Water, Water, Every Where … Nor Any Drop to Drink

How is it that a benign, renewable resource like water could result in as much hardship and suffering as water does?

Water, like air, is a common-pool resource. Without water you will die in days; without air you will die in minutes.

Both air and water vary in quality and the temporal and spatial distribution of differences in quality has a big impact on the suitability of each common-pool resource for re-use. One big difference between water and air is that the availability of air is essentially stationary in time and uniform in space. For example, the quantity of air is not a limiting factor for agricultural production. Quality matters but not quantity.

Water is totally unique in terms of our dependence on both its availability and suitability. Both quantity and quality are highly variable in both time and space. Furthermore each, and every, use of water alters its availability and suitability for downstream uses. These anthropogenic alterations of the hydrological cycle constrain our ability to use water without impacting on other beneficial uses of the same water.

We don’t need any knowledge to simply be able to use water. We just take whatever is available and dispose of whatever is left over. This is the way we have behaved for millennia and hydrological ignorance has worked for us, more or less, so far.

However, the wisdom with which we use water from the common-pool is highly dependent on our knowledge of the variability of water quantity and quality in time and space.

It is only by consideration of what is available that we can ensure that the residual will be adequate for the sum of potential benefits that water is capable of providing.

It is becoming increasingly rare that any beneficial new use of the common-pool is not offset, to some degree, by some disbenefit to other dependents of the common-pool resource. Lack of knowledge of water quantity and quality inevitably leads to water over-use, misuse, or abuse.

The value water is infinite. The value of hydrological information is merely a function of our dependency on water security. There are fewer and fewer regions of the world that can claim to have sufficient water security that they can enjoy sustainable growth and prosperity without a reliable source of hydrological information. Paradoxically, most jurisdictions in the world are ‘saving money’ by not expanding their investments in water monitoring. In fact, some regions are actually cutting spending on monitoring.

If you are reading this blog post it is probably because you are actively involved in some aspect of water monitoring.

eBook-Water-Value-PaperIf so, then you will likely find my new eBook “The Value of Water Monitoring” an interesting read. You can download the free eBook here:

If, in your opinion, there is inadequate funding for water monitoring in your region then you must take steps to get this eBook into the inbox, or on the desk, of the people who can influence the future of funding for water monitoring in your part of the world. I may not be able get this information into the hands of the right people — but you can.

I am initiating a global conversation about the adequacy of funding for water monitoring. Such funding must be sufficient to ensure that the truth about our water security is revealed. Our watersheds give up their information grudgingly. It takes an extensive, persistent, approach to gain insight and knowledge about the essential role of our watersheds in governing our health, safety, and prosperity.

Join the conversation on May 28th.

Join me and ICWP Executive Directors Ryan Mueller and Peter Evens for an important online presentation and discussion intended to help address the global funding gap for water monitoring.

ICWP Webinar: Securing More Funding for Water Monitoring
Thursday, May 28, 2015
11 AM Pacific | 12 PM Mountain | 1 PM Central | 2 PM Eastern

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Over the course of the summer I will be writing a series of posts. There will be one post for each chapter of the eBook. For each chapter I will also pose a question. These posts will be distributed using social media to provoke a reaction to the questions. Please help to stimulate this conversation by sharing your thoughts with a reply below.

Is there adequate funding for water monitoring in your region? How much more funding is required in your opinion to inform evidence-based policies, operational planning, environmental sustainability, and optimal engineering design?

5 responses to “Water, Water, Every Where … Nor Any Drop to Drink”

  1. Prof. Partha Sarathi Datta May 31, 2015 at 1:01 am

    Funding for water monitoring is no doubt very much required, yet, it is not the only solution to ensure availability of water for all purposes. Instead of criticizing the situation, the large communication gap among all the stakeholders needs to be bridged to have better solutions and implement them in capacity building and awareness creation. During the last four decades, I made some efforts in this direction conducting extensive field investigations for assessment of groundwater recharge, development potential and vulnerability to over-exploitation & pollution in fourteen river basins in India, with effective participation, involvement, and cooperation of farmers and village community, and different water related Agencies made extensive use of the technology and recharge estimates to develop policy guidelines on GW protection from depletion & degradation. I also provided advisory services to NGOs for Outreach Field Initiative on water conservation, and for Mountain Watershed natural resources management and rainwater harvesting, with village community participation by education & health awareness, and Pilot Level Technical Survey. These increased women’s empowerment. I don’t intend to claim this as end of the matter. More such efforts need to be made.

