Municipal water agencies find themselves in an increasingly difficult situation. In many jurisdictions, water supply and infrastructure are reaching their limits as both population and demand for fresh water continue to grow. Conservation is an obvious goal for water agencies, and many have begun to experiment with innovative ways to address growing water consumption.
Zach Youngerman (MCP ’13) catalogues these efforts and assesses their impacts. He combines water conservation policy tools into three categories: regulatory approaches which restrict the allowable uses of water, particularly in times of drought; financial approaches that use price signals to reduce demand; and community-based social marketing approaches that encourage the adoption of new norms and behaviors to save water.
Zach finds that regulatory approaches can work reasonably well for water conservation, but have minimal or negative effects for reduced stormwater use. Similarly, incentives and pricing signals have been an effective—if somewhat adversarial—means of achieving conservation in some cases, through the inability to meter stormwater use can make their application difficult. Social marketing approaches—such as encouraging the use of rain barrels or an advertising a lawn care aesthetic rooted in more natural landscaping—seem to have been highly effective, though water bureaus must overcome entrenched norms about water use and have encountered many obstacles in the course of conducting a campaign.
In practice, water bureaus often employ a variety of these three approaches in encouraging water conservation, and Zach offers a set of best practices for agencies to consider for each. Read about these recommendations in Zach’s thesis, and share your own thoughts on successful strategies to encourage conservation below!
In an ideal world, environmental management policy would follow directly from scientific research, which would spell out clear courses of action for decision-makeImagers to adopt. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. The policy-making process is notoriously messy and science may be interpreted differently by multiple audiences and actors, severely diminishing the impact that scientific knowledge can have on policy outcomes. In this frustrating context, how can scientists ensure that their work is contributing positively to sound environmental management practices?
In her thesis, Erica Simmons (MCP ’13) looks at three ways in which scientists have attempted to influence the political process in the case of the management of the San Francisco Bay-Delta. The first was the CALFED Science Program, which in the early 2000s adopted an approach of political neutrality, emphasizing instead the strengthening of relationship between scientists and policymakers of all perspectives. This was succeeded by a partnership between scientists at UC Davis and policy researches as the Public Policy Institute of California, which from 2007 to 2013 took on the role of political advocate and advanced explicit policy recommendations informed by scientific research. Most recently, the San Francisco Estuary Institute partnered with KQED, a regional public radio station, to develop a package of radio and interactive web content to educate the public about environmental management issues in the Bay-Delta.
These three approaches offer very different ideas about how scientists should approach policymaking, whether as a non-biased researchers, data-backed advocates, or public informers and educators. As Erica notes, these efforts have built upon one another and addressed the weaknesses of prior models: the UC Davis-PPIC partnership was purposely more politically assertive than CALFED, and the SFEI-KQED collaboration more actively drew the public into the policy discussion.
In the end, there is no blueprint for how scientists should approach policy issues, and the issue does not appear to be getting any easier. Still, scientists must adopt a strategy for how to interact with the policy discussion, and the methods they adopt can have important implications both for policy outcomes and for the public perception of scientific research. Read about these issues and more in Erica’s thesis.
As discussed in Erica Simmons theses, do you think it is possible for scientific findings to retain enough of their legitimacy inside the scientific community when they are being tailored to communicate and influence the broader populous?
Our natural systems are increasingly threatened by climate change, droughts, increasing population, and related crises. These coming crises will have massive economic impacts, and firms will soon need to learn how to operate in a setting where resources are constrained and old business models are no longer competitive.
Aleyn Smith-Gillespie (MCP/SM 2001), now an associate director at Carbon Trust, recently contributed to an Economist report on the future of business models in a constrained world. Aleyn notes that, for many products where the cost of ownership is high and the rate of utilization low, businesses have an opportunity to recognize resource constraints by shifting away from an ownership economy and towards a sharing or subscription-based one.
Many proactive businesses have already begun to move in this direction, by emphasizing shared ownership of under-utilized resources (like cars and industrial machinery) and advertising services over products.
As these new business models succeed and resource constraints continue to strangle the old economy, Aleyn expects this shift to become more pronounced. Read more about Aleyn’s take on his guest blog at the Economist, or download the full Economist report, Supply on Demand.
One often-cited benefit of a sustainable economy is the creation of a new class of green jobs, but creating these jobs has proven to be difficult. First, there’s no clear consensus on what makes jobs “green.” Second, efforts to encourage green jobs are complicated by the need to satisfy both environmental and economic objectives, which often conflict.
Louise Yeung (MCP ’13) evaluated two green jobs programs—the Oakland Green Jobs Corps and the Baltimore Center for Green Careers—to see how they were handling the tension between these policy priorities. She found that they were taking significantly different approaches.
In Oakland, the Green Jobs Corps takes a supply-oriented approach to filling jobs by partnering with unions to move green jobs through existing employment pipelines. The Corps trains workers in a broad set of environmental practices, and then inserts them into traditional trade positions. While this approach has given the Corps good access to new positions, the resulting jobs are not always as “green” as might be hoped. Because of union partnerships and other constraints, the program places a high emphasis on employment priorities.
The Baltimore Center for Green Careers, meanwhile, takes a demand-oriented approach. It has encouraged the growth of a new green industry—home energy efficiency contracting. This has led to a somewhat smaller programmatic impact, and the program is dependent on other policies that offer generous incentives for energy efficiency.
