Wednesday, 12 February 2003: 9:15 AM
Water Variability: Challenges Where the Rubber Hits the Road
Too often, the focus of water variability is on the grand scheme. Global water balance, climate change, and societal impacts of drought normally are cast in the context of international and national programs. Yet, the impacts of water variability are felt primarily at the level of localities and individuals. Whether or not water is available for people, industry, recreation and agriculture depends strongly on local cultures, zoning, watershed stewardship, land use and management. At the local level, the challenges created by water variability are substantial. Large, well established urban areas have comprehensive water management plans. With the continued sprawl to rural areas that has intensified over the past 50 years, local governments in newly urbanized or rural areas in transition are finding themselves without a plan of how to balance growth with water availability. As serious, elected officials are relying on established procedures that are ill equipped to deal with both development and water variability. The current drought in the East has forced some counties to not only ration water, but to put a moratorium on building. Law suits have been filed to prevent such curbs, even when reservoirs and rivers are nearly dry. Drought, the negative part of water variability, too often is considered a temporary disaster to be suffered through, rather than planned for. Help is available to plan for water variability in the form of private companies and consultants, public agencies, foundations, and universities. One serious challenge is how to organize and deliver that help when and where it is needed; then, to have it accepted. This paper uses the experiences of the authors in a part of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia to illustrate the kinds of issues that have to be faced, and some of the consequences when they are not. The Palmer Index is used to indicate the recurrence of drought in the Valley. The El Nino effects on temperature and precipitation are shown for the area. A specific example is given of how the estimates of "safe yield" from a large quarry system resulted in those quarries being pumped dry in about six years; in part due to the variability of water, and in part due to issues with the safe yield estimates. Some principles are given at the end of the paper that are needed to keep local governments from following the "hydro-illogic" cycle. Finally, a challenge is given to the professional societies to develop policies that can be used to put science and strategic planning into water management where the "rubber hits the road".