    From my experience, I felt the future challenge is to decide how much water should be utilized directly for people for domestic use, agriculture and industry and how much to maintain ecosystem. It is therefore necessary to quantify the costs and benefits of allocating water for different use, adapt and improve water productivity, through improvements in crop yields, irrigation efficiency and post-harvest processing. To restrict wasteful use, economic principles should be applied to the allocation of water. For effectiveness, development effort must have the competent, capable and transparent institutions. I found that corrupt and unscrupulous practices have tendency of working hand-in-hand with greedy investors, putting self-interest, self-benefit, and private gain before the welfare of citizens. I has to ensured that such thing should not happen.

  2. Prof. Partha Sarathi Datta May 31, 2015 at 1:04 am

    Edited version:
    Funding for water monitoring is no doubt very much required, yet, it is not the only solution to ensure availability of water for all purposes. Instead of criticizing the situation, the large communication gap among all the stakeholders needs to be bridged to have better solutions and implement them in capacity building and awareness creation. During the last four decades, I made some efforts in this direction conducting extensive field investigations for assessment of groundwater recharge, development potential and vulnerability to over-exploitation & pollution in fourteen river basins in India, with effective participation, involvement, and cooperation of farmers and village community, and different water related Agencies made extensive use of the technology and recharge estimates to develop policy guidelines on GW protection from depletion & degradation. I also provided advisory services to NGOs for Outreach Field Initiative on water conservation, and for Mountain Watershed natural resources management and rainwater harvesting, with village community participation by education & health awareness, and Pilot Level Technical Survey. These increased women’s empowerment. I don’t intend to claim this as end of the matter. More such efforts need to be made.

    From my experience, I felt the future challenge is to decide how much water should be utilized directly for people for domestic use, agriculture and industry and how much to maintain ecosystem. It is therefore necessary to quantify the costs and benefits of allocating water for different use, adapt and improve water productivity, through improvements in crop yields, irrigation efficiency and post-harvest processing. To restrict wasteful use, economic principles should be applied to the allocation of water. For effectiveness, development effort must have the competent, capable and transparent institutions. I found that corrupt and unscrupulous practices have tendency of working hand-in-hand with greedy investors, putting self-interest, self-benefit, and private gain before the welfare of citizens. It has to be ensured that such thing should not happen.

  3. Dear Prof. Datta,
    Hydrological information is essential for protecting and enhancing many social values such as you mention. Given your experience working in regions of India where there is room for substantial improvement in social, environmental and economic outcomes from better water management, I am curious about your thoughts of the social context of water monitoring and data distribution. Historically, water quantity and quality information was created by, and for, hydrologists and engineers. The problems to be solved were ‘hard science’ engineering ones. However, over the past couple of decades in North America the internet has opened up water information to everyone, democratizing access to the evidence of water availability and suitability for use. It is my opinion that this new access to data has resulted in improved outcomes for ‘soft science’ social and environmental problems. It is very difficult, perhaps impossible, to quantify the benefits of monitoring when, by its very presence as much as its use, it contributes to fair and equitable decisions about the common pool resource, averting a ‘tragedy of the commons’. Is data sharing an essential part of the future of water security and social justice in India?

  4. Savithri Senaratne (HYDROS) June 2, 2015 at 3:49 am

    I agree with both of you. I have experience in Ireland and Sri Lanka. Water quantity and quality monitoring is very essential and in my view it should not be based on economics. This has led to monitoring larger streams and groundwater bodies and smaller streams are not monitored. There aren’t enough data to estimate floods or dry weather flows of smaller streams and this has led to estimating these quantities on approximate regression equations. These equations are also arrived using very few smaller catchments which make them unreliable. Therefore, as both of you have suggested it is important to get more data and in parallel educating the general public of the importance of the quality and quantity of water.

  5. Hi Gerald,It is absolutely true that data poveidrrs have to work within the resource envelope given to them, hence decisions about fitness for purpose are abstracted to a budgetary process where the decision-makers are largely ignorant of the impacts of their decisions. Within this resource envelope further compromises have to be made: do I use the money to run more gauges of a lower quality or fewer gauges at a higher quality?There is a circular logic that stymies progress in the field of hydrology. We lack the predictive skill to fill data voids in the hydroscape so we need more gauges but by diluting our resources with more gauges (hence, less technology and fewer site visits per gauge) we reduce our ability to improve our predictive skill.We are entrenched in the notion that our data only needs to be as good as it used to be. I would argue that it needs to be much better.The continuity equation: inputs equal outputs + change in storage (Qi=Qo+DS/dt) is well known and is the basis for almost everything that we know, or think we know, about hydrology.Arguably, we have learned all there is to know given traditional data with unknown uncertainty. Almost any hydrological model can explain 80% of the variability in outputs based on the inputs. Resolving the last 20% of the variability will require much better data and metadata than are currently available. This means that the research community needs to learn how to collect good data and the hydrometric community needs to learn how to communicate the limitations of their data for precise work.The only way forward that I can think of is to keep the conversation going.Stu

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