Panel Remarks -From Scarcity to Abundance: New perceptions about water value

Sept. 13, 2017

Sharon B. Megdal’s prepared remarks for the WATEC Israel 2017 Conference panel on September 12, 2017, entitled "From Scarcity to Abundance: New perceptions about water value"

The title for this panel intrigues me.  Many regions – particularly growing regions – that face a scarcity of natural water resources have not yet moved from scarcity to abundance. Israel is likely unique in this regard and is to be congratulated on its accomplishments. 

Arizona, which is located in the Colorado River Basin (CRB), depends on the Colorado River for meeting close to 40 percent of its current water demands. Approximately 40 million people in seven U.S. states and Mexico are said to depend on Colorado River water to some extent. We are not speaking about abundance, though we wish we could be. The CRB is in a long- term drought.  How long a drought we do not know.  We are skirting official federal declaration of shortage conditions.   Arizona bears the brunt of water cutbacks should a shortage be declared.   

Many regions, including the region we are in, continue to face difficult water- related challenges. Addressing these challenges requires a change in perspectives or perceptions.  I spent the past two days co-chairing a conference at Tel Aviv University, which was co- sponsored by the American Water Resources Association and the Water Research Center at TAU.   We engaged in a great dialogue and exercise of learning.  We titled the conference “Cutting-Edge Solutions to Wicked Water Problems”.  Citing a colleague from the United States:  Wicked water problems tend to be problems that can be mitigated but not necessarily fully solved. They often defy standard solutions.

What are some of the characteristics of wicked water problems?

  • incomplete or contradictory knowledge
  • number of people and opinions
  • involved large economic burden
  • problems are interconnected with other problems.

Addressing wicked water problems requires interdisciplinary collaboration. It requires changing the questions, managing uncertainty, and creating resilience.

I see discussions of the value of water continuing to be based in fostering water resilience and water security. We hope we will be proactive and not only reactive to crises. After all, crisis management is an oxymoron, is it not? Unfortunately, often crisis conditions are what spur action.

Efforts toward greater conservation and efficiency will continue. Efforts to implement solutions that are consistent with the geographic, legal-institutional, and other contexts MUST continue.

Finally, governance and policy considerations are very important. The obstacles to addressing wicked water problems, including those associated with water scarcity, are not technological and often not even financial, but rather result from the governance-political context.