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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Thanks for the link, Tyler...

...but it makes me think that I should have more on the front than a report on my cat. I thought I’d take a shot at why water is such a complex policy issue.

I think water is particularly complex because it arrives at its whim and does so many things. It changes a lot, always conserved but switching forms and picking up new qualities. The important thing we want water to do is move through things. We want it to move through us, to keep us alive. We want it to move through soil, a plant and then the air, to keep us fed. We want it to move through the landscape, and think of it differently when it is an avalanche, groundwater, a river, in our pipes and in our bodies. We want it to carry our mess away from us and store it somewhere out of sight.

Water arrives in a wide range of forms, takes work to collect and move, is used for a huge range of purposes, and carries our mistakes with it as it leaves our attention. Addressing any one policy question means selecting one or two qualities from each of those, defining it and thinking about what result we want. That’s a lot, and gets way more complicated if you have to agree with someone else about it. I'll have to think about other fields where the object is so mutable and applied in so many ways. But it is certainly appropriate to have lots of uncertainly about water issues. They're squirrelly.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Alex said...

Perhaps post some links to your "greatest hits" of water policy, for the n00bs?

1:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the big issue in water policy is a modified 'Tragedy of the Commons'. It's like a commons, but where the grass comes through my field first or something; this whole issue of the water's flowing makes it very difficult to apportion. Heck, when it's running through my back yard, it's hard for you to say convincingly that you have an equal right to it, and even harder to enforce your position.

I hope you like Oakland. I lived there for a couple of years and felt that there was a lot to like, but I ended up feeling very out of place and moved back east. That may have been a mistake, I guess. There's a good Vietnamese place downtown, and lots of good biking up Claremont Grizzly peak way.

Happy new year! May it bring you much of what you desire.
-Aron

3:37 PM  
Blogger JRoth said...

Addressing any one policy question means selecting one or two qualities from each of those, defining it and thinking about what result we want.

This strikes me as a good distillation of engineering. This isn't intended as a troll, or even a nudge. It reminds me that you wrote about some topic a month or two ago (pre-move) that whatever was going on in a certain system was clearly different from what you had considered.

IOW, it seems that a lot of what engineering is about is trying to isolate parts of systems in order to be able to think about them rationally. In mechanical engineering, this leads to an awful tendency to want windows not to open; in bridges it used to lead to a lot of truss designs that might not be optimal otherwise, but were calculable with slide rules; in water it leads to engineers who know a lot about conflict resolution.

1:05 PM  

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