On the Waterfront

On the waterfront – isn’t that where we all want to be? Riverfront, lakefront, oceanfront: this is always the most desirable, highest value real estate there is. We love to gaze upon it, swim in it, and fish its depths. Our lives, our businesses, and our souls depend on it. Why, then, aren’t we doing more to make sure that we’ll be able to count on it for generations to come?

Actually, a group of national leaders IS doing something about it. Four weeks ago The Johnson Foundation presented “Charting New Waters: A Call to Action to Address U.S. Freshwater Challenges” to the Obama Administration and to the public. The report is the culmination of an intensive two-year collaboration exploring solutions to U.S. freshwater challenges. The report identifies serious challenges to both water quality and water quantity in the U.S.
The report is a landmark for a number of reasons, but most notably because of the collection of contributors who worked together to issue the consensus report.  It was an intentionally diverse set of participants that included agricultural groups, environmental groups, scientists, utilities, economic development, and businesses of various sizes and structures. Ray Gaesser, past president of the Iowa Soybean Association, stated that the process “enabled a range of participants who seldom engage each other to arrive at some potentially significant and effective recommendations, such as those regarding the Farm Bill.”
Among the many recommendations the report makes, perhaps the most overarching one is to “employ a long-range adaptive approach to freshwater resources planning and management.” I was recently talking to Nancy Stoner, Deputy Assistant Administrator for the US EPA’s Office of Water, who has been promoting this particular recommendation in recent speaking engagements. As she said, “If we do this one thing, it could have a huge impact.” The recommendation means different things to different people, but she suggests that it should be a consideration in every water-related decision we make. Before making any such decision, the question needs to be asked “what is the long-range implication of this decision?”
Among the many long-range implications that need to be considered is thinking about how a decision plays out relative to the uncertainties and changes we expect in a changing climate. For instance, it is not uncommon for me to hear people state that desalination will solve our future water problems. But desalination creates another suite of challenges, not the least of which is high energy demand and corresponding greenhouse gas emission. So it shouldn’t be looked at as a quick fix, but rather a last-ditch option.
There are many other important recommendations in this report, and I certainly hope that you’ll take your own look at it and let me know what you think. Over the coming months this blog will drill down on the range of recommendations that are in the report as well as what people are doing to build on the recommendations.
In other words, we’ll be on the waterfront – exactly where I want to be. And I’d love to have you join me!
p.s.  For a quick overview of the report, you might want to check out the interview I did on E&ETV:www.eenews.net/tv/video_guide/1208

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