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Sharing Water, Building Relations: Transforming Water Conflict in the U.S. West


May 12, 2014


This presentation will focus on identifying causes of conflict, tipping points towards cooperation, and institutional approaches to conflict resolution and mitigation. The discussion is founded on lessons learned in the development of a research and skills-building program for training Bureau of Reclamation staff in collaborative competency. The presentation uses example assessments of processes of water conflict and cooperation internationally and in the U.S. West.

Aaron T. Wolf, Professor of Geography, College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR


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Transcript

Malka Pattison: Good Afternoon. I am Malka Pattison and I would like to welcome you to the Office of Policy Analysis Seminar. We've had a lot of water in the news lately, but as I think about it, water was probably one of our oldest contentious environmental issues. Back in the 1800's, water issues were with us and today's guest, Aaron Wolf, has had plenty of time to think about making peaceful resolutions of these water issues. I'd like to take a minute to thank the Bureau of Reclamation and Water and Science for helping bring Dr. Wolf here to speak to us. Please welcome Aaron Wolf. Aaron Wolf: Thanks, Malka. I want to add my thanks to the Bureau of Reclamation to party around here and to a number of people you'll hear about in the course of this talk. The first thing I want to acknowledge. First I get it's lunch time. I get the cafeteria's here, eating is fine, walking in and out is fine and you have then excuse, little bit of join on my end. Coming from Oregon to DC is a bit of cultural shock. First thing you have to do is to buy a necktie because they don't allow them in Oregon. When you come, you got to be prepared and then you get off the plane, and then there is this horrible bowl of gas in the sky. It's unnerving, this fire that you live within and this weird shade of blue to your sky. All of that together, puts me a little bit off. So you'll appreciate... we'll forgive each other for faux pas in the next hour. What I want to start with... I want to point out, first of all that this is a real collaboration. With the work that I'm going to present, is a deep collaboration between Oregon State University where I am the College of earth ocean and atmospheric sciences. Then two guys that I've come to really appreciate, Doug Clark, who's with Reclamation in Denver and Dennis Coulby, Reclamation... now retired, in Utah. But these guys had been, the heart and soul of our collaboration on the reclamation site. So you all walked in and had the title "Water Conflict", sharing water, sharing earth, creating relations. The point about water conflict...Just out of curiosity. How many people consider themselves "water people"?...and the rest are, how many are engineers?...Economists?... People interested in conflict generally? Nice. People who just didn't have any place else to eat lunch? No, OK. Couple of folks. So i want to start at the very beginning and give a little bit of history how we got to this topic and this collaboration that now going on nine years. Start with the problem of water conflict. What are we talking about? why is water contentious? Let's start with the basics? What do we use water for? Agriculture. Thank you, most of the world's water goes to agriculture. Two thirds, three quarters in some places, a lot of the west. What else? Energy production, absolutely. What else? Municipal use, about 10 percent. Anything else? Recreation, fishing, industrial uses. Drinking. right. In the back? Is that what you were going to say? Anything else? right, the fish need a little bit of water to get by, absolutely. Anything else? Transportation. The point of this is that we use water for about everything we do and quite the and the overarching question is which of those uses are potentially contentious, if you think about them? That's exactly the problem. I had a grad student come up with some pictures that show the uses, the environment that we mentioned, transportation we mentioned, not the western U.S. dams, and energy production, agriculture. Religious uses we didn't even mention. This is something that comes up over and over and over in the work of conflict mitigation are the things that you don't quantify. All religions, all spiritual traditions, certainly the native traditions in the west all tap into water for spiritual aspect, and we don't mention it, we don't measure it. It rarely come sup in public discourse. But you can bet that when you're in a room stakeholders this to mind of a lot of the people whether consciously or unconsciously. drinking water, absolutely critical. and the point is that all of them are potentially contentious. And more than that, if you take a base in the way water people see it, a water shed is a natural system where everything is connected to everything else. surface water, ground water, quality, quantity, it's all connected and that's the way we see the world, water people do. The rest of the world sees the boundaries that are on the map. the boundaries between nations, between states, between sectors, between languages, between ethnic groups. All of the things. and the question here is which one is right? I'll ask you again. Which one is right? Yeah, thank you very much. Yes, absolutely. This is the job of water management. Water management is conflict management, balancing all of these different uses. There's never enough for everybody, otherwise it wouldn't be an issue, and constantly balancing these two world views; the ones that bring us together, and the ones that divide us into very real and critical divisions between us. That's why we say water management is conflict management. You can't do one without the other. My world starts in the international realm. I'm playing both on the technical side, on the policy side, and I act for both as you'll see in a bit; a big number of scientists, and also in the realm of facilitator. I got my start thinking about this one question; where are the wars of the future going to be fought over water? That was the dominant paradigm when I got started. People were pointing out that places like India and Pakistan who have certain political issues with each other also share basins, as do India and Bangladesh. The Tigress Euphrates, armies had mobilized between Syria and Iraq in the '70s. It's still a very contentious basin, shared by many riparians who dislike each other. Central Asia, that's five countries in the former Soviet Union. The water conflict is moving in one direction, natural gas