ecological impact of water development) was removed from Category VI and was expanded into a new major category (XI) that includes four subcategories on ecosystem and habitat conservation, aquatic ecosystem assessment, effects of climate change, and biogeochemical cycles. This was done in recognition of the increased attention being paid to the water needs of aquatic ecosystems over the last 25 years and a corresponding surge in research in this field. The modified FCCSET categories thus comprehensively describe all areas of research in water resources. It should be noted that the act of data collection, although of paramount importance to water management, is not captured by any of the modified FCCSET categories (Category VII covers research that informs data collection, not data collection itself). This omission on the part of COWRR was intentional, allowing research activities and their budgets to be evaluated independently of monitoring activities. The current survey abides by this separation; that is, the agency liaisons made sure that none of the budget information presented includes pure data collection (e.g., stream gaging, satellite operation, etc.) Nonetheless, given the importance of data collection activities to the water resources research enterprise, Chapter 5 notes recent trends in funding for such activities. There are obviously limitations inherent in conducting a survey of this nature and in the corresponding results. First and foremost is that the information represents to some degree the best professional judgment of those liaisons that responded. In almost all cases, federal agency programs in water resources research are not organized along the modified FCCSET categories. Undoubtedly, there were cases where a program logically fell into more than one category. In
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research such cases, the liaisons were asked to give their best judgment of the most relevant category. In addition, variable sources of information were used by the liaisons (in terms of personnel and databases consulted), and the liaisons may have interpreted the survey differently from one another. These factors are reflected by a certain degree of error in the individual budget numbers submitted by the liaisons. However, after questioning the liaisons about their confidence in the submitted information, the committee feels that the magnitude of this error is small when compared to the broad trends that are discerned by the analysis below. Furthermore, the trend analysis is accompanied by a quantitative assessment of uncertainty, which was taken into account during the committee’s evaluation of the data. Second, the possibility exists that the committee did not capture all of the relevant federal and nonfederal organizations involved in water resources research, either because these organizations were not approached by the committee or because they chose not to participate. With respect to the federal agencies, the committee is confident that all of the major agencies funding or conducting water resources research within the United States were contacted and that the submitted survey responses represent the vast majority of the federal investment in water resources research. There is less certainty about the nonfederal organizations. The major not-for-profit organizations involved in water resources research were contacted, as well as the largest (in terms of funding) of the state Water Resources Research Institutes (in order to reflect state funds spent on relevant research). Nonetheless, it is recognized later in this chapter that the accounting of significant nonfederal organizations’ funding of water resources research may be an underestimate, both in terms of total dollars and represented subcategories. A related issue for those federal agencies that responded to the survey is that not all of their relevant research funds were reported, especially where certain programs are not characterized as research in their congressional authorization. For example, the Department of Energy’s (DOE) site characterization work in the Yucca Mountain Program (see Chapter 3) is at the cutting edge of hydrogeology, but it is not classified as research for budgetary purposes. [In contrast, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) does classify its Yucca Mountain work as research.] Because the agencies would be reluctant to report these types of expenditures, it was not possible for the committee to assess their magnitude or importance. This is also a concern for agencies that conduct extensive place-based studies, most of which are managed separately from the general water resources research program, are not reported to OMB as research, and thus are difficult to account for. Examples include the Florida Everglades restoration—jointly run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), the Department of the Interior, and the South Florida Water Management District—and CALFED, which is a San Francisco Bay Delta restoration program involving multiple federal and state agencies. For those federal agencies that were identified at the April 2003 committee meeting as funding substantial place-based research, the committee requested that their two largest projects be included in their final response to the survey. These inclu-
