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Urban Water Management Workshop stresses more collaboration and innovation

RIVERSIDE, Calif. Where sustainability of water management is concerned, we must pay more attention to long-term solutions. Efficient water management and policy ought to be promoted at the local level. And a "portfolio approach" to water management is encouraged, one that includes information campaigns, different types of pricing, supply and reuse options, and technology-based rebate programs.

These are some of the key messages that emerged from the first Urban Water Management Workshop that took place earlier this month at the University of California, Riverside.

Sponsored by the university's Water Science and Policy Center (WSPC) and the School of Public Policy, the workshop brought together academics from a number of research institutions and water agency officials. Nearly 60 people participated in the workshop.

Presentations by the speakers at the workshop can be accessed here.

"This workshop exemplifies our mission at the School of Public Policy of working with the community, policy makers, and public agencies to come up with innovative, evidence-based solutions to the big policy challenges facing our region," said Anil Deolalikar, the dean of the School of Public Policy and a professor of economics. "We at the School of Public Policy and the Water Science Policy Center trust that this workshop has increased our understanding of how to better manage and conserve our scarce water resources in the face of a looming drought."

Riverside is the hub of the Southern California metropolitan water district system, several participants noted at the workshop. The WSPC at UC Riverside is therefore strategically located to help inform local, regional and state policy makers of the efficient ways to manage water and the potential consequences of actions the agencies take.

"What this workshop demonstrated is that there is a need for such workshops to facilitate communication and exchange of ideas," said Ariel Dinar, the director of the WSPC and a professor of environmental economics and policy. "This is a very interesting time to do research on water problemsespecially for anyone in California. The agenda is huge and exciting, so much so that I wish I were 20 years younger!"

The one-day workshop stressed the need for data collection for good policy analysis. The WSPC aims to be the hub of data collection for pricing and other policy interventions for water conservation in Southern California.

"We are fortunate to have a lot of local interactions with some wonderful and forward-thinking general managers and efficiency managers in the region, and with their help we can provide valuable service," said Kurt Schwabe, an associate professor of environmental economics and policy. "We certainly want a better understanding of the real-world issues with which the agencies are confronted. There is a disconnect sometimes between what the agencies want and the types of research that academics typically do. To help the agencies, through workshops like the one we just had, we have to reach out and talk to them, figure out what constraints and issues they are confronting."

The workshop underscored the message that most of the effort to balance water supply and demand has to be at the local level, and will involve both additional water conservation as well as greater use of local ground water supplies and recycled water. Also stressed was the need to treat water storage as surface plus ground water supplies, not just surface supplies.

"Our research shows that tiered-pricing works very well to help conserve water," said Ken Baerenklau, an associate professor of environmental economics and policy. "We hope that water agencies will continue to pursue innovative conservation policies as well as efforts to better understand their effects. And we hope customers will keep in mind that people before us made sound investments that today help provide us with safe and reliable water. We need to do our part and continue this practice."

According to Dinar, education is fundamental to water conservation.

"Education and training should begin at the kindergarten level," he said. "Such an investment can reap huge rewards for society later."

One of the goals of the workshop was to strengthen relationships between the WSPC and Southern California water districts.

"We want to provide district managers with information that we think is relevant to them," Baerenklau said. "But we also want to hear what they have to say. The workshop helped us better understand what they are looking out for in the future, what challenges they overcame recently, and what problems keep them up at night. Workshops like this serve to improve communication and foster more collaborative work, benefiting everyone."

Contact: Iqbal Pittalwala
University of California - Riverside

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