conflict moving in the other. The two in the early '90s that people were mentioning over and over are these two. The Nile, where Egypt was saying, "We're going to go to war if Ethiopia develops their resources upstream," and the Jordan basin shared by Arabs and Israelis. All of the water has been allocated, and was allocated in 1970. Demand hit supply in 1970. They absolutely have real contentious issues between them, and water is sub text in a lot of them. My question was, what do we know? People were saying things like Kofi Annan was saying, "Fierce competition for fresh water may well become a source of conflict in wars in the future." How many people agree with this? Hands away, absolutely right. It's so clear, it's so persuasive, it's so compelling an argument. But I didn't know. I didn't know, because I was a scientist and I'm thinking, "What's the evidence here? What do we actually know?" We know these six cases that people keep talking about over and over and over. But the problem was, none of those cases had resulted in war. In fact, when you started to dig, there was a whole lot of collaboration between these countries that wasn't making headlines, that wasn't in the news. I started to ask the larger question, "What don't we know as scientists, and how can we make a more compelling case one way or the other?" The first thing we didn't know was, how many international basins are there? It turns out that there's a lot. There's a lot. There are 276 international basins. It's half the land surface of the earth. 80 percent of fresh water originates in basins that are shared by two or more countries, including our little corner of the world out here in the North West. Ann is much bigger than six, if you will. People were talking about those six over and over and over. 276 is the actual number. When people were talking about interactions, they were only talking about potential conflict. But there are a lot of things that countries can do. They might conflict or they might cooperate, or they might do nothing. It was this whole part of the spectrum that wasn't being documented at all in the literature. That's what we started to do. That's what scientists do, we collect stuff. We started to compile any record of any two countries doing anything over water resources, and documenting and coding it along that spectrum of conflict and cooperation. We now have the largest collection of treaties in the world, negotiating notes, bibliography news files and so on. I wanted to point out sure, Yaffe was the lead project manager on this. Because what we asked is, what is the actual state of conflict and cooperation in the world? This is a 2003 study. As I said, we took 1,800 events. We found 1,800 times that two countries had done something over water. We coded it along the spectrum, figured out what the issue was, how intense it was. Simply by doing that, we got a little bit of a more nuanced story than was being told in the Press. Here's our spectrum for very intense cooperation to war. Two-thirds of the time we do anything over water, we cooperate. Two-thirds of the time and that's Arabs and Israelis. It's Indians and Pakistanis. It's Azeris and Armenians. All the people we know have tensions over water also find ways to collaborate. The collaboration history is much richer than the conflict. On the conflict side, 80 percent of conflict is verbal conflict. This is primarily two sets of events. One is somebody writing in the press that there's a conflict or a politician saying that we're going to go to war. It never happens in the US, but sometimes in the rest of the world, politicians lie. When a politician says we're going to go to war. The first question you ask is who is he talking to. Is he even talking to the neighbor? More often than not, the answer is "No." More often than not, he's talking to his own constituents and that doesn't mean we're going to go to war, he means "Vote for me in November." On the press side, there's no surprise at all. You pick up any newspaper and it's not shocking that all the things you read are the dangers or the threats of the negative. I'll regularly spend hours with journalists going over this rich history of collaboration. Sure enough, the headline the next day is "Water War is on the Horizon." Inevitably. People talk a lot about conflict and war, but on the actual violence side, there's very little record. Since 1948, 38 cases of violence, 27 of these are between Israelis and Arabs, and the last shot fired in that basin over water was in 1970. So if you picture this worst case scenario, demand hits supply. In 1968, the last shot fired is two years later. They're out of water. They hate each other. They're fighting wars. They're having anti-Fatahs. Their economies are growing. There's violence over other sets of issues. Populations are growing all through the basin. All of that in the absence of violence over water resources. That's really interesting. That now starts to set up our questions in a more nuanced way. How does this happen? How do people who dislike each other so intensely find ways to collaborate over water? In terms of wars over water, zero wars in the last 60 years. Zero wars in the last thousand years. The last time two countries went to war over water specifically was 4,500 years ago. The city-states of Lagash and Uma fought a battle on the Tigris. Which then led to the first water treaty in history that now hangs in the Louvre. That's interesting. Now this gives us a more nuanced way of approaching the issue. The next thing that we were approached with almost immediately was "OK. We get that it's not war but it's no question that it causes tension. It gives enemies fuel to fire that already exist?" What are the indicators that you might think of that might indicate future conflict between two countries?" I'll throw it out to the room. If you were to think of the things that you would measure for settings that are conducive to conflict, what would you look for? Audience Member: Level of employment, for one... Aaron: Level of employment. More people out of work. More conflict. Right? What else? Audience Member: Political instability.. Aaron: Greater political instability. Greater likelihood of conflict. What else? Audience Member: Lack of food... Aaron: Sorry? Food. Lack of food. Greater likelihood of conflict. What else? Audience Member: Uncertainty over ownership? Aaron: Uncertainty over ownership goes up. Conflict goes up. What else? Anybody going to say scarcity? Certainly it's the one we thought of. The very first one. People talk about climate change...all these things. We did an exercise like this. We brainstormed what we thought the issues would be. Then we had to measure them. Then we