Water issues pivotal in the 21st century

Ed Stiles
Feb. 21, 2000

Contact: Soroosh Sorooshian, 520-621-1661, soroosh@hwr.arizona.edu
Relevant web link:

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The world's water resources are under extreme stress in many semiarid regions because of rapid development, variations in climate and disruptions caused by long-term climate change, says University of Arizona Regents Professor Soroosh Sorooshian.

What happens to water supplies in the world's arid and semiarid regions will exert a major influence on political stability, environmental quality, and quality of life for millions of people because a large area of the globe is involved - approximately one-third of the continental land masses. Sorooshian spoke Saturday (Feb. 19) at a symposium of the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Washington, D.C.

The additional demand for fresh water is likely to further stress the uneasy relationship between human water needs and maintenance of a healthy ecosystem. It also will exacerbate conflicts over water rights, leading to increased tensions in already politically unstable areas of the world.

Sorooshian hopes that a new center he directs will play a major role in removing some of the political debate that now surrounds water issues by providing hard scientific facts relevant to the issues. The center is developing wide-ranging research into water sustainability and promises to rapidly disseminate cutting-edge hydrological information as it is developed.

"With better information, water issues become less open to political interpretation and debate," he says. "We also are running another danger these days and that is information overload, particularly as the whole electronic communications medium and Internet expands. There are multiple sources available at people's fingertips. With too much information, you don't know how to put it to good use and the greater the difficulty in interpreting what is good information and what is junk. You could be fascinated with a nice visualization and graphics, but the question is, What's behind those pretty graphics? How reliable is the information on which they're based?"

Sorooshian directs the new, $16-million NSF STC (Science and Technology Center) at the University of Arizona. It is a multi-university center that combines scientific data and social science. Its goals are to develop water management strategies, provide those strategies to decision makers and educate the public on water issues.

"Part of our work is to understand the processes involved in the hydrology of semiarid regions and to improve prediction capabilities on water availability at different time scales - from hours to decades," Sorooshian says. "We also want to improve our prediction capabilities in the area of water sustainability and on the impact of climate change and variability on water resources in general. Then we will transfer these improved prediction capabilities to a number of agencies and others responsible for providing information on water to the local and state agencies that manage water resources, including water districts, flood control districts and emergency management agencies in the case of flooding. At the international level, we are working with the World Meteorological Organization, UNESCO and other groups that are dealing with water resources, climate and weather."

STC also is involved in developing literacy in the areas of climate and hydrology to give both water managers and the general public a better understanding of the issues involved and, therefore, an informed base of knowledge from which to make decisions.

"In a lot of places, groundwater depletion far exceeds replacement," Sorooshian says. "In many river basins, such as the Colorado River basin in the Southwest, resources already are over-committed. As population increases and even more demand is placed on these resources, we must effectively manage them or we may face some severe consequences. Our job as scientists and engineers is to provide the best information possible on hydrology and to disseminate that information as widely as possible so that critical decisions about water are based on the best scientific know-how available."


Resources for the media