Water Tug-of-War

As a water resources planner I'm always looking at the big picture—focusing on the different issues people have regarding water. The biggest challenges facing America now is water supply, and its counterpart, flood control.

Often the two sides are at odds because the "water supply people" are trying to find the best way to save and store water, while the "flood control people" are trying to get rid of water as fast as they can so it doesn't damage homes. We try to find a way to balance the two.

East Coast versus West Coast

Historically, water resources have been managed differently on the east coast than on the west coast. In most of the eastern states, there's plenty of precipitation spread throughout the year. So, the main challenge is getting rid of excess water as fast as possible during heavy storms to avoid flooding. In western parts of the U.S., there's very little precipitation and almost all of it falls during the winter months. As a result, capturing water and storing it so it's available during the dry summer months is the issue. Both sides of the country must address water supply and flooding issues, but the responses can differ regionally.

However, as our population continues to grow, and different kinds of uses emerge, the differences in response become smaller—especially as we begin to take into account changes that may result from climate change. We need to look at the total value of our water resources, requiring a new paradigm in water resource management.

We need to look at managing water storage, flood control, and wastewater treatment in ways that provide integrated solutions to future needs. So while the specifics might vary from region to region, the overall idea to get stakeholders together and support integrated water resource management continues to become more topical for the whole country.

Balancing Water Supply and Flood Control

A key element of integrated water resource planning includes getting all stakeholders involved to present their issues—whether it's dealing with water, wastewater, recycled water, water conservation, flood control, or stormwater management—in order to find an integrated solution to maximize best efficiencies for combined water resource management.

We're currently working on a project with Southern California Edison—the largest public utility company in the west—to develop better solutions to the integrated management of the upper San Joaquin River watershed. This watershed covers more than one million acres—much of which is on public land managed by the U.S. Forest Service for recreational use, hydro-electric power generation, agricultural water supply, municipal water supply, environmental protection, and flood control. Each use involves numerous stakeholders, including local, state, and federal governments; private land owners; non-governmental organizations; and publically-traded utility shareholders. Each must be considered in the process of developing an integrated plan for the use of valuable water resources of this important watershed.