had to go back over those 1,800 events and ask which ones indicated things in the past. The biggest one that people talk about is scarcity. Sure enough, we put everything into a big database, or GIS. Anybody GIS gurus here? One. OK. Just to get a sense, we've got 1,800 events. We have a hundred indicators. Does the data stay stable over our 60-year period? No. It changes all the time...60 years of record...100 layers...6,000 layers of data, right? At the end of it, the beautiful thing is once we put the indicators into the database, all we have to do is hit the button and out pop the indicators. Sure enough, we hit the button...this took two-and-a-half years to do just to get the data in place...boom. Hit the button and out comes garbage. Aaron: Absolute garbage. This is every single indicator that we...this happens to be the human development index against conflict in cooperation. Any stats people in the room? What does that show? Garbage. Right? Nothing. No indicator. Nothing. And this was true of every indicator. Statistically, nothing indicates anything about anything, anywhere at all. Those were our conclusions. Thanks for coming. Aaron: To give you a sense of how bad it got. We thought politics was important. Here's the conflict level for ardent democracies and the conflict level for fascist dictatorships. Absolutely identical. We thought scarcity was one. Which means these are the climate types...and this is the most cooperative climate. This is the most conflicted climate. Sure enough, when we do that, our most cooperative climate is the dry climate. A couple of you are starting to nod your heads. This was our epiphany, too. This was our "ah-ha" moment. If you really think about it, yeah. Dry climates are more cooperative because they have to be. In dry climates, people learn to cooperate. They create institutions that are cooperative. In order to get anything at all done, you have to cooperate. That's why the Bureau of Reclamation is here. If it was left alone, farmers would never build the types of infrastructure that was necessary to get water going in the West. That's what we have to do. We have to cooperate. This is true worldwide. This is now our epiphany. We realize there are two things going on. There's change in the basin. All the things you look for. Scarcity, floods, droughts, economic growth, tensions. Everything that's going on. Managing that is a certain level of institutional capacity. How good are the agreements? How good are the relationships? How well do they work together? That helps mitigate the change. What we learned to do was think in pairs. The likelihood of conflict rises as the rate of change in a basin exceeds the institutional capacity to absorb the change. Now we're not looking at indicators. We're looking at two things. Sudden changes. Or a lack of institutional capacity. In the international realm, what that is, is that somebody wants to build something big. A damned diversion. And there is no agreement in place for how to mitigate it. It's not the dam that causes the conflict, it's the dam and the absence of an agreement about what to do with the dam that causes the conflict. Measuring those two things together, internationalize based since you think of those six case studies on the front then all of them were developed under one empire, either the British or the Soviet, and that empire collapsed. That's a sudden change on the international side and somebody mentioned here general animosity. People hate each other about water or about everything else, they'll hate each other about water as well. With that in mind, we were able to develop a map where we thought pending indicator suggested likely settings for tension, and these weren't the basins that people were talking about. These were basins that weren't on anybody's radar. This is now 2003. This is the Selwyn basin and this is Limpopo, a number of basins that weren't on the screen. About this time, I made a presentation of this in a water conference with the very next presenter presented this map. How many people have seen this map? Water 20/25, number of people, so this was a big reclamation effort around the same time. They purported to do the same thing. Identify the places where conflict was likely based, primarily where supplies are not adequate to meet demand. The assumption behind the map was that scarcity leads to conflict. We, the person who presented and I had a great conversation over lunch about whether that's true. Does scarcity lead to conflict? The bottom line is, we don't know and the western US we didn't know. The proposal was then made and here my two colleagues in crime come in a major way. That's Dennis Cobley and Doug Clark and we put this proposal together in reclamation. Design and provide a set of tools and teaching modules to aid and detecting, preventing and mitigating water related conflicts and to foster collaboration but it's got to be evidence based. We got to now in advance what the causes are before we come in with our bandits on what might and might not help. One of the institutional questions we got to ask, is conflict rewarded in the institutional level? It's an interesting question. How do we as institutions create our incentive structure to manage for conflict? This was the basis of the study, rigorously assess historic trends, rigorously evaluate institutional capacity. Developed and only then once we get what's going on, develop skills, building training based on local needs and culture while drawing on the international experience. That was in 2006, 2005 and this is the beginning of this project, Western Water Institutional Solutions and we've been doing this ever since. We start with the same questions. What are the actual causes of conflicts? We do it the same way. We're doing two things. What's reported in the news and then a lot of listing; going to water management councils, area managers, where there'll be an area of... We started small in Oregon and then moved up in the upper Colorado region, asking the same sets of questions. It's focus groups and assessing data. 2008, now we're completing the upper Colorado regional analysis and our first briefing paper comes out. The kinds of things we immediately start in the first couple of years is that, the relationship between change and institutions is similar but the issues are different. Here for example are timelines in Oregon of cooperation and of conflict. Here is precipitation above and below the main. As you see there is no relationship between conflict and cooperation and precipitation. Here are these big droughts, there is no real conflict. Here at 2001, is the worst year we had on record. What's this? Those who know the Oregon, Klamath. Audience Member: