David Feldman
UCI political scientist and water policy expert David Feldman studies the ways in which communities and jurisdictions deal with conflicts over water allocation and use. Paul R. Kennedy

If David Feldman has his way, you could soon be working with water policy managers and scientists to allocate California’s precious liquid resource.

Feldman, chair of planning, policy & design, studies how communities and jurisdictions deal with conflicts over water. He says problems are only solvable by enlisting American consumers who use an average of 100 to 176 gallons of water at home each day – at least 95 gallons more than the average African family.

“If we’re going to sustainably manage the resource, we’ve got to figure out a way to meet the needs of the environment at the same time we meet human demand,” he says. “To do that, you must involve public stakeholders. There has to be a lot of negotiation, bargaining and compromise. It can’t be done top-down; it has to be bottom-up because each person has a tangible role in water use.”

Feldman, a Calit2 academic affiliate, sees information technology as a means to educating policymakers and gaining public cooperation.

A report he recently co-authored for the National Oceanic & Atmospheric  Association’s Climate Change Science Program examines how water managers use graphically depicted climate models to develop flood hazard abatement and drought plans, and strategize solutions to other issues impacting public water supply.

He advocates similarly engaging the public with computerized modeling platforms through which students, homeowners and community groups participate in behavior-and-consequence-type games based on real information. Such platforms would put complex climate and weather information into forms that are understandable by a variety of water consumers – from farmers, ranchers and homeowners to irrigation districts, reservoir managers and utility officials. Such modeling platforms are already being developed for purposes as varied as deploying wildfire suppression resources in California and managing drought in Australia and Brazil.

These innovative information technology systems help water users make more informed decisions by demonstrating climate variability problems and their effect on water resources. At the same time, water consumers and policy managers can provide feedback to scientists on how to develop more useful decision-making tools.

“It would be really useful for schools and communities to look at ways users can essentially generate their own solutions to water problems,” he said. Adopt a Watershed, which allows students to learn about and care for water in their communities, is one example.

“The challenge,” Feldman said, “is to inform people so they are more cognizant of where their water comes from, how it gets to their communities and the overall use demands on the resource.”