Press Release

New Dædalus Issue Explores the Tradeoffs and Opportunities of Increasing Demands on a Limited Resource: Water


CAMBRIDGE, MA | JULY 13, 2015 – There is no resource more central to life on Earth than water, and it is impossible to overstate its role in shaping human history. Humanity’s need for water is inextricably linked to its need for security, energy, food, and community. At the same time, climate change, population growth, and economic development are currently placing unprecedented demands on this limited resource, as well as increasing the uncertainty associated with future demands and availability.

The Summer 2015 issue of Dædalus moves beyond the problems and failures. Instead, guest editors Christopher B. Field and Anna M. Michalak frame contemporary events and issues within the context of the decisions we face—and the opportunities that emerge—when we are confronted with increasing demands on this limited resource:

Decisions about water often tell us more about our priorities than they do about the total amount of available water. Many of the trade-offs in allocating water involve three big water users: food, energy, and environment. A world with an increasing human population, burgeoning energy demands, evolving food preferences, and a rapidly changing global climate means that everything about the water equation is dynamic. The result is a complicated web of interconnections with potentially unexpected risks, but also with many points for intelligent intervention.

Beginning today, as part of a new editorial partnership with the American Academy, Boston-based public broadcaster WGBH News will air a special in-depth reporting series that draws from and expands on research and expert commentary from Dædalus. This five-part series, "Water Pressure: Saving a Threatened Resource," travels from the ports of New Bedford, Massachusetts to drought-ridden California to examine the availability, security, and sustainability of water across New England, the United States and the world, and the political and economic tensions that this natural resource presents to communities everywhere. The series will air locally on 89.7 WGBH Radio.

Dædalus guest editor Christopher Field, a Fellow of the American Academy since 2010, is the Founding Director of the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Department of Global Ecology and the Melvin and Joan Lane Professor for Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies at Stanford University. Guest Editor Anna Michalak is a faculty member in the Department of Global Ecology at the Carnegie Institution for Science and an Associate Professor in the Department of Earth System Science at Stanford.

In their essay, “Water, Climate, Energy, Food: Inseparable & Indispensable,” Field and Michalak present a number of case studies illustrating the competing drivers, demands, and tradeoffs that frame the decisions humanity makes about water use. They make the case that an integrated systems approach to water issues is critical to identifying and evaluating options for sustainable solutions.

Among the other essays in the volume, Terry L. Anderson’s (Hoover Institution, and Property and Environment Research Center) essay, “Dynamic Markets for Dynamic Environments,” examines the inability of static economic models to connect changing human demands on water systems with changing supplies that result from short-run climate variations and long-run climate change. As an alternative, Anderson advocates water markets and redefined water rights, offering examples of how novel entrepreneurial approaches more responsively meet old and new demands on water ecosystems. In his essay, “Water Security in a Changing World,” John Briscoe (Harvard University) defines the concept of water security and explores the implications of the eternal pursuit of it. He reviews how water security is understood by wealthy and by poorer nations, and how the tensions that arise from these differing perspectives manifest in a world characterized by rapidly shifting economic and power dynamics.

In their essay, “Urban Water-Supply Reinvention,” Richard G. Luthy (Stanford University) and David L. Sedlak (University of California, Berkeley) provide examples of innovative approaches to utilizing local water resources to achieve more resilient water supplies in cities in drought-prone regions of the American West and Australia. These approaches include seawater desalination, wastewater recycling, and aquifer recharge. And in “Adaptation in the Water Sector: Science and Institutions,” Katharine L. Jacobs (University of Arizona) and Lester Snow (California Water Foundation) take on the unprecedented set of questions that climate change poses for water managers, and detail how the complexity of the water-energy-food nexus requires more flexible solutions than humans have previously developed.

Essays in the Summer 2015 issue of Dædalus include:

  • Water, Climate, Energy, Food: Inseparable & Indispensible by Christopher B. Field (Carnegie Institution for Science) and Anna M. Michalak (Carnegie Institution for Science)
  • Water in Mythology by Michael Witzel (Harvard University)
  • Water Security in a Changing World by John Briscoe (Harvard University)
  • Progress on Nonpoint Pollution: Barriers & Opportunities by Adena R. Rissman (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and Stephen R. Carpenter (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
  • Water Unsustainability by Jerald L. Schnoor (University of Iowa)
  • Adaptation in the Water Sector: Science & Institutions by Katharine L. Jacobs (University of Arizona) and Lester Snow (California Water Foundation)
  • Urban Water-Supply Reinvention by Richard G. Luthy (Stanford University) and David L. Sedlak (University of California, Berkeley)
  • Dynamic Markets for Dynamic Environments: The Case for Water Marketing by Terry L. Anderson (Hoover Institution)
  • Impair-then-Repair: A Brief History & Global-Scale Hypothesis Regarding Human-Water Interactions in the Anthropocene by Charles J. Vörösmarty (City University of New York), Michel Meybeck (French National Center for Research), and Christopher L. Pastore (University at Albany, State University of New York)