Klamath. Aaron: Absolutely, here's the climate base and exploding in the year 2001 and the question is whether the drought was responsible. If you were only looking at the data it would be compelling, but then immediately things start to get better. We're having a similar situation this year and it's not nearly as conflicting this time around as it was in 2001. The major difference is the institutions that have been crafted, the conversations that have been held since then. You have no relationship between scarcity and conflict but there are these inflection points that you can see where suddenly things change within the basin. If you plug into your timeline, major changes to the institution, these are primarily new regulatory requirements. If you think about it, this makes total sense. You're sitting there, you're managing your water, you have this agreement and suddenly there's a new endangered species that changes everything. There's so much uncertainty, of course without figuring out what the impact the EASA is. Or there's an adjudication that suddenly gives water rights to somebody. Or there's a new requirement. This happens to be the phosphorus ban here and immediately after Klamath, there's so much emphasis on collaboration, so many resources that immediately we start moving into a more collaborative area. In the west, again we have this relationship between change and institutions and the question isn't so much is scarcity going to drive conflict? The question is, can you have very difficult conversations earlier. That becomes the fundamental question. Could we have seen? A lot of people did see the Klamath coming together. All of these rights colliding, reclamation rights, endangered species rights, tribal rights now throw in a drought, now throw in a biologic opinion. Of course, could that conversation have happened without the pressure of the drought and the biologic opinion? That becomes a strategy for approaching these issues. This is what we try to do. Look for timelines and then really horn in on the individuals because none of this stuff happens in the scientific vacuum. It's all people. All the problems are caused by people. All the solutions are developed by people. Who are they? What do they do? What are they thinking about? Who made what decision and when? Thinking about the process allows for anticipating the trends using these lessons to help develop training and tools for sharing knowledge. Again 2008, we continue on, institutional solutions working now with area managers and focus groups in Bismarck and in Phoenix. 2009 we horn in on Animas La Plata in the upper Colorado. This was a very detailed case study. One of my students wrote his PhD all on this one set of issues and start to ask, within reclamation, what are the incentives and disincentives of dealing with conflict? Again, the lessons we're learning, doesn't matter what scale you're looking at international, Oregon, upper Colorado, there's a larger database. Two-thirds of the time we do anything it's collaborate, no matter where. This is really interesting. What happens when you conflict, when there is tension and that's when everybody gets interested, news reports, everything else, everybody is excited. All of that brings attention, brings resources, brings focus and brings creativity. That if you look at these timelines, all of that tension creates a setting that then guides us into the creative solutions that end up crafting collaborative institutions that survive conflict. It's that ladder part of the record that doesn't get the focus that it needs. Once you're in a conflict, everybody's there, everybody gets it. How did you get out of it? That's the more interesting set of questions. Again here, here is the timeline here. This is the Rio Grande headwaters and notice that the worst year was the year before four years of drought. Again, this disconnect in the idea that scares so the alone leads to conflict. Here we see this is a good example on the silvery minnow. The worst year 2002 coincides with this drought, but the best year they had is the following year exactly, even an area of low precipitation. What is that? That's people focusing their attention right in there and coming up with ways of working together, crafting collaborative agreement. The second part of this study again, the incentives and disincentives both at area manager level, and at this level, within interior. This is interesting. Managers report that they routinely spend 50 to 100 percent of their time managing water conflict. How many people here are water managers? Is that right? Were you trained in conflict resolution? Yeah? OK. Most people when we ask those two sets of the questions, yes we spend 50 to 100 percent of the time and no, we weren't trained in it. We weren't trained in process. We weren't trained in meeting design. I'm a great biologist. I'm a great ecologist. I'm a great biochemist and no, when I'm spending 50 to 100 percent of my time on, I'm learning on the job. That's an issue if you're going to think about skills building. The higher the management level, the more time we spend managing conflict, training the cross levels was periodic. Some people were trained in these issues some weren't. Is conflict rewarded? That's a tough issue. Statistically people who manage areas which were more conflictive, rose higher, made more money, got more awards than the people who preempted conflict by having healthy conversations earlier. That's an interesting finding and that's their statistic. People who are out there doing the real work of crafting healthy conversations earlier are not getting the same recognition as people who are putting out fires after they take place. About the same time, 2008 reclamation and I don't know if it's interior or what. I only know in reclamation it's really interested in this idea of collaborative competency. The idea is that, everybody in the agency should have some competency for being collaborative. Now what that is and everybody's job description had to have a component of this and they had to be evaluated on this. But at least in the initial years, what that was and what it looked like was a little bit vague or inconsistent across the agency. All this is coalescing together. The evidence we have of what the issues of conflict are, this gives us a great...a target to shoot for. Only now we start to develop the skills building a workbook, thinking abut those conversations that have to be had. Not just among stakeholders and certainly not at the international scale, but within offices, between agencies, between individuals. All of these are the things that people report that they're having conflict over and over and over. In this training, what