2005 Salt Lake City Annual Meeting (October 16–19, 2005)

Paper No. 1
Presentation Time: 1:30 PM


DICKINSON, Tamara L., Board on Earth Sciences and Resources, National Academy of Sciences, Keck-618, 500 Fifth Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001, DIODATO, David M., U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, 2300 Clarendon Blvd Suite 1300, Arlington, VA 22201 and FOLGER, Peter F., 10512 Samaga Dr, Oakton, VA 22124-1630, diodato@nwtrb.gov

A safe, sufficient, and reliable water supply is fundamental to the economic security of America and to the health of its citizens. Despite substantial progress in this area, securing long-term water resource supplies nationwide poses significant present-day challenges both to scientists and to policy makers. Challenges to water resource scientists and policy makers span the nation from west to east. For example, the Colorado River supplies 88% of southern Nevada's water, an area that includes America's fastest-growing city: Las Vegas. As a result of the worst drought on record - a drought that some scientists caution may not end for years - the water levels in Lake Mead have declined to a 40-year low, and are approximately 100 feet below the maximum of 1220 feet stored in 1998. In the mid-continent, the High Plains aquifer stretches from Nebraska to Texas, supporting as much as 30% of America's agricultural production. Because water levels in that 173,000 square-mile aquifer system have declined more than 150 feet in places, more energy is required to pump water up from greater depths, increasing costs to farmers. In the east, nitrate and phosphorous draining into the Chesapeake Bay from its 64,000-square mile watershed have contributed to reduced oxygen availability and shellfish production, and threatened industries dependent on the Bay. Taken together, these examples illustrate the broad range of challenges to the nation's water resources. All of these challenges have two things in common: they involve multiple states and they span long times. Common scientific problems – lack of data, limited analyses, and uncertain predictions – present opportunities to advance science through improvements in theory and methodology. As involved citizens, scientists can listen to the needs of policy makers and respond with relevant and timely information. The challenge for policy makers, who operate in a landscape of compelling and competing priorities, is to incorporate that information in their deliberations. There is no single solution to the wide range of water resources challenges facing America. However, scientists and policy makers can and ought to work toward articulating common values and objectives, and toward establishing a path forward for meeting those goals.