Finding a reasonable aquifer yield : support methods for groundwater policy in Texas

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2013-05

Authors

Petrossian, Rima

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Managing groundwater can be difficult because there is no common perspective among stakeholders about what they wish for their desired future conditions (DFCs) for Texas' aquifers. Conflicts over how to manage aquifers, whether to mine or sustain groundwater levels are complicated by diverse state and local approaches. This dissertation proposes a decision support method to derive acceptable future aquifer conditions through engaging stakeholders by combining five processes: landowner surveys, stakeholder and decision maker focus groups, contingent valuation, system element identification and scenario-testing. Surveys of water users identified conflicts among water users and decision makers' preferences. For example, how much is groundwater worth in Texas? Responses to two survey questions revealed a willingness to buy groundwater for an average of $2,872 per acre-foot. Most landowners most did not want to sell groundwater at any cost. Those willing to sell revealed an average of $4,069 per acre-foot. A survey of landowners and decision makers indicated that 41 percent of landowners indicated that no new users be issued permits to support stable Trinity Aquifer groundwater levels. Meanwhile, the decision makers chose a DFC of a 30 foot drawdown in the Trinity Aquifer over 50 years. Stakeholder surveys identified the 'best groundwater decision makers' as being the stakeholders or well owners, yet 75 percent of the decision makers preferred the groundwater conservation district board presidents. This suggests that stakeholders would prefer to be the decision makers rather than being asked for their preferences. One decision-maker focus group identified 12 elements representing their understanding of the DFC process. These elements form a system information diagram or preference map. Such a map can help identify alternative pathways for solving problems in the decision process. These complexities remain challenging as Texas moves toward more local regulatory control, more competing interests, and less certainty about Texas' future groundwater supply.

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