we're trying to do is couch our skills building within a water context. But working on skills that work from the intra-personal within us, all the way up to the interstate and even international levels to give an idea the issues of conflict. Most people report that their conflicts are inter-agency or interoffice. I'm not going to name names between competing agencies at the federal government or at the state government levels, but there are some that are more development oriented. And some that are more environmental oriented and some have different kinds of leadership and some have different sets of missions, those conflict. Along with the stakeholders, these are also stakeholders. Even within offices, there are some parts of the office that are more focused on building stuff and some parts of the office that are more focused on protecting stuff. Those parts of the office can sometimes have conflict, not to mention, the normal interpersonal stuff that happens in any workplace anywhere. This now as I say becomes the structure for the skills building course that we've developed. We start thinking about rights again. It's in a water context. What are the rights when people walk into the room? They focus on their rights. I deserve the water because of the VSA. I deserve the water, because I've been irrigating since 1934. The next question is, "OK, we get it. What do you need?" What do you need to irrigate your crops? What do you need, and when, and of what quality to protect the ecosystem? Then moving on to interests and finally to thinking about benefits. This is a four-stage training that we do. The big picture of the training goes like this. All of us have four sets of needs. It doesn't matter if you're using Maslow, the structure of our brain, or any faith tradition, all teaches the same thing. We have four basic needs -- physical needs, emotional needs, intellectual, and spiritual. Waters captured in all of these sets of needs, right? This is true at the individual level. It's true at a group level. It's true at a state level. It's true at the international level. If we think about how water fits into these, we also think about scale at which this happens. From the very, very small basin all the way up to the international level, this now becomes the structure of our training. These four sets of needs at four different scales, and we start our training intrapersonal. What are the conflicts you have going in within yourself, and how do you deal with those in order to be able to have more competency for collaboration? What are the skills you need to get along with other people one-on-one, in small groups, in offices, all the way up to the international? The skills are useful for anybody, but couch within the water management framework. A lot of this stuff, those of you who have taken this work, will recognize these -- active, transformative, listening. We spend in our training half a day on listening. It's one of the key skills in any conflict. Those of us who work internationally hear this from our international colleagues. I heard this joke overseas. For an American, what's the opposite of speaking? Waiting to speak. You see that all the time. In our courses we spend an awful lot of time on this issue. Things refraining different sets of issues, and the courses are designed specifically for that collaborative, competency training. What we do -- It's a five-day training. The first day is everybody at all levels of management. It doesn't matter who, and that's for two days. We do mostly interpersonal skills. At some point, we get at the highest levels two things. One, that they probably learned a lot on the job, but two, they're retiring soon, so it really doesn't matter. Everybody else stays in the room for the rest of the week. We go detailed, going back over the skills to ingrain them in our work, moving all the way up to the international scale. If you think better and pictures are four levels are the basin with the boundaries on them, I identify as an ordonian. I identify as a rancher. I identify as a tribe. Take those borders off the map and think about the basin without the boundaries. While we have the boundaries off the map, what are the benefits that the water brings to all of us, to our ecosystems, to our futures, to our economies, to our land? The last thing we have to recognize, we have to put the boundaries back on the map even if these are figurative boundaries. It's not enough that the basin as a whole benefits, you still got to go back to your constituencies. You still got to go back and make sure that you, as an individual, are being represented along with the whole. It's one eye on yourself and your constituents and one eye on the needs of the whole. We've now done this course, I didn't even count them, 20 times throughout the West. Reactions have been good. I didn't realize, but once this collaborative competency became an issue, we had a couple of courses. I didn't realize until I got there, but they were required of everybody in the office. That's a different vibe, walking into a room of people who are there by choice and people who have to be there. By the end of the first day, everybody was on board. We ended up, our evaluations are good. People are seeing the need for it. The problem is the West is big, and reclamation's big and having some consistency. You can do something like this, be all ready to go. "I'm ready to listen. I'm ready to collaborate. I'm ready to go out and do all this stuff." You get sucked into the rivers that we all swim in, and it washes away within a week. There has to be a certain level of consistency, and that, initially, was the original ideas, that we develop something. We would do some train-the-trainers and hand the whole thing lock, stock, and barrel over to reclamation for internal consistency and make sure that it meets reclamation's changing needs. Kofi Annan, who predicted wars came around. "Water problems need not only be a cause of tension. They can also be a catalyst for cooperation. If we work together, securing sustainable water, future can be ours." That's true internationally. I know it's true in the US West. I wanted to thank you on behalf of me, certainly for having me out here, but also on behalf of Dennis and Doug, who would be here if they could. All these other nice folks who've been supportive. Both in terms of the research efforts in terms of Kurt Brown, and Chuck henning, and folks around reclamation who've been tremendous. Patty Aaron who's here. Reed Graham who's out West in Albuquerque. When I say I did something or I looked at something, what I mean is that my graduate students did it. Those are all the team down there who get three Master's thesis and one PhD out