Water is critical to health and prosperity of the people and environment of Texas. Sustainable management of water resources necessitates forecasts of how water supply and demand may change in response to factors such as rapid population growth, technological innovations, and global climate change. While the state of Texas has one of the most progressive approaches to water planning in the nation, much of the water planning throughout the state is based on a short-term, rear-view mirror approach that grounds the science in historical data and patterns over the instrumental record of the past century. This data-driven approach has its strengths, but may be limited if future climate patterns are sufficiently different than historical patterns, or if future population and demands outpace current projections. Furthermore, quantifying changes in water resources involves not only consideration of the physical system, but also prediction of changes in both water supply and demand due to changes in technological innovations with respect to water, energy, and food production, as well as the evolution of behaviors and response of human actors to such changes. The relative lack of in-house technical expertise on climate change and the complexity of predicting changes in water supply and demand across smaller water management entities may pose an additional challenge to water planning.
Addressing 21st century challenges to water resource planning will require integration of research and applied expertise and knowledge that has traditionally been compartmentalized in separate institutions, disciplines, and sectors into a holistic perspective. Further, the mere existence and availability of well-founded and unbiased science is insufficient. That is, researchers are generally hopeful that their work can inform policy and management decisions; however, gaps often exist between the information that science provides and the information stakeholders need for planning purposes. These knowledge gaps can be addressed through collaborations between scientists and stakeholders that not only identify where gaps exist between available and actionable information, but also provide guidance for how scientific investigations can be better crafted to provide management-relevant information. These types of collaborations will require a network of people who know one another, trust information that they share with each other and understand and respect each other’s roles and perspectives. Such a network could shape the way scientists approach the study of water resources and the way in which science links to policy decades into the future.
Since 2015, the Texas Water Research Network (TWRN), part of the Environmental Science Institute at the University of Texas, has been bringing together researchers and stakeholders to address the grand challenges related to water resilience given the dual drivers of climate change and rapid urban growth. Network-wide meetings are held every 6 to 12 months to provide network members in shared experiences of learning and dialogue about topical issues and ways of linking science with management and policy. Network members are diverse, spanning a range of disciplines across 40 academic, research, government, non-profit and commercial institutions.