Online Conference Proceedings

< Return to abstract list


IWRA World Water Congress 2003 Madrid Spain
IWRA WWC2003 - default topic
Author(s): Robert GRIST

Robert GRIST, MPA, CEM, and Azad MOHAMMADI, Ph.D., P.E city of Portland. bureau of water works 1120 sw5th avenue portland, oregon 97204 usa.



Public officials, both elected and appointed, have never had such a variety of topics that require their attention as they do today. Among some of the most demanding have been those concerning environmental issues. This paper delineates a leadership strategy that applies to all natural resources and in particular, discusses how to address the challenges the world faces regarding its dwindling water supply.

Elected officials and career public administrators are often caught somewhere in the middle of controversial environmental topics where each side attempts to influence the decision-making process. They quickly learn that issues surrounding “the greatest use for the greatest number of people” are very contentious. While they work toward a defendable position on natural resources, officials and administrators must balance each party’s different concerns regarding economics and lifestyle choices with national and international law. They must understand the aims, means, methods, and goals of those who support preservation, social capital needs, unrestricted use of private property, wise use of resources, bioregionalism, conservation, multiple use, and the corporate extraction of renewable and non-renewable resources. The public expects that elected officials and those appointed to serve them will take a leadership role in resolving these issues.

Many people feel that success in this role will require a different strategy than what has been used before. From the current level of disagreement regarding policy implementation, we can deduce that previous techniques have not been adequate. We have approached natural resources as though they were not only abundant (which they were) without a worry of depletion but also that the world was self-healing (which it isn’t). Our knowledge of the truly fragile nature of resources has been increasing as we have pushed at the boundaries of the frontier. Now that most boundaries have been reached, the wisdom to manage what resources remain must increase exponentially. To insure we have the capacity to reach toward new frontiers and advances in the arts and sciences, we must jealously protect the foundation on which we stand.

Humanity has left its mark. Ruts in the ground near Scotts Bluff, Nebraska, were caused by the wagon trains rolling across the prairie on the Oregon Trail, bringing settlers into the Pacific Northwest. The wheels destroyed the vegetation and the ecological microstructure of the soil in such a way that nothing will ever grow there again without massive reclamation efforts. This was learned over a hundred years ago and yet off-road vehicles and motorcycles continue to tear up acres of wilderness, woodland, and seashore today as a sport. The environmental system can no longer support such thoughtless activities. What is needed is a code of conduct similar to the ancient oath of doctors who, as the leading scientists of their day, pledged first, as it has been summarized, to “do no harm.” The goal, therefore, is to meet the environmental needs of civilization while leaving the smallest possible footprint. What is slightly visible now should be nearly invisible in the future.

To accomplish such a task, elected public officials and appointed public administrators must adopt a leadership strategy that focuses on a commitment to stewardship and a passionate desire for to being resourceful while cultivating a mutual respect of all parties, their needs, and their policies while working toward established goals.

IWRA Proceedings -