of this and terrific, terrific group of folks across the board. Thanks very much. Malka: Thank you. Any questions in the room? We'll start in the room first. Audience Member: My question relates to how one resolves conflict. I would be interested in your views on the extent in which markets decentralized mechanisms for resolving conflict get in here? In most places in the west, the opportunity costs, costs of war, are not reflected in prices that would go a long way perhaps for helping to resolve conflicts. Aaron: Can you state who you are and where you're coming from? Audience Member: I'm an economist in the Office of Policy Analysis. Aaron: Terrific. Thanks. Of course, yes. Clearly, I'm not going to use California as an example, because we can easily use Israel or Australia. We've learned the lesson that subsidizing water-needy crops and deserts don't necessarily make a lot of sense. Having said that, I want to nuance the question. A lot of times, can markets help? The answer's yes, but, and the yes is in all the places that clearly would help. When Intel is using water, it's another economic input. They should look at it like electricity, labor, like everything else. Farmers, to some extent that's true if it's industrial farming, but we got to recognize that we, as a nation, also have some values embedded in the subsidies that are there. We, as a nation, have to ask which of these values are still relevant year to year? Some are. I don't want to talk about the US West, because I have to go back there tonight, but for example in Israel, they moved a lot water out of agriculture, and then realized they were losing a lot of open space. They put subsidies back in certain agriculture water simply to keep open space. We do that where we end up complaining the issue, both internationally and in the US West, is does everything have to be public and does everything have to be subsidized? What I would urge, probably you and your office are doing exactly this -- water for different sets of issues can have market mechanisms to help us use it more efficiently. The immediate example comes to mind is industrial uses. We have to think are we talking about subsistence farming? More often than not in the US, we're not. We're talking about farming for commercial purposes. What are the subsidies there? What values do they represent, and do we still hold that value? What's the implication for water use? California's learning a really tough lesson this year. I grew up in California, and the sand in California. Every drought is one year too short, because about the time you have the political will to make some real structural changes, it rains. Out goes that political will. If you look at places like Australia, like Singapore, like Israel, at some point the scarcity is so bad that political will or not, things have to change over time. Is that nuanced enough so that I don't get in trouble when I go home? Malka: Question from the Internet. Audience Member: Could you give example about international counterparts working together for example EPA, NOAA, and organizations overseas? Aaron: Oh, absolutely. Our federal agencies often have r rich, overseas programs. EPA and NOAA are two on the list that are mentioned. Core of Engineers has a big overseas program. Reclamation has an overseas program. Reclamation was responsible for setting up collaboration on the Mekong Agreement back in the 1950s. That treaty is still holding today, still allowing for those countries to cooperate. It's interesting if the federal agencies that have international programs often find that they can do more overseas. A lot of times both the incentive structure and the political constraints are different when you're working overseas. The problems are often so desperate that you can move a lot quicker. Those are the ones that I'm familiar with. If the listener has other examples, happy to hear about them. Malka: Questions in the room? Adriana Mir: I'm Adriana Mir, a policy analyst in Office of Policy Analysis. I was wondering to what extent your results are applicable to other natural resources if at all? Aaron: I get this question a lot. I don't know. I'm a water guy. I don't know. When I suspect, and I can tell you. Let me ask you, do you know? Adriana: I don't. I work on Arctic issues, and I'm thinking of a region where people keep on predicting we're going to have conflict. We're trying right now to deconflict it if we can. Your results here in the patterns you're seeing are interesting trying to figure out how can we deconflict this before we get to that point? Our office has some ideas about it, but we haven't necessarily taken that approach that you have. Aaron: Yeah. I don't have the evidence but in general, this relationship between change in institutions is one that holds. The change you would find would be different, and the institutions you would find would be different. The other thing that we need to get more and more used to, even when we're doing good, historic, evidence-based research, is also looking for cooperation. That's the part that people missed profoundly. A lot of the talk here in DC is about climate change. Is climate change going to lead to more conflict? People are saying, "Yeah. Look at this case that happened. Look at that one." Did you look at cooperation? "Oh yeah, that's right. This brought these people together, and this brought these people together." That whole idea would hold true is that conflict bring focuses attention. It focuses attention, focuses resources, focuses creativity and sometimes can then overcome the political will necessary to make things happen. I do also think, and I got to say to the water folks, I think water's special. When we talk about the different levels of needs that we have, water's one of the few that I know that really hits us at every level. From the physical, the critical, physical need that you need water every, single day to your spiritual well-being. There aren't a lot of tungsten. It doesn't ring quite the same. I worked in the Middle East a bunch, and there was a guy there. He was responsible for five, multilateral tracks between Arabs and Israelis. It was five different issues, and water was only one of the issues. These were setup in the early 1990s, and the only one that survives until today is the water tracks. The other four went away. He was responsible for all five. I met with him recently, and I asked him. I said, "People keep asking me, "Is water special?" What do I tell them? You know. You watched four fall apart and water stay, why?" He thought about it, and he said, "Water people think in units beyond political boundaries, and they have a language a common language that they can speak across their nations." He