The future of water resources systems analysis: Toward a scientific framework for sustainable water management

Casey M. Brown, Jay R. Lund, Ximing Cai, Patrick M. Reed, Edith A. Zagona, Avi Ostfeld, Jim Hall, Gregory W. Characklis, Winston Yu, Levi Brekke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper presents a short history of water resources systems analysis from its beginnings in the Harvard Water Program, through its continuing evolution toward a general field of water resources systems science. Current systems analysis practice is widespread and addresses the most challenging water issues of our times, including water scarcity and drought, climate change, providing water for food and energy production, decision making amid competing objectives, and bringing economic incentives to bear on water use. The emergence of public recognition and concern for the state of water resources provides an opportune moment for the field to reorient to meet the complex, interdependent, interdisciplinary, and global nature of today's water challenges. At present, water resources systems analysis is limited by low scientific and academic visibility relative to its influence in practice and bridled by localized findings that are difficult to generalize. The evident success of water resource systems analysis in practice (which is set out in this paper) needs in future to be strengthened by substantiating the field as the science of water resources that seeks to predict the water resources variables and outcomes that are important to governments, industries, and the public the world over. Doing so promotes the scientific credibility of the field, provides understanding of the state of water resources and furnishes the basis for predicting the impacts of our water choices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6110-6124
Number of pages15
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2015


  • coupled human natural systems
  • decision analysis
  • operations research
  • water management
  • water planning
  • water resources systems analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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