Center Assesses Natural Assets, Evaluates Policy

A new interdisciplinary research center at the University of California, Santa Cruz, is bringing a regional approach to the challenge of meeting the demand for safe and reliable water.

The Center for Integrated Water Research (CIWR) will help cities and their surrounding regions address water issues in all their complexity.

"As a research center studying the water policy, economics, and communication issues facing cities and regions, we are unique," said Brent Haddad, professor of environmental studies and director of the center.

CIWR builds on a decade of research by Haddad and others and takes a practical approach to evaluating water policies. The first step is to assess the natural endowments of a region, including the presence of surface and groundwater, the amount and timing of rainfall, and the overall water quality. The second step is to evaluate the long-term health of these assets. Researchers then review the economic and social needs, as well as the long-term goals, of a region before evaluating whether existing rules, mandates, and administrative bodies are helping or hindering the achievement of the region's goals.

Informing the public and involving residents in water-management policymaking is critical to municipal and regional success, noted Haddad. "Water is a lightning-rod issue. It's not enough to assess the situation and draft a policy," he said. "The public needs to be engaged. Transparency and communication are absolutely as important as engineering and economics."

The center is working on several projects in California, including one in Monterey County where senior resource economist Steven Kasower is facilitating a dialogue on long-term water-supply planning. If successful, Haddad said the effort could save the county more than $100 million by improving its infrastructure investment choices.

Haddad is a leading expert on water policy and management. The author of Rivers of Gold: Designing Markets to Allocate Water in California, he advocates a shift away from polarizing debates over water use toward an integrated approach that encompasses environmental, economic, and population needs. "Our goal is to help regions, states, and nations make good choices about water supply and water quality," he said. "We focus on applied problems and build theory out of specific cases."

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