stopped and said, "You know what? I think they're nicer people." I'm going to stick by that as part of my answer. Nobody gets into water to get rich and famous. You don't. Most people who do it are simply trying to make the world a better place, and that's a good group of people to be working with. Malka: Nothing from the Internet. Anything from this room? David, you're going to make me walk. David Downs: I'm David Downs with the departments International Affairs Office. I wanted to respond to the earlier question about examples of agencies working internationally. And to note that one great example of international cooperation that's involved the Department and the Bureau of Reclamation is cooperation between the US and Mexico around the Colorado River. We had a dramatic example in March of the fruits of that cooperative effort with the release of a pulse flow down the Colorado which led to the first water reaching the Colorado River Delta in decades. This is a situation of scarcity. It's safe to say with growing demands, economic demands on the water supply, and yet the two countries were able to come up with a way to address environmental and ecological values in a very dramatic and promising way. I wanted you to know that. Aaron: Thanks so much for bringing that up. Those of you that haven't seen the clips all online. You watch, school kids are all lined up urging the water on as it flows for the first time in decades to the Gulf. It's a dramatic thing. It's a good example of how we really can incorporate change and values, but the initial treaty between the US and Mexico was not a good one, particularly, not if you're Mexican. Over the years, it's been tweaked, and tweaked, and tweaked, first to include water quality, then to include ground water, and now to include in-stream flows. That's a terrific example. Thanks for bringing it up. Malka: We have a question from the Internet. Audience Member: Do you have suggestions about how to appropriately recognize successful, preemptive, conflict resolution as opposed to the rewarding the conflict? Aaron: Yeah. No. . I don't. One I know. Take Oregon for example, the basin that everybody knows as the Klamath in the South Central part of the state. You know it, because it blew up. If you go to the Northern part of the state, there are two, Walla Walla and the Umatilla, side-by-side, two basins that could have as easily have blown up. All of the same sets of issues. All of the same players. Terrific scarcity. This happens to be ground water, and it's dropping dramatically. There instead, all of the stakeholders have been working well together and reclamation's been right in there the whole time. I'm not administrator, so I don't know how that would come across a manager's desk to be able to say, "Ha! This one blew up. OK. We get it, and they did a terrific job in handling the conflagration, but look at all this collaboration that happened." "Is there some way that we can reward this for happening even though it didn't generate the same headlines?" One is the awareness that we do often unintentionally reward people who have been through conflict. Maybe this issue of collaborative competency is the excuse, the action force in event to be able to take the opportunity and allow people to say, "Yeah. This is where I helped encourage collaboration." "These are the conversations that I helped encourage," and in some way to be able to figure out a way to reward that. The details, I honestly don't know, because I'm an academic. We only do stuff in theory, but it does give an excuse to look more carefully at the issues. Malka: Any questions in the room? Linus Chen: I'm Linus Chen. I'm with the division of Parks and Wildlife Office. Can you talk a little bit about technological scientific improvements in water conservation such as remote sensing river irrigation also with water production desalination? Do these technological improvements allow for collaborative events, or do they forestall things for conflict in the future? Aaron: Wow. That's a good question. Let me get your tape before I go into mine. What do you think? Aaron: Did you say at Sister's office? Solicitors. OK. Yeah. Sisters is a town in Oregon not related. Sorry. What I've seen in a couple of places is both. A couple of times I'm finding new technologies, and you named them all. In water, you only have two options. You can increase supply, or you can decrease demand. That's all you got. Increase in supply is desalination, maybe cloud seeding, fog harvesting, bringing from somewhere else, from somewhere far away, recycling sewage. Decreasing demand is the smaller scale stuff, the drip irrigation, better crops, different uses of water, more efficient toilets, those kinds of things. Those are really all you got. The combination, the problem is that generally they happen very slowly. When conflict breaks out, it's quick. A couple of times, I've seen technology contribute to where negotiations were stalled. I think I mentioned about half my time is as a facilitator in the room doing these kinds of issues, not studying it from 30,000 feet. A couple of times, there was a real roadblock that was overcome when somebody said... I can think of a couple of cases between Israel and Jordan. They were in negotiation. They suddenly realized that one side didn't need as much irrigation water as they thought to accomplish the same thing and that allowed for the conversation to move forward. Another time, there were negotiations, a lot of countries, I won't say which basin, but there were 10 countries. A famous river flows south to north in Africa. I don't want to name names. One of the countries was not playing along and was holding all the water secret, until somebody came in with all the stuff they had found online. No secret data, but all the stuff they were able to find from remote sensing images to...and dumped it on the table, and said, "You guys, this stuff is really not secret. Can we move on?" That was another case. In Israel, Israel right now is overcoming its limitation through a very focused program in desalinization. They did everything else. That's what happens. Israel, like I said, they ran out of water in '68 and so they started with all the small-scale stuff. They moved to drip irrigation. They moved to better crops. They moved to better, more efficient use. Then there was a terrific drought and they said, "You know what? We're moving 40 percent of our water out of agriculture. Just deal with it." People then moved to much more labor and capital-intensive crops. You're moving from oranges and cotton, to kiwis and orchids. Then, ran out of all that water and now are spending a huge amount of money on desalinization, to the point where, I think, in