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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

home : opinions : editorials September 27, 2016

4/13/2013 1:07:00 PM
Editorial: Water language needs effective translation

A hydrologist speaking in layman’s terms seems as rare as a layman speaking hydrologeze. Both must happen, however, if the Verde River Basin Partnership’s dreams of a highly informed public making highly informed decisions about water are to come true.

Learning about the data that has come from running the U.S. Geological Survey’s regional groundwater flow model was only one aspect of the USGS’s three-hour presentation in Camp Verde on Thursday. In short, the model shows pumping groundwater affects the flow of the Verde River.

Another strong aspect of the presentation was the continued separation between the raw facts of the hydrologists and what precisely the average residents of the Verde Valley, of Yavapai County, of Arizona can do that will cause a change in direction in the water conversation.

The turnout of interested folks at the Multi-Use Complex was a sign that many laymen, including high school students, are trying to get informed about these issues. So it was paradoxical that any inquiries were met with the response - more than once - of “You need to get informed.”

There is a public that is trying to get informed and trying to learn water data in complex terms. There is a scientific community that is trying to explain its numbers in simpler terms. Thursday’s presentation was an advance in bringing this together, though it did not always succeed.

Did the USGS data go over the heads of the uninitiated? Of course. Was the data infinitely important? You better believe it.

The USGS is not a committee that can guide people in how to “get involved in the process.” They are experts trying to explain water science in layman’s terms. When that does not quite happen, it can be frustrating for all.

VRBP does have regular folks who are good intermediaries for translating figures from one party into a course of action for another. That is what made the presentation the success it was. Everyone got the message that the Verde is seriously threatened, and something needs to be done.

Explaining the exact details of what can be done and what should be done (privately and politically) will be the next lingual challenge in this endeavor to do right by the Verde. But it will still demand a common language.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Sunday, April 14, 2013
Article comment by: bob eustace

Having attended the well run meeting and hearing that certain wells may dry up in the Verde area in around 75 years due to human migration,and knowing the figures are conservative,,would someone at USGS care to give an estimate using more accurate figures, and a worse case scenario?

Posted: Sunday, April 14, 2013
Article comment by: Careful of what gets lost in translation

Great points in this editorial, but caution flags should be raised about who is doing the translation.

Be alert for self-proclaimed slick-talking "experts" who can come in and interpret just about anything they want from arcane scientific data.

Some so-called scientists work as highly-paid consultants who's services can be bought and sold. One need only look at the water experts used by the Prescott/Prescott Valley people to undermine the USGS and justify their Big Chino pipeline.

Remember all the talk about the "clay plug"?

To do this right, we need highly ethical, objective sources of information who can communicate effectively and are not compromised by self-interest and are without an axe to grind.

Real experts can be hard to find, but the USGS should be considered the gold standard of objective applied science.

And the public should remain open-minded skeptics. Ronald Reagan put it well: trust, but verify.

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