Planning the Future or Not?
Many of you will remember in the 1980s there was a book called Megatrends by John Naisbett, and a later update called Megatrends 2000 and a host of other megatrend documents. The concept was to look for global or national trends that might impact out future. I recalled this while I was reading an article from Forbes and Public Works magazines recently talking about the future, and development of megaregions. They project 11 megaregions in the US that will develop by 2050. Most are in process already and are familiar: 1) Pacific Northwest (Vancouver to Portland), 2) Bay Delta, 3) Southern California, 4) Front range (Cheyenne to Albuquerque, 5) Phoenix/Tucson, 6) Texas Triangle (Houston-Dallas-San Antonio, 7) Gulf Coast (Houston to Mobile), 8) Florida (I-4/I95), 9) Piedmont (Atlanta to Raleigh), 10) Northeast (Washington DC to Boston), and 11) southern Great Lakes (the old “Rust Belt”). If you are looking for economic growth, all signs point to these 11 region. Most are located along interstates which makes transportation by truck easier. Several have port access and most rail. The projection is for more people to move from the rural areas to these regions, and for the influx of immigrants to likewise migrate here. But an issue not noted as a part of these projection is that only three of them are not water limited, and those three include the two oldest regions: Rust Belt stats and the northeast where there is water. In addition, three of these areas are characterized by potential adverse climate impacts (Pacific Northwest, Texas, and Front Range) that will adversely impact their future water availability. In all but the historical cases, embedded power availability is lacking, creating competing interests with the water industry. So where is the planning and forecasting models for 2050 and beyond for these regions? Some jurisdictions have seen attacks on traditional planning activities as unduly limiting development, implement specific agendas, and other nefarious reasons. Florida scrapped most of its growth management/concurrency requirements in this vein. After all, why should you insure there is water in order to issue development permits right? That might limit development! Why not manage an aquifer for 100 years, to insure a 100 year supply, not to insure the supply remains available indefinitely. Both short term goals conflict with the theory of constraints which says that any system is limited in achieving its goals by a very small number of constraints; kinda the old idiom “a chain is no stronger than its weakest link.” The concept requires the application and investigation of the situation in enough detail to gain an understanding of the constraints and to construct an optimized solution. Keep in mind that often maximizing certain goals, will cause others to suffer. A familiar example, you can have construction occur fast and with high value, but not at a low price. You can achieve certain reliability of water supplies, and improve economics, but you need to understand other impacts. Too often planners focus on meeting the goals of the client, while ignoring competing goals, which ultimately leads to greater costs down the line. As these megaregions are well on their way to development, we need to begin the process (a bit late, but better late than never) to understand the limitations each region will face with respect to water supplies and how those water supplies impact competing economies. Failure to do so could create constraints within the regions that restrict their growth and economic potential.