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research sions are reflected in revised survey responses from the Corps and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Nonetheless, not all place-based research from these two agencies could be captured, and no place-based information was collected from other agencies. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the other major federal agency thought to have an investment in place-based research. This may also lead to an underestimate in the reported water resources research funding. Third, the survey covers only fiscal years 1999, 2000, and 2001. Three years of data were felt to be of sufficient quantity to allow the committee to assess the nation’s investment without creating a burdensome task for the liaisons. In addition, vastly differing economic climates prevailed during these years, which may be reflected in the survey responses and may thus enable the committee to observe short-term variability in research expenditures. Clearly, however, these three years of data represent only a snapshot in time. Thus, although there is a trends analysis in this chapter, no assumptions should be made regarding funds spent between 1975 and 1999.4 The current request for information did not cover FY2002 or FY2003 because it was felt that at the time the survey was submitted, the agencies would not be able to provide accurate estimates of total expenditures for those years. Thus, events subsequent to FY2001 that may have impacted research spending (e.g., increased attention to national security) are not reflected in the survey. Finally, the varying scope of the modified FCCSET categories must be acknowledged. In an attempt to keep the number of subcategories reasonable, some of them broadly lump together what may be, in academic circles, disparate research issues. For example, there is only a single subcategory (VI-H) to capture all water resources research conducted in areas of sociology, anthropology, geography, political science, and psychology. Other subcategories are much more narrowly focused. This diversity, to a certain extent, reflects the fact that some subcategories have a stronger historical linkage to water resources research per se. In general, in those areas where the majority of funds are being spent, the committee tried to maintain or create a larger number of subcategories so that specific trends in funding could be discerned. For the purposes of the discussion below, the budget numbers from all years were converted into FY2000 constant dollars prior to graph preparation and data analysis. OLD FCCSET DATA From 1965 until 1975, data on water resources research funds were collected from the following federal agencies: U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, 4 There are estimates for total spending on water resources research between 1979 and 1987 from the 1980 report “U.S. National Water Resources Research Development, Demonstration, and Technology Transfer Program 1982–1987” summarized in NRC (1981). However, these estimates are not included in this report because their accuracy could not be verified.
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research Defense, the Interior, and Transportation; EPA (from 1973 on); the National Science Foundation (NSF); the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) (from 1966 on); and other smaller agencies such as the Tennessee Valley Authority, Housing and Urban Development, the Atomic Energy Commission, and the Smithsonian Institute. The budget data are presented in a series of annual reports from COWRR and are summarized in COWRR (1973 & 1974). FCCSET data show a steady increase in funding for water resources research between 1964 and 1967, a leveling off from 1967 to 1973, and a slight decrease from 1973 to 1975 (see Figure 4-1). A more in-depth examination reveals that the vast majority of these funds were spent in a few FCCSET categories, and these disparities increased during the examined period. Thus, for example, in 1965, Categories II (water cycle), III (water supply augmentation and conservation), and V (water quality management and protection) constituted over 60 percent of all water resources research, while in 1975, these same categories comprised 76 percent of the total. As shown in Figure 4-2, this increase is attributable to a large increase in spending on water quality management and protection (Category V). The only FCCSET category that showed positive growth during this ten-year period was V (water quality management and protection), and even this category began to decline after 1973. Most of the other major categories showed relatively stagnant funding during the period, including II (water cycle), IV (water quantity management and control), VII (resources data), X (scientific and technical infor- FIGURE 4-1 Total expenditures on water resources research, 1964–1975. Values reported are constant FY2000 dollars. SOURCES: COWRR (1973 & 1974).
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research FIGURE 4-2 Funding in all major FCCSET categories, 1965–1975. Values reported are constant FY2000 dollars. SOURCES: COWRR (1973and 1974).
