Academic journal article Public Administration Review

Consensus-Building for Integrated Resources Planning

Academic journal article Public Administration Review

Consensus-Building for Integrated Resources Planning

Article excerpt

Recently, integrated resources planning (IRP) has begun to be used in evaluating water supply options for large populations experiencing water scarcity. Traditionally employed to make decisions in the energy sector about different energy mixes, integrated resources planning is a technical methodology for forecasting needs, delineating alternative supply options, and choosing among different supply combinations (Goodman and Edwards, 1992; Western Area Power Administration, 1994). When used in water planning, the IRP approach lacks an important component seldom required in energy planning: processes for building a political consensus among water managers, producers, and consumers. The need for consensus-building processes in resources management generally is growing. Agencies at all governmental levels are beginning to manage resources collectively rather than individually so that ecosystems can be protected as a whole (Cortner and Moote, 1994). This shift to ecosystems management requires collaboration between many decision makers (Grumbine, 1994; Slocombe, 1993).

In this article, we describe an IRP consensus process used by the Metropolitan Water District (referred to as Metropolitan or MWD) of Southern California. Metropolitan offers many lessons because it is dealing with a wide array of water issues. In terms of population served, MWD is the largest water management district in the world, and its decision makers represent areas that are diverse geographically and politically. The district invests in local water resource development as well as securing imported water, and its programs include not only supply but also conservation, reclamation, and storage.

The Politics of Water

Integrated resources planning needs a consensus-building component because water is typically a much more controversial issue than energy. In the latter, decisions about supply combinations are seldom made by the energy producers themselves. Rather, decision makers are usually in a position of selecting from among several types of energy resources (petroleum, hydro-electric, etc.) from several producers. In this situation, it is fairly straightforward to determine the most cost-effective resource mix. Admittedly, questions about reliability and other factors still require nontechnical, political judgments, but these judgments are not directly linked to the decision-makers' self-interest.

In contrast, water production and water consumption are usually bound together geographically, economically, and politically. In any given region for which a group of decision makers is providing water, choices about water sources will have differential effects for different parts of the region and different political jurisdictions, depending on their existing water resources.(1) Consequently, consideration must be given not merely to technical questions of cost but also to equity across the region.

Certainly, this was the case with MWD. Metropolitan is an umbrella agency covering southern California from Los Angeles to San Diego, a region that includes over 15 million people, 145 cities, and 94 unincorporated communities. The annual water needs of the region are roughly 4 million acre-feet. Sources of water include investment in local ground water, surface water and reuse of waste water, and importation of water from the Colorado River, northern California, and Owens Valley and Mono Basin.

Metropolitan was formed in 1928 to provide imported water to meet the needs of cities, counties, districts, and other water suppliers serving consumers with retail or wholesale water. Twenty-seven pre-existing suppliers (cities, counties, and special districts), each covering a different geographical area and having a different mix of water resources, came together to establish MWD under state enabling legislation (Metropolitan Water District Act, 1969, chap. 209). Within Metropolitan's governance structure, these water suppliers are called Member Agencies. …

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