An analysis of the evolution of public policy for aquifer storage and recovery : experiences in three Southeastern states
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One of the most important public policy issues of our time, both in the U.S. and abroad, is the management of water resources. A technique devised in recent years to help manage these resources is aquifer storage and recovery (ASR), which allows storage of water in underground aquifers instead of above-ground reservoirs or storage tanks. ASR is growing in use worldwide, more rapidly in some areas than in others. The storage technique is complex in that it entails thorough and site-specific analysis of hydrologic, geologic, and geochemical conditions. Because of its complexity and unfamiliarity to the general public, decisions regarding ASR use and regulation could easily be limited to a small group of experts rather than opened to public opinion. It thus provides an excellent opportunity for examining the policy-making process for such scientific and technological issues in general. The fundamental question posed in this study is this: in addition to science, what elements—social, political, economic, or other—have influenced the decision-making process regarding the acceptance and implementation of aquifer storage and recovery? The hypothesis is that ASR generally remains the domain of scientists and engineering professionals unless a specific event, or sequence of events, propels it into the public policy arena. At that time, many other factors begin to shape the way decisions are made regarding ASR implementation and/or regulation. Science generally remains an important aspect of the decision-making process, but becomes only one element among many other considerations. A series of case studies in Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina was used to examine how decisions have been made regarding aquifer storage and recovery. Florida and South Carolina have both implemented ASR, while Georgia has, at least temporarily, elected not to test the technique. It is expected that many aspects of the case study results can be generalized to other locations and circumstances, relative to ASR as well as other scientific policy issues.