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research mation), and XI (aquatic ecosystem management and protection). Consistently negative trends in funding were observed for Categories I (the nature of water) and IX (manpower, grants, and facilities). For Categories III (water supply augmentation and conservation), VI (water resources planning), and VIII (engineering works), an initial increase observed in the late 1960s was followed by a substantial decrease in the early 1970s, in the case of Category III to levels below the 1965 level (primarily because of a drop in funding for desalination research). Trends for the “smaller” major categories, which are difficult to discern in Figure 4-2, are presented in Figure 4-3. The reasons for the observed trends likely include an initial interest on the part of Congress and various administrations to increase research spending in the late 1950s and early 1960s, followed by a retraction in the wake of better understanding environmental processes and the resulting competition between environmental water needs and economic growth. As discussed in Chapter 2, the early 1970s saw the federal government transform from an ardent supporter of water resources projects to the primary regulator of industries responsible for declines in water quality. This may also account for the disproportionate support for water quality research (Category V) compared to other areas of research. That is, greater investment in Category V was seen as essential to meeting various water quality standards in the nation’s lakes and rivers, as mandated by the newly minted Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water Acts. Furthermore, in many states, impairment in water quality loomed as a more important constraint on the development of water resources than the issue of supply. In addition, throughout the 1970s, media reports focused on water quality issues, giving them the political prominence that has helped to drive the distribution of research funding shown in Figure 4-2. The topically skewed nature of water resources research in the middle 1970s has been noted in other studies, in particular a FCCSET report that recommended reducing the relative proportion of funding going to Category V, while also calling for overall increases in the total water resources research budget (COWRR, 1977). WATER RESOURCES RESEARCH FROM 1965 TO 2001 To observe trends in water resources research funding, the FCCSET accounting of 1965–1975 was repeated by requesting budget information from 19 federal agencies known to support water resources research. Table 4-1 lists the federal agencies queried during the first survey period and during this study. A similar request was made of several nonfederal organizations, of which the following were deemed to be making significant contributions to water resources research over the period in question (FY1999–FY2001): the American Water Works Association Research Foundation (AWWARF), the Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF), the Nature Conservancy (TNC), and the four largest Water Resources Research Institutes (Nevada, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Utah). For both
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research FIGURE 4-3 Funding in the “smaller” major FCCSET categories, 1965–1975. Values reported are constant FY2000 dollars. SOURCES: COWRR (1973 & 1974).
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research TABLE 4-1 Federal Agency Participation in Surveys on Water Resources Research Funding Agency Initial FCCSET period (1965–1975) Current Survey (FY1999–FY2001) Agriculture ARS Yes Yes CSREES Yes Yes ERS Yes Yes FS Yes Yes Commerce NOAA (many programs) Yes Yes Defense Corps Yes Yes ONR No Yes SERDP/ESTCP No Yes Energy No Yes Health and Human Services No ATSDR Yes NCI Yes NIEHS Yes Interior USGS Yes Yes USBR Yes Yes FWS Yes No OWRR Yes No longer in existence Transportation Yes (1966–1971) No FHA Yes (1973–1975) Coast Guard Yes (1973–1975) EPA Yes (1973–1975) Yes NASA Yes Yes NSF Yes Yes AECa Yes No longer in existence TVA Yes No Smithsonian Yes (1968–1975) No HUD Yes (1967–1975) No aThe functions of the Atomic Energy Commission were subsumed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission via the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 and by DOE. Note: The National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Tennessee Valley Authority were contacted but chose not to participate in the current survey.
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research All these research priorities (#19, #28–43), while generally supported in the 1960s during a period of overall growth in funding for water issues, receive only 1.5 percent of the current water budget (see Category VI in Figure 4-8B). Furthermore, this is likely an overestimate of the funding in these particular research areas, since the modified FCCSET categories are significantly broader than the 43 research areas. To a lesser extent, the same can be said of research topics #20–23 in Table 4-6, which deal with making all sectors, but particularly agriculture, more water efficient. Research in Category III has declined since its height in the late 1960s, when desalination research made up the bulk of the investment in water supply augmentation and conservation issues. Similarly, every subcategory of III, including conservation in domestic and municipal, industrial, and agricultural water use, has declined in real terms since the 1960s. This fact also suggests highly inadequate funding for research areas #1 and 2 in Table 4-6, which concern the creation of water