Science Debate 2008 has brought together an impressive coalition of prominent science organizations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, National Academy of Sciences, and Scientists and Engineers for America, to ask the Presidential candidates 14 questions on the most pressing science-related issues facing the country. One of the questions specifically focused on water policy:
Thirty-nine states expect some level of water shortage over the next decade, and scientific studies suggest that a majority of our water resources are at risk. What policies would you support to meet demand for water resources?
Barack Obama was the first candidate to respond; John McCain has also said he will submit answers. I’ll be sure to post John McCain’s answers as soon as they’re available, but for now we only have Barack Obama’s response:
Solutions to this critical problem will require close collaboration between federal, state, and local governments and the people and businesses affected. First, prices and policies must be set in a ways that give everyone a clear incentive to use water efficiently and avoid waste. Regulations affecting water use in appliances and incentives to shift from irrigated lawns to “water smart” landscapes are examples. Second, information, training, and, in some cases, economic assistance should be provided to farms and businesses that will need to shift to more efficient water practices. Many communities are offering kits to help businesses and homeowners audit their water use and find ways to reduce use. These should be evaluated, with the most successful programs expanded to other states and regions. I will establish a national plan to help high-growth regions with the challenges of managing their water supplies.
In addition, it is also critical that we undertake a concerted program of research, development, and testing of new technologies that can reduce water use.
I think that this is a pretty good answer overall. Barack Obama recognizes that water policy is shaped by all levels of government and is not simply a federal issue. I like that he mentions both markets (pricing) and government regulation as potential tools to push water conservation, since both have their place and only an ideologue would tout one option and exclude consideration of the other option. I’m a bit skeptical of a “national plan” to help some regions manage their water resources, as the federal government doesn’t have a great track record of planning and managing water supply (but who does?). For a short format answer I’ll cut a candidate some slack for not including important details. But with major regional and interstate water problems looming on the near horizon, the next President needs to be ready to hit the ground running on water policy.