201288 Management approaches to address water conflict in the United States

Tuesday, November 10, 2009: 11:42 AM

Karin Bencala, MESM , Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin, Rockville, MD
Shared resources often lead to allocation disputes between multiple actors. How equitably the resource is distributed depends in large part on the institutions available to mediate disagreements. Water is no exception. Not only are there disputes over how much water someone has, there are also disagreements over the quality of that water, and the purpose for which it is used. To further complicate the issue, water does not adhere to political boundaries. In the United States, there are major rivers that cross state lines, including the Colorado and Mississippi Rivers. While the use and management of these rivers has led to disputes for decades, new regions of our country are beginning to experience water disputes as well. Just because a river flows between jurisdictions however, does not mean that a conflict will ensue. The Potomac River basin flows through four states (Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia) as well as the District of Columbia out into the Chesapeake Bay. This river is a vital drinking water source for over 4.3 million people in the metropolitan Washington area. While in a relatively “water rich” region, droughts do occur and management issues arise. In 1940, the four states realized that to best manage this resource, an external body with the goal of protecting the river was needed. Since then, the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin has been facilitating discussions between the states, local jurisdictions, water users, and interest groups. While not the answer to every problem, the Commission is able to provide a forum for dialogue and science-based problem solving that helps the region avoid many contentious situations.

Learning Objectives:
Identify opportunities for cooperation over shared water resources. Provide overview and examples of contentious water issues in the United States. Evaluate Potomac River watershed as an example of how management and collaboration can diffuse potential conflicts.

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have academic and professional experience in water conflict and cooperation, and am currently involved in regional water resource planning in the eastern United States.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.