supply-enhancing technologies. These trends are unlikely to change in the near future. Agricultural water users are unlikely to support research that could lead to reductions in the allocations of water that they receive. Despite the national trend away from supply augmentation as a means of resolving water scarcity, agricultural users are for the most part wedded to the notion of protecting existing supplies and augmenting supply as a general strategy for managing scarcity. The federal government has not invested extensively in research on supply-enhancing technology, preferring to leave such investment to the private sector where returns can be fully captured. Thus, for example, the vast majority of investment in desalting and water treatment and purification technologies is in the private sector. Two other research priorities from Table 4-6 are clearly in need of greater support if future water supply problems are to be averted. First, topic #10 suggests that many of our current drinking water systems are nearing the end of their usable lifetimes, requiring research into their rehabilitation and replacement. As shown in Figure 4-7H, around $3 million annually was devoted to this research topic (subcategory VIII-J) in FY1999–2001, which ranges from only 6 percent to 9 percent of the total budget of Category VIII. (This subcategory was not included in the earlier FCCSET survey, preventing a trends analysis). Research areas #12–14, which deal with hydrologic measurement needs, are encompassed by subcategories VII-A and VII-B, and are also underfunded relative to their importance in solving future water resources problems. As shown in Figure 4-7G, funding for research on new methods for hydrologic data acquisition has fallen by 75 percent since the mid 1970s, while funds for network design have been cut by two-thirds in the same time period. On the basis of these analyses, it is concluded that more than half of the 43 water resources research priorities noted in Chapter 3 are currently grossly underfunded. A continuation of past funding trends will result in substantial underinvestment in a majority of the areas that have been identified as high-
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research priority areas for the future. Clearly, the patterns of future investment in water resources research will have to be rebalanced if future priorities are to be addressed adequately. Better Funded Research Areas Research priorities #3–8, #11, and #15–18 in Table 4-6 fall into FCCSET Categories II (water cycle) and V (water quality) and would appear to be receiving more appropriate absolute levels of funding relative to their importance. Indeed, Categories II and V received a combined 50 percent of all water resources research funding in FY2000, and almost all of the subcategories that overlap with these research priorities are among the best funded in their major category. It should be noted, however, that whether the specific projects noted in Table 4-6 (such as #15—forecasting the hydrologic water cycle over a range of time scales and on a regional basis) are being funded is unclear given the broad nature of some of the subcategories. The need to rebalance the pattern of investment mentioned in the section above suggests that total water resources research funding levels should increase if the absolute level of funding for Categories II and V is to be maintained. Funding for Category XI, the protection and management of aquatic ecosystems, makes up nearly one-fourth of total water-related FY2000 research expenditures, providing confidence that research areas #9 and #24–27 are receiving support. In general, one way to evaluate the funding for Category XI is to consider the societal risks and potential costs associated with the problems researched. Conflicts between human and environmental uses of water are increasingly costly—the estimated price tags for restoration of the Everglades and the San Francisco Bay Delta (in the $10 billion range over perhaps 20 years) easily top the list, but less costly conflicts appear virtually everywhere and not just in the arid and semiarid West. Future climate change and altered biogeochemical cycles further threaten the health of aquatic ecosystems, and as long as society values healthy, functioning ecosystems and the goods and services they provide, the costs of managing and restoring aquatic ecosystems will be heavy. In this light the current research expenditures appear appropriate. Moreover, the estimated value of healthy ecosystems in providing clean water is rarely precisely known, but in the well-publicized case of New York City’s water supply, $300 million invested in ecosystem protection via riparian land acquisition and other activities may save several billion dollars that otherwise would be needed for water purification infrastructure. A second line of support for continued funding of Category XI comes from the agency liaisons, who were asked to identify the major water issues confronting the nation in the next five to ten years, irrespective of their agency’s mission. The perspectives of the USGS, NSF, and EPA are particularly germane, as these agencies provide 80 percent of the funding for Category XI and over half of total
