Sustainable Tucson to Follow Up Dr. Jackie King’s Visit

Co writers: Madeline Kiser and Lindianne Sarno

Sustainable Tucson will be holding a series of meetings is to follow up on Dr. Jackie King’s visit this past summer. City Councilwoman Karin Uhlich is particularly interested in Tucson’s followup to Dr. King’s visit. Below is an excellent article about her visit, which appeared in the Tucson Weekly.

Dr. King and other notable aquatic scientists who are following her footsteps make three main points:

1) Sound science should serve as a base for water laws and policies. It requires that teams of scientists, not just single hydrologists, work together, to study aquatic, economic and social systems, and provide a clear balance sheet to policy makers and water managers for any proposed action that will alter them. For example: building a dam in a certain way, maximizing the production of electricity, might net that energy – but may cause (as in the Mekong River Delta) 60 million people to lose their gardens for four weeks of each year. This cost is then quantified along with others. This science, in addition to requiring that teams of scientists from different fields work together, also holds central that preserving aquatic systems’ unique flow patterns – their individual pulses or signatures – is what matters most. In other words, preserve the river.

2) Articulating for policy makers and the public in a clear, non-polarizing fashion this previously “quiet” or hidden side of the ledger – the total costs of altering aquatic systems as well as benefits from developing them – helps generate political will, in a way that pitting interests against each other simply doesn’t; for example: “water to bring back single rivers (or to save single species)” vs. “water for development.” Some business leaders present at Dr. King’s roundtable asked her if she might return to Tucson – precisely because, instead of talking about bringing rivers back, or saving species, she spoke about the need to clearly measure the total effects of development. This may seem like a small point, but discussing water in this way is helping a growing number of nations avoid divisiveness.

3) Sound science must be supported by sound water laws. South Africa and Australia took the lead almost 15 years ago by declaring that only two entities have a right to water: humans, and the environment (i.e., the river itself). In Costa Rica, which is in the process of rewriting its water laws to embrace these two principles, government agencies and NGOs have traveled region to region to explain to people the importance of these laws, and the science behind them, thereby educating the populace about what, specifically, is at stake in attempting to conserve water, especially in a time of rapid climate change.

The total effect of this strategy is to offer clarity: We save natural capital to save our children’s future (and yes, our sacred natural world). Again, the key is generating necessary political will by ensuring that the public understands clearly what is at stake. As with other issues, with water, we need an “ethical north” in designing our policies. A growing number of countries are following this simple ideal. Why shouldn’t Arizona, as it attempts to become a world leader in conserving water?

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