Groundwater management and irrationality
|March 7, 2012||Posted by karmadsen under blog, Groundwater Regulation, History of Groundwater Modeling|
I’ve always been fascinated by human irrationality in the financial markets. In spite of all the brilliant minds focused on this system, the market is still often controlled by emotions and irrationality and the fear-and-greed cycle. It seems that irrationalities in the human character will trip us up no matter what we do.
Unfortunately, irrationality crops up in groundwater management decisions as well. Daniel Ronen, Shaul Sorek, and Jack Gilron1 tackle this subject in the January/February edition of Ground Water Journal. They have identified several types of bad decisions that crop up in groundwater management. For example, over the last several decades, the dominant groundwater cleanup philosophy flipped quite dramatically. In the 1970s the goal was to remediate aquifers to pristine conditions. But the cost and limited effectiveness of this approach led many policy makers to switch suddenly to a natural attenuation focus. The authors of this study contend that this decision contained a fair bit of irrationality. They give the following reasons:
- Neither approach should be adopted uncritically.
- Thorough cost/benefit analyses were not performed to support this change in philosophy.
- Thorough reviews of alternatives were not performed.
- The decision may have been based more on economics than science.
The authors go on to explore several other examples of irrationality and explore some possible explanations, the most painful of which is that “the characteristic time of processes associated with groundwater are usually orders of magnitude greater than the residence time of decision makers in their managerial positions.”
The first sentence of the study is: “Humans are considered to be rational beings.” But the evidence presented show that this is often not true. After witnessing the recent economic collapse, I don’t think we can indulge in this belief. It is important to learn from the financial markets and to acknowledge that irrationality sometimes goes along with being a human being. The best solution is probably to continue to conduct research on best management practices and to make water management as politically transparent as possible.
1. Ronen D, Sorek S, Gilron J.. (2012) Rationales Behind Irrationality of Decision Making in Groundwater Quality Management. Ground Water 50(1): 27-36.