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research water-related research spending. Three of the four topics identified by USGS would fall under Category XI (how to manage a river to restore or protect habitat, understanding global cycles, and evaluating water resource sustainability for ecological and withdrawal use). NSF identified a wide range of fundamental issues, including holistic watershed analysis and enhanced understanding of aquatic ecosystems. EPA’s strategic plan for water resources research includes a portfolio of research focused on human and environmental health. Budget expenditures within the four XI subcategories indicate distinct agency emphasis on and a preponderance of funding for ecosystem fundamentals and assessment. Support of research into biogeochemical cycles should perhaps be considered for augmentation, and research into the ecological consequences of climate change for freshwater systems currently receives less funding than do other subcategories of XI. The observed dramatic increase in funding for aquatic ecosystem protection and management appears to reflect a societal desire to maintain healthy aquatic ecosystems. This of course in no way negates the importance of safe drinking water or adequate supplies for agriculture, but it does indicate a recognition within funding agencies that society is willing to support the high costs of current efforts to minimize harm to aquatic ecosystems and provide for their repair. Lower-Priority Research Areas Finally, there are obviously many subcategories of water resources research that are funded by the federal agencies but are not mentioned in Table 4-6 as being priorities. These include almost all of the subcategories in Categories I (nature of water), VIII (engineering works), IX (manpower, grants, and facilities), and X (scientific and technical information). These make up only 14.5 percent of the total water resources research budget. Categories VIII, IX, and X in particular support continued operations of water resources infrastructure, education, and information dissemination—activities that would not have been noted in NRC (2001) as research priorities given the report’s topical focus. These subcategories’ absence in Table 4-6 should not be interpreted as a suggestion for further reducing their funding. Appropriate Mix Assessment of the nation’s portfolio in water-related research requires examining existing funding according to multiple and complex criteria. First, as discussed in Chapter 3, this should be partly based on the balance between research that is long-term vs. short-term, fundamental vs. applied, investigator-driven vs. mission-driven, and internal (agency scientists) vs. external (universities, contractors). Furthermore, NRC (2001) identified 43 research priorities within three categories—water availability, water use, and water institutions—and stressed
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research the importance of addressing these three broad areas. Lastly, research activities that incorporate one or more of the four themes presented in Chapter 3 (interdisciplinarity, broad systems context, uncertainty, and the importance of human and ecosystem adaptation) are likely to be most effective in providing solutions to society’s most critical water-related problems (see Chapter 1). Short-term vs. Long-term Research The terms “long-term vs. short-term,” “fundamental vs. applied,” “investigator-driven vs. mission-driven,” and “internal vs. external” are defined in Box 3-1, which suggests that there are often positive correlations between research that is longer-term, more fundamental, investigator-driven, and externally conducted. Thus, the following analysis does not separately address each of these characteristics, but rather tries to make generalizations based on information from the federal agency liaisons about whether their research programs are short- or long-term and about how much research is conducted internally vs. externally (see Table 4-4). It is tempting to try to determine the percentage of the total water resources research budget that goes toward long-term vs. short-term research by considering the nature of the individual modified FCCSET categories. Unfortunately, several of the largest categories include research that falls along the entire spectrum from short- to long-term and that addresses poorly understood phenomena or processes that are relevant to applied water issues but require new knowledge. Category II (water cycle) exemplifies research where a basic understanding of processes such as evapotranspiration and runoff is critical to management of a water supply, and where changing land use and climate add new complexities. Category V (water quality management and protection) likewise involves new understanding of contaminant transport, fate, and effect, and draws significant support from NSF and USGS as well as EPA. Categories VI (planning) and VII (resources data), both small slices of the overall funding, are supported by a diversity of agencies. Category XI includes research that is relatively long-term and applied, such as studies of aquatic habitat and the development of assessment methods; it also includes knowledge-generating research motivated by the need for aquatic ecosystem protection and management. Several other categories clearly are primarily applied and require answers in the shortest practical time frame. Category III (water supply augmentation and conservation), funded primarily by USDA and USBR, is concerned with water supplies for agriculture, urban consumption, and power generation. Category IV (water quantity management and control), dominated by USDA followed by EPA and DoD, emphasizes practical applications to, for example, agricultural watershed management and control of polluted runoff. Category VIII (engineering works) is funded almost entirely by the Corps. Research in these three categories is usually carried out internally or through highly targeted contracts and grants.
