Governance in the Water-Energy-Food Nexus

Date: 1/9/2019

Author: Cassie Oswood, Public Relations Manager

Dr. Kent Portney, the Director of the Institute for Science, Technology, and Public Policy and Bob Bullock Chair of Public Policy and Finance at the Bush School of Governemtn and Public Service,  presented to the IfSC over his project entitled: "Governance in the Water-Energy-Food Nexus: Implications for Collaboration and Sustainability in the Drought-Prone Metropolitan San Antonio Region project." The project researches the collaboration between Food, energy, and Water system management agencies. The key question is on what basis, or under what theory, would changes to existing governance of water, energy, and food/agriculture be expected to produce the changes in resource outcomes seemingly advocated by the WEF nexus research.

The NSF pushes money into WEF Nexus research on the assumption that more collaboration between these resource management agencies will create more sustainable outcomes. They define sustainability as acquiring and using these three resources the most efficiently. However, an issue with this research is that it assumes that greater collaboration produces sustainable outcomes without any research into how true that assumption is. The assumption inevitably invokes issues of public policy and management, specifically how policies and programs are made, implemented, and managed. Dr. Portney’s research analyzes the collaboration connections between these management agencies to address the most fundamental aspect of this Nexus Governance research, what level of collaboration and communication is already taking place?

For this research Dr. Portney decided to focus on one case study: the “San Antonio Region” as a Nexus Hot Spot. This region was chosen due to its drought-prone geography, a large and continuously-growing population, proximity to sources of energy such as drilling and fracking for oil and natural gas, and its productivity as an agricultural area. When looking at San Antonio, the Eagle Ford Shale Play oil and gas wells are located very closely to the water resource wells.

The two purposes of this research project are to first describe the Nexus Governance networks and then make some inferences about how interactions and associated information flows might have to be changed. To describe the nexus governance networks, it was determined how much sharing or interaction is already taking place between resource agencies and if the water resource agencies are connected to or separate from the energy and food governance networks.

The pilot study focuses on water management and policy implementation. The first goal was to determine what agencies make decisions pertaining to water management. Those agencies were then asked about their interactions with each other and with people from the energy and food governance organizations and stakeholders. The project survey identified 237 people in these water governance organizations. With a 41% response rate from these organizations, it was determined that most agencies corresponded with the TCEQ office in Austin or the San Antonio Water Systems. Of the water agency respondents, 0% corresponded with energy or food governance agencies on more than a monthly basis. The response of most people surveyed as to why there is little to no communication with energy or food governance agencies as that, while they would love to collaborate with other resource agencies, they do not feel that they can within the confines of their jobs as there is no protocol on how to communicate. It was also found that it is difficult to politically break down the siloes of the resource agencies because each industry has such a special interest.

From this research it was concluded than there is not much Nexus Governance apparent in the San Antonio Region. The water governance agencies are largely separated from the energy and food governance agencies. Dr. Portney stated that “everyone agrees that how we are doing things now is not sustainable”. The next step is how to address the concept of fragmentation between agencies as well as the implicit connections between policy makers and policy implementers.