Most important domestic problems faced in the United States today are affected by policies for the management of our water resources. Energy, the environment, food production, regional economic development, even our international balance of trade, are all affected directly or indirectly by water resources management. Often there is too much or too little management, or it occurs in the wrong place, at the wrong time, or in the wrong way to serve the many demands. The combination of all these inadequacies constitutes what is generally referred to as ‘the water problem.’
The nature of the problem and our perception of it have been changing over time. In part, this is because our understanding of the physical, chemical, biological, economic, and social aspects of water resources has grown rapidly. Long-term climatic variations, for example, have become much more important to us, since we perceive that our water uses are encroaching more demandingly upon available supply. And the relations of organisms to their environment have become more important as we have come to note the magnitude of our pollution discharges and the interdependencies between man and his environment. In part, the change results as well from the fact that values, as well as relevant organizational and institutional structures, have been in flux. Increased concern for environmental protection, for example, has resulted in changing attitudes toward and demands on our water resources.