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research Together these categories make up 17 percent of total water resources research expenditures. Long-term, basic research predominates in few categories. Research into Category I (nature of water) is very fundamental, receives minimal funding (almost exclusively from NSF), and arguably is not an urgent priority. Some elements of Category XI, particularly NSF and USGS support of climate and biogeochemical research, should be considered fundamental research. In these categories, research can be characterized as primarily long-term and basic, and it appears likely that half or more occurs at universities and other research institutions. Despite all these inferences, it is difficult to conclude that a certain percentage of water resources research is short-term vs. long-term based on the modified FCCSET categories alone. A different approach relies on information provided by the five largest contributing federal agencies regarding the percentage of their funding that is long-term and basic vs. short-term and applied. NSF, USGS, EPA, DoD, and USDA contributed 88 percent of the federal water resources research budget in 2000. The information they provided about the percentage of their research that is short-term vs. long-term and internal vs. extramural (Table 4-4) suggests that at least one-fourth but less than one-half of water resources research reported by the federal agencies can be classified as research of a more basic and long-term nature, likely taking place at universities and nonfederal research institutions. In the view of the committee, between one-third and one-half of the total water resources research portfolio should be allocated to longer-term, more fundamental, investigator-driven research to ensure that critical knowledge will be available on which to base water resources management in the next 10–15 years. Given the current balance, this seems highly achievable with a relatively minor change in emphasis. Considering the emerging problems of contaminants and pathogens that occur at low concentrations, the challenge of reconciling the water demands of humans and ecosystems, the uncertainties associated with climate change and human alteration of biogeochemical cycles, and the pending exhaustion of surface water supplies, there is reason for concern about whether the existing portfolio can provide the needed critical knowledge. There are several reasons why not enough of the current research portfolio is focused on long-term and fundamental research. OMB examiners explained to committee members that they are often not inclined to support long-term and fundamental research because it does not have immediately usable or useful results and it is hard to judge its effectiveness. Furthermore, the structure of incentives to the agencies tends to be linked to the time scales of elected officials, with the result that there is little emphasis on long-term research. OMB typically supports this outcome by requiring that agencies stick to their stated missions (which may or may not include long-term goals). It seems apparent then that the structure of incentives at the federal level contains some bias against longer-term research on topics in water resources, which likely permeates the development of
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research longer-term research agendas within the federal agencies (although there are some exceptions). While it is true that the desire for institutional commitment, continuity in personnel, and effectiveness of control favors internally conducted research over externally conducted research, the disadvantages of temporal bias and reduced flexibility should be considered. Research needed to adapt to new conditions might be more difficult for an internally focused agency because resources are tied up in maintaining existing research staff, who may not have the necessary expertise in new and innovative fields. The increased involvement of academic scientists through peer-reviewed grants would strengthen the overall water resources research capacity by expanding the pool of researchers, by providing more flexible research capacity, by placing greater emphasis on competitive evaluation of projects in terms of national priorities and quality of research, and by providing avenues through which the bias against longer-term research can be counteracted. (It should be noted that some federal agencies conduct peer review of internally conducted research projects.) Water Availability, Water Use, and Water Institutions In terms of whether the research portfolio adequately addresses the three broad areas of water availability, water use, and water institutions outlined in NRC (2001), both water use and water institutions are currently underfunded. For reasons discussed above, almost every research priority listed under water institutions belongs to a modified FCCSET category that has seen declining proportions of the federal water resources research budget since the 1960s. Those research priorities falling under water use have been similarly neglected with the exception of those within Category XI. While it is certainly not appropriate to suggest that each of the three broad areas of water availability, water use, and water institutions should receive one-third of the annual budget, given that the 43 research areas are of varying breadth and complexity, it is clear that the current distribution is out of balance. The committee does not believe it to be unreasonable that 10 percent of the total water resources research budget be allocated to combined water use and institutional topics. Currently, and as discussed in detail in NRC (2001), almost nothing in known about the determinants and extent of public water uses, and very little is known about water use in other sectors. As discussed previously, institutional topics are similarly under-studied. Interdisciplinarity, Broad Systems Context, Uncertainty, and Adaptation One of the categories experiencing a severe reduction in research funding from the 1973–1975 levels is Category VI—water resources planning and other institutional issues (see Table 4-2). Ironically, this is the synthesis category that would support research questions with a strong interdisciplinary nature and with