The varying tactics that the two programs have adopted—and the pros and cons of each—demonstrate continued uncertainty in how best to fashion green jobs policy. Read more about these programs and the lessons that they offer in Louise’s thesis.
While our electric power system is generally regarded as a major tool for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, it is, itself, vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. More frequent and more extreme heat, drought, and storms are putting serious strains on our electric system, and we must find ways to ensure that we have a resilient, reliable grid without waiting for disaster to force the issue upon us.
Melissa Higbee (MCP ’13) looked closely at the ways in which American electric utilities are preparing for climate change by conducting a survey of 26 utilities and developing in-depth case studies of three. She finds that some utilities are indeed preparing by looping climate change projections into their existing risk management and capital planning efforts. The main way that utilities have acted so far is by reinforcing their transmission and distribution systems, for example by adopting “smart grid” technologies or by moving important power lines underground.
But Melissa also notices the uneven pace of progress. The preparations that utilities make for climate change depend on their business models and the mood of their state and local regulators. She encourages regulators to require adaptation planning on the part of utilities and notes the useful role that governments can play by providing accurate and consistent forecasts of expected climate impacts. She also notes that, in the face of uncertain climate conditions, utilities would be wise to plan for a range of possible outcomes by incorporating scenario planning methods into their adaptation efforts. Read more about Melissa’s findings and recommendations in her thesis, here.
Katherine Buckingham (MCP ’13) shows how one state—Massachusetts—has taken the lead in restoring contaminated sites through legal and policy reform. Massachusetts has modified the federal system of superfund liability to encourage potential brownfield developers to purchase and rehabilitate properties. More significantly, interagency cooperation provided through the Brownfield Support Team initiative (BST) has made it easier to deal with regulatory requirements.
The situation is familiar to many planners: a broad set of angry stakeholders with wildly divergent worldviews, a deeply personal and political problem with no clear definition or boundary, and limited options regarding a way forward. These are called “wicked” problems, and this is a scenario that dispute resolution practitioners have few ways of handling.
In her thesis, Carri Hulet (MCP ’13) describes a new tool to add to the facilitator’s repertoire. Called a “devising seminar”, the concept is built around the idea of gathering a small group of stakeholders to brainstorm how they proceed without any immediate pressure to commit to a specific set of recommendations.
Carri details the experience that she and a team of university researchers had in applying this method in the case of a Chilean hydropower conflict. In the context of an intense dispute between Chilean government officials, project developers, environmental representatives and indigenous communities likely to be adversely affected by development, the team turned to a devising seminar to generate new policy ideas and a better understanding of the sources of their disagreement.
The Chilean experiment met with mixed results, but demonstrated the utility of devising seminars as a tool for promoting public policy dialogue among long-time adversaries. Carri lays out the crucial elements, major obstacles, and key recommendations regarding the use of devising seminars, which can be found in her thesis.
The acequias of New Mexico offer a valuable approach to conserving shared water resources. Since colonial times, farmers in the area have worked together to operate and maintain a shared irrigation network, with community-elected managers ensuring that the water continues to flow and that it is share
d equitably in times of scarcity. Acequias demonstrate the effectiveness of community-based approaches to resource management.
But as Brian Daly (MCP 2013) shows in his thesis, New Mexico’s acequias are now at risk. The state’s water rights law, which encourages farmers to put their own needs above the community’s and encourages a “use it or lose it” mentality, threatens to undermine the long-term survival of the acequias. Fortunately, the state legislature has given acequias a means to prevent the sale of water rights to urban developers and create water banks that ensure unused water claims aren’t taken away from the community.
Brian finds that advocacy organizations have been effective in educating acequias about their rights and helping them adopt bylaws needed to take full advantage of new state laws. However, he also finds that more outreach is needed to inform all rural acequias about their rights, and to build their internal capacity to establish water banks. Read more about the acequias ‘approach to communal water rights in Brian’s thesis, here.
In 1993, Miami-Dade County was one of the first jurisdictions in the nation to adopt a plan for climate change. A crucial leg of this plan
was to reduce vehicles miles traveled (VMT) through comprehensive land use management and improved mass transit. Evaluating the plan 15 years later, Haley Peckett (MCP 2009) found that a poorly structured system of political incentives had instead led to a substantial increase in VMT, and set out to examine the root causes of this failure.
Haley attributes much of the blame for poor land-use management with the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners, a group torn across racial and ethnic lines and accountable only to their individual districts and constituencies. Following through on the county’s ambitious land use management plan would require commissioners to “hold the line” against voters and advocate groups unhappy with some negative effects of land use management and transit expansion, such as tax increases and limited availability of developable land for affordable housing.
However, with nobody in the decision-making process empowered to adopt a comprehensive perspective on what is best for the county as a whole, Haley describes how commissioners have time and again compromised the county’s long-term vision for smart growth in the sake of short-term political wins for their constituents. If Miami-Dade is to successfully implement a land-use management plan, she notes, it will have to adopt a longer view on policy outcomes and allow an independent entity with a broader view on the effects of land use to play a serious role in the policy formation process.
Read more about the battle over land use policy in Miami-Dade County in Haley’s thesis.