Regional Consensus Building
You are the executive director of a metropolitan planning agency in the Southwest. Your board includes most of the chief elected officials of the cities and towns in the region along with the heads of numerous stakeholder groups. Growth has mushroomed over the past two decades, although the recent economic slowdown has brought new development to a halt. There is some hope that housing development will pick up, especially on the rural fringe. Open space has been eaten up at a frightening rate. Of even greater concern, water supplies are clearly insufficient to sustain another round of development given the demands for water from the industrial, residential, agricultural, and conservation “sectors.” Battles over water allocations and investment in new water supplies are likely to tear communities apart. Your board has attached top priority to formulating a regional water strategy that balances the demands and interests of all the competing groups.
You have identified a senior staff member to facilitate this effort. With the board’s approval you have appointed a 12-member blue ribbon advisory group to formulate a regional water strategy. You are pretty sure you have the money you need to staff a 12-18 month effort. You assume that the Advisory Group will tap appropriate (volunteer) academic and industry experts from extreme environmental and industry groups (which were purposefully left off the Advisory Group) will try to sabotage the effort. You are also worried that the state government will try to undermine what you are trying to do. The state doesn’t think very highly of regional planning, preferring to do everything on a state-wide basis.
Finally, the major newspaper in the region has already ridiculed the idea of a regional water strategy, arguing that senior water rights are held by those who have always held them (by law), and nothing can be done to change that. They also point out that your agency is powerless to do anything about the economic forces at work.
What strategy will you urge the Advisory Group and your staff director to follow? What, if anything, can they do to generate an informed regional consensus that will have the political backing needed to make a difference?
If you want to advocate some kind of “Blue Ribbon Advisory Committee,” how would you suggest it be structured? If not, what other public engagement/public education technique would you use?