Putting the public in public involvement : a case study in Texas groundwater management



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For any public policy issue with scarce financial resources and impending deadlines, decision makers must find or construct a public engagement process that is both useful in terms of satisfying participants and producing an outcome as well as practical in terms of the budget and time constraints. This report explores the history of groundwater management in Texas, identifies current problems with the public involvement processes under House Bill 1763, and proposes different options for seeking public input. Groundwater is a quasi-public good and, as population growth continues to put pressure on a scarce and finite resource, public input is increasingly considered valuable in crafting desired future conditions and management strategies necessary to achieve those conditions. This report evaluates four public input processes in the context of groundwater management in Texas. The evaluation criteria and the processes may be useful for other public policy issues. In assessing these four processes, a correlation emerges between satisfying transparency, neutrality, representation and flexibility, and the increase in time and cost of the process. However, the benefits of a full public engagement process may far outweigh the front-loaded cost.