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research a broad systems context—key themes for the national water resources research agenda proposed in Chapter 3. This is also the category that would best encompass the significant present-day issues of human and ecological adaptation to changing water resources conditions. As argued in Chapter 3, for multiple research agencies to be able to tackle complex emerging water problems in a way that will enhance our understanding beyond an incremental level, the themes of interdisciplinarity, broad systems context, uncertainty, and adaptation must permeate future research in water resources. Although there are a few initiatives that address interdisciplinarity (see Box 4-2 for an example), an increase in research funding for Category VI with specific emphasis on the aforementioned four themes is certainly warranted. BOX 4-2 Interdisciplinary Initiatives Among the Federal Agencies Federal agencies have markedly increased their emphasis on interdisciplinary research through new program initiatives, including single-agency calls for proposals and multiagency partnerships. Several NSF initiatives provide instructive examples of progress toward integration across disciplines as well as an increased emphasis on synthesis science and complex systems. NSF’s Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) network is perhaps the longest-running experiment in interdisciplinary ecological research. Now 20 years old and consisting of a network of 24 sites across diverse ecosystems (including two urban sites), the LTER program has brought together ecologists, ecosystem scientists, hydrologists, geochemists, and other specialists and has led to extensive multidisciplinary collaboration directed at understanding ecosystems and their response to human activities. In FY2002 the LTER program had a funding level of $17.8 million and it supported 1,100 scientists and students (NSF, 2002); the next ten years are expected to emphasize “synthesis science” and incorporate social science more than has previously been the case. Most LTER-funded research has addressed scientific questions best described as fundamental and long-term. The Water and Watersheds program, beginning in 1995, funded interdisciplinary projects that synthesized physicochemical, biological, and social science expertise in addressing water and watershed issues. NSF,
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS Analysis of the survey budget data and narratives shows that the independent research efforts conducted by various federal agencies to respond to funding mandates of the past only partially recognize the emerging water problems of the future. One clear deficiency is the low and declining funding of research related to water institutions and planning, despite the important role of the social sciences in providing knowledge to help meet future demands for water for human and environmental uses. The current national investment in water resources research needs adjustments in its magnitude and mix to meet the challenges that lie ahead. A quantitative analysis showed that real levels of total spending for water resources research have remained relatively constant (around $700 million EPA, and USDA jointly provided funding over Water and Watersheds’ six years of existence. A number of the funded studies utilized hydrologic models, GIS land-use analysis, and field studies of physical, chemical, and biological response variables to address topics such as nutrient runoff and ecological status and trends. Those familiar with this program generally saw it as successful, although perhaps not in its involvement of social scientists. Furthermore, the program lacked sufficient support within the agencies for its continuation. Most research activities were motivated by applied issues, but required new knowledge and approaches. NSF’s Biocomplexity Initiative, begun in 1999, emphasizes an interdisciplinary, complex systems approach to environmental research in several areas, of which the programs in coupled human and natural systems and coupled biogeochemical cycles are most relevant to water resources research. A recently established NSF Advisory Committee for Environmental Research and Education indicates that support for this initiative may extend for another decade or more, and it has expressed the need for long-term, well-defined programmatic initiatives in order to incorporate interdisciplinary research and address complex environmental questions and problems (NSF, 2002). Biocomplexity in the environment now encompasses a broad spectrum of NSF-funded research and in 2003 received about $30 million in total research awards. Most of the research can be characterized as fundamental in nature, but with well-articulated relevance to environmental concerns.
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research in 2000 dollars) since the mid 1970s. When Category XI (aquatic ecosystems) is subtracted from the total funding, there is very high likelihood that the funding level has actually declined over the last 30 years, even under assumptions of significant data uncertainty. In particular, it is almost certain that funds in Categories III (water supply augmentation and conservation), V (water quality management and protection), VI (water resources planning and institutional issues), and VII (resources data) have declined severely since the mid 1970s. Of particular note is the severe reduction in funding for Category VI (water resources planning and institutional issues). Although the historical data and those collected as part of the present survey contain significant uncertainty, this was accounted for using a likelihood framework as described in Appendix C. Water resources research funding has not paralleled growth in demographic and economic parameters such as population, GDP, or budget outlays (unlike research in other fields such as health). Since 1973, the population of the United States has increased by 26 percent, the GDP and federal budget outlays have more than doubled, and federal funding for all research and development has almost doubled, while funding for water resources research has remained stagnant. This suggests that water resources research has not been accorded priority over the past 30 years. Given that the pressure on water resources varies more or less directly with population and economic growth, and given sharp and intensifying increases in conflicts over water, a new and expanded commitment will have to be made to water resources research if the nation is to be successful in addressing its water and water management problems over the next 10–15 years. The topical balance of the federal water resources research portfolio has changed since the 1965–1975 period, such that the present balance appears to be inconsistent with current priorities (as outlined in Chapter 3). Research on water demand, water law, and other institutional topics as well as on water supply augmentation and conservation now garners a significantly smaller proportion of the total water research funding than it did 30 years ago. In an absolute sense these categories appear to be significantly underfunded. When the current water resources research enterprise is compared with the list of research priorities for the future, it becomes clear that significant new investment must be made in these categories of research if the national water agenda is to be addressed adequately. Additional funds should be invested in high-priority topical areas that are currently neglected, including water supply augmentation and conservation, monitoring, and several institutional topics. If enhanced funding to support research in these categories is not diverted from other categories (which may also have priority), the total water resources research budget will have to be enhanced.
