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In Search of Sustainable Water Management

International Lessons for the American West and Beyond

Edited by Douglas S. Kenney

Water issues in the American West share many similarities with those seen elsewhere in the world as population growth exacerbates longstanding problems of inappropriate water use and management. The contributors to this timely volume examine the universal challenge of sustainable water management to improve the use of water resources already developed and find ways to moderate our growing collective thirst.
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Chapter 1: Water Policy and Cultural Exchange: Transferring Lessons from Around the World to the Western United States

James L. Wescoat


James L. Wescoat Jr My interest in international water policies and cultural exchange stems from work as a landscape architect on design projects in Glenwood Canyon (Colorado), Kuwait, and Abu Dhabi. Each project required that knowledge gained in one region be used to address problems in another region. As a graduate student at the University of Chicago, I took courses on ancient irrigation systems in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Mesoamerica, but the university offered no courses on western water, which was alternately regarded as exotic and mundane. Later, in Colorado I found much in common between water management in the western United States and other parts of the world, and became convinced that geographic comparison of water policy lessons has practical as well as intellectual value (Wescoat, 2002a). PROBLEM STATEMENT This chapter asks, ‘How can water management lessons be drawn for the western United States from distant places?’1 Water management information has expanded dramatically over the past century, especially in recent years with expansion of Internet resources, international projects, travel, trade, and education – offering increased opportunities for comparing water systems. When do comparisons lead to practical water management lessons and applications? At first sight, water management comparison has implicit yet largely tenuous links with application. Judging from the large literature of case studies that draw few practical lessons for other places, intellectual curiosity would appear the aim of many water publications (Wescoat, 1994). Some comparative studies strive to draw generalizations from case studies, through controlled analysis of a small number...

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