Water-resources planning is attracting unparalleled attention around the globe from local, national, and international bodies aware that a sustainable supply of water is crucial to meet growing demands today as well as the projected needs of future generations. Concern over water-management policies and practices is especially critical in arid and semiarid territories, which comprise approximately one-third of the earth's land surface. In the western United States, municipal, industrial, commercial agricultural, and other users increasingly look to new technologies and improved management practices as the means to recycle wastewater or to reduce consumption altogether.
At the same time, the era of large-scale water development, meant to harvest and channel water destined for urbanizing regions or to reclaim desert lands for agricultural production, is rapidly ending. In its place, a new conservation ethic is taking root across the spectrum of users and advocates, from computer-chip manufacturers to mayors of sunbelt cities. Conservation programs extol new water-conserving techniques and urge facilities managers, contractors, farmers, residential consumers, agency employees, and schoolchildren to modify wasteful behaviors. There is growing appreciation that while water is crucial to the survival of communities, it is also renewable, if managed conservatively.
In the long run, however, sustainability of water quantity and quality may depend more on democratic and social processes than on technological or regulatory fixes, particularly when incorporating regions of the world with diverse cultures and equally different, often conflictive, views of water. Past efforts by public officials to impose mandatory conservation