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research The current water resources research portfolio appears heavily weighted in favor of short-term research. This is not surprising in view of the de-emphasis of long-term research in the portfolios of federal agencies. It is important to emphasize that long-term research forms the foundation for short-term research in the future. A mechanism should be developed to ensure that long-term research accounts for one-third to one-half of the portfolio. OMB should develop guidance to agencies on reporting water resources research by topical categories. Understanding the full and multiple dimensions of the federal investment in water resources research is critical to making judgments about adequacy. In spite of clearly stated OMB definitions of research, agencies report research activity unevenly and inconsistently. In its discussions with federal agency representatives, the committee learned that agencies fund research through multiple budget accounts. Only projects that are specifically funded through research accounts are counted as such and are reported to OMB as research activities. Research funded through operational or “place-based” projects such as the Everglades or the San Francisco Bay Delta is not reported to OMB as research. Failure to fully account for all research activity undermines efforts by the administration and Congress to understand the level and distribution of water resources research. This problem could be remedied if OMB required agencies to report all research activity, regardless of budget account, in a consistent manner. REFERENCES American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003. AAAS report XXV, XXVI, XXVII, and XXVIII on Research and Development for FY 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004. Washington, DC: AAAS Intersociety Working Group. Committee on Water Resources Research (COWRR). 1973 and 1974. Federal Water Resources Research Program for 1973 and 1974. COWRR, FCCSET. Washington, DC: National Science Foundation. Committee on Water Resources Research (COWRR). 1977. Directions in U.S. Water Research: 1978–1982. Washington, DC: OSTP Federal Coordination Council for Science, Engineering and Technology (FCCSET). Department of Energy (DOE). 2002. Yucca Mountain Project: Recommendation by the Secretary of Energy Regarding the Suitability of the Yucca Mountain Site for a Repository under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982. Washington, DC: Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management. Department of Energy (DOE). 2003. The Department of Energy Strategic Plan. DOE/ME–0030. Washington, DC: DOE. National Research Council (NRC). 1981. Federal Water Resources Research: A Review of the Proposed Five-Year Program Plan. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. National Research Council (NRC). 2001. Envisioning the Agenda for Water Resources Research in the Twenty–First Century. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. National Science Foundation. 2002. Long–Term Ecological Research Program: Twenty–Year Review. Available at http://intranet.lternet.edu/archives/documents/reports/20_yr_review/#1.0.
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO). 2001. Water Infrastructure: Information on Federal and State Financial Assistance. GAO 02–134. Washington, DC: GAO. U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO). 2002. Water Infrastructure: Information on Financing, Capital Planning, and Privatization. GAO 02–764. Washington, DC: GAO. U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). 2002. U.S. Geological Survey Strategic Plan FY2000–2005. Washington, DC: Department of the Interior. http://www.usgs.gov/stratplan/stratplan_rev.pdf. U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). 2004. Mission of the Water Resources Discipline. Washington, DC: Department of the Interior. http://water.usgs.gov/welcome.html. U.S. Government Printing Office. 2003. The Budget for Fiscal Year 2004, Historical Tables. Washington, DC.
Representative terms from entire chapter: