Edella Schlager, a professor at the University of Arizona, has a doctorate in political science and has been studying water policy for the past 14 years. She and others are working to bring a renowned South African natural scientist, Dr. Jackie King, to drought-weary Tucson in order to stir up debate. King advocates for water policies that take into account environmental and other factors, instead of relying on human needs as the only guide. It's a holistic approach, Schlager says--one she hopes will catch on more widely in the United States. King will give a public lecture Wednesday, Aug. 9, at 4 p.m. in Room 208 of the UA's McClelland Hall, 1130 E. Helen St.
Why do you think it never hurts to have people reminded about water issues?
Because I think that as long as water comes out of the tap, and people aren't really hurt in the pocketbooks when paying their water bill, they don't really think that much about it. ... We're in the middle of a long-term drought, and obviously, we live in the desert. I think it's easy to forget.
What can you tell me about water policy in the West?
One thing is that the property rights that states use to govern water aren't suited to either managing groundwater effectively or protecting habitat or riparian areas. Those are probably two of the biggest issues that states are dealing with right now: how to effectively govern groundwater and how to protect habitat, especially around endangered species. I think not enough attention is being paid to global climate change and the effects of that. We have our water infrastructure set up around certain patterns of weather: a big snowpack in the winter, and then a certain type of spring runoff that allows us to capture all of this water in reservoirs and use it throughout the year. At least in the last six or seven years--at least over the course of this drought--we're getting different patterns.
Tell me a bit about Dr. King.
I only know about her through some of her work, but I'm really hoping to get to know her better when she comes here. She has a natural science background, and she has studied rivers and river flows over the course of her career. She's developed a couple of models reconstructing historic river flows and hydrographs, the patterns of rivers over time. Using these models, she's able to help decision-makers decide: At what level do you want to protect rivers and their flows, and what are the consequences of that? If you want heavy development, then you're likely to have this type of river with this type of habitat, and these will be the environmental consequences of that decision versus trying to mimic the hydrograph of the river, even as you're using some of it for human uses. She works in a variety of countries. ... And I think she's worked with the United Nations on different projects.
What do you hope to achieve by having her come to Tucson?
I hope there's a renewed effort to look at the environmental consequences of our water use in Arizona. I think with this drought, there's been a lot of attention paid to whether we're going to have enough water. Do we have enough water for human uses, for the next development to be built, to make sure everyone in Tucson has enough water? Less attention has been paid to the environmental effects both of the drought and our continued heavy use of water. I also hope this calls attention to some of the issues that are occurring in rural Arizona. Really, those are the areas where we still have stream flow. The rivers haven't dried up, and there are people who really value the surface-water flows, both for maintaining habitat and for recreation--fishing and whatnot. (We want) to sort of get that back into the mix of discussion, that it isn't about having enough water for human uses. It's "How do we do that and still protect all of these environmental values that we have?"
Do you have any ideas about how we can balance human water usage and environmental protection?
I think in the Western United States, we see both economies and institutional arrangements, like different types of property rights, which are really geared toward development. These economies and institutional arrangements sort of have this momentum of their own. They drive us in the direction (that views) any water left in a stream as wasted water. ... I think if effective policies are going to be developed, they have to go deeper than trying to incorporate an environmental value or two into existing arrangements at the margins.