Perhaps the fundamental challenge in natural resource management is the integration of science and effective public participation. Experience shows that engagement of the public in complex water resources decision making results in improved planning practices and a better understanding of the scope of management actions. In contrast, experience indicates that even excellent science and planning may not be implemented if the public is not engaged effectively in all stages of the planning and implementation process. This talk focuses on two examples of engaging the public in water resource management on two continents. The first example explores how a wide range of stakeholders were incorporated into the evaluation of reservoir operations in the Connecticut River. This water resources system provides services to a variety of users, including hydropower production, flood control, municipal water supply, and a wide range of environmental services. The study, led by the Nature Conservancy and the US Army Corps of Engineers, with the participation of the USGS and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, incorporated the use of computer models in evaluating reservoir operation policies in the Connecticut River and using these models to help obtain consensus among the participants. The second example explores the on-going drought that has resulted in a major water shortage in Sao Paulo Brazil. In this example, computer models were once again developed to explore the range of alternatives available but the lack of public involvement in the early stages of the drought resulted in a very strong and negative response against the state and federal agencies attempting to cope with the drought. In addition, the role that climate change has played (or not played) in encouraging public participation is examined.
Dr. Richard Palmer is a Professor and Department Head of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He is currently the University director of the Northeast Climate Science Center, one of eight national centers funded by the USGS/Department of Interior. His research focuses on the fields of climate impacts on water resources and urban infrastructure and in the application of structured planning approaches to water and natural resource management. These interests include the impacts of climate change, drought planning, real-time water resource management, and the application of decision support to civil engineering management problems.