the next five years a third of their water will come from desal. That gives them a certain amount of freedom to negotiate with the Palestinians in a way that they hadn't been able to before. That process is a long, long haul. Malka: Question from the Internet. Audience Member: This is a bit of a two-part question. Could you say something about the efficiency of the outcomes that are achieved from the conflict process, versus those that are achieved through the earlier cooperative process? And... Aaron: You can measure it any number of ways. Either in time or money, collaborative processes are much more efficient. Collaborative processes...and I didn't do these studies but there's a ton of studies that show this over and over and over Collaborative processes take more time on the front end but there's buy-in on the backend. I think the Klamath climate is a really, really good example. It blew up and there were lawsuits and political capital was being spent, and actual capital was being spent. There was violence and there was horrific stuff and this year, is the same water year that 2001 was and there's certainly amount...some tension simmering. But not nearly the conflict that happened in 2001. Precisely because of all that investment in institutions, in relationships, and also in infrastructure. I think that's the really classic. The problem with the alternative, the alternative more often than not is somebody going to court. When somebody goes to court, somebody wins everything and somebody loses everything. That's not how most of our problems are. Most of our problems are much more nuance where, if you think about it, you may be able to take a little from here and some season, and put it here in particular drought years and mix a little bit of quality here in order...and that gets everybody's needs. You can't come to solutions like that more...usually in court. It's just...the court is some party's right, some party's wrong. Some party gets everything, some party...and there's no buy into the solution afterward. When you lose in court your first thought is, how do I overcome this temporary loss? When you're successful in the collaborative process your thought ought to be, how do we make this work? How do we build this up? How do we win for our constituents by participating with these other stakeholders. Malka: Questions in the room? Darn, I thought I got to get one. James Hess: I'm James Hess with the Bureau of Reclamation. The question I have is about institutional maturity. The example that comes to my mind is in Florida, Alabama, Georgia a number of years ago, maybe 8 years ago now. I can't even remember the name of the place and it's a long name that I always forget. They couldn't get along and they came to the Secretary of Interior, who was Kempthorne at the time, and he said "Well, let me think about who in my organization has experience in dealing with water conflicts." So he said "Bureau of Reclamation, Bob Johnson, you're in Colorado you were...negotiated the...I am the water master of the Colorado River.'' I would like you to go figure this out and he went down and sat down and the conclusion he reached was that while they had three-party agreement in place, they did not have any institutional maturity to deal with any crisis because they are so used to too much water and not enough water. They had a horrible time until it rained and they never solved that it rained until the problem went away. In the analysis, the work that you have done, have you found that issue to be in an international dynamic like the situation I described. Aaron: Yeah, it is a really good question. I will give you the basins only because I lived in Alabama for five years. Alabama-Coosa-Tallapousa and Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint. I do not know why that is not offered that and when I was there I mean ions and ions ago I taught at the University of Alabama and this was the issue. This is mid 90's. Come on, to get 90 inches of rain a year, how long is this going to go on. Well this is going on way longer than about anything in the west and I think that is right. I think you put your finger exactly on it. There is real, I will say what I learned in my time in the southeast is different and their politics are different in a way that there is more political capital to be gained often by not going along with the regional solution. Whether it is politics or local and so those issues between Florida, Alabama, and Georgia, all of them hit real constituents within each state and those constituents have vested a real vested interest in not arriving a solution that would require compromise. So that is the city of Atlanta in Georgia that is growing and needs drinking water, it is farming community in Alabama, and it is fish and shrimp in Florida and that the politics are real, real difficult. So the answer, I think you set up the question exactly right and it is probably based on your experience is, yeah, getting the agreement is only the first step. It is building the agreement, it is getting buying into the agreement, it is getting used to working together and seeing that it is in everybody's benefit to work together. So I can think of basins like Chad Basin comes to mind. I was working in Southern Africa in the Okavango Basin where they have a great agreement in place. And they do not have a lot of experience working together and it is tough. So now they are getting to the point where they have to make some difficult decisions. I want to mention about these courses. A couple of times we have used the course work when people get stuck and have really difficult decisions. We will do a course around that issue so say let us step back from the formal process and that is what I was doing in the Okavango. It does not matter what the issue was, but they got stuck and moving down and said you know what that is pulled back from the formal process. Let us do a skills building course so we can all get on the same page about what the benefits are and how we can do this together and we used the issue as simply a case study. Sometimes it was an anonymous case study and sometimes they knew they were dealing with their own data and we did this also here in a couple of places in the west and so really nice way to get around it. But to answer your questions, yes, people need practice working together and they need to see this perpetually in their benefit to do so and again I will hold up Klamath as a great example. This year is a really, really good test of it and I think they are doing really, really well based on their history now, 10 years or 13 years now of working together. Malka: Thank you very much doctor and thank you all for coming. Aaron: Thanks.