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Learn the secrets of water management by listening to old folks

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Read aguanomics for the world’s best analysis of the politics and economics of water In a newsletter from over two years ago (!), I wrote:

I had a very interesting meeting with the ex-CEO of a major Dutch water company (these are public corporations) and learned quite a bit from his seasoned perspective. [That CEO was one of the key background sources for our paper, "Water civilization: the evolution of the Dutch drinking water sector," now in press.] Does anyone know of an oral histories project (or similar archive) that draws on the experience of folks who have worked decades in water? They would make a good book or series of blog posts/articles.

I apologize for the long delay in publishing these two responses:

Nicholas Brozovic wrote:

We actually completed an oral history project for water management in Nebraska at the end of 2013. I don’t know how much you know about the High Plains region of the US, or Nebraska in particular, but we have a unique local governance system for groundwater management (the Natural Resources Districts) that has been in place for over forty years. Many of the key people involved in setting it up are elderly, so our Water for Food Institute helped the Nebraska State Historical Society collect interviews from important people around the state to try to understand how and why the system was developed, and what people’s opinions were at the time. These were then transcribed, and together with the audio files, put online. There are over 70 interviews in total on the website. Here’s a news release on the project, and here’s a blog post from a grad student who used our database for research.

Linda Vida wrote:

There is an Oral History Center that is part of the UCB Bancroft Library. There is a search box about half way down the screen, enter “California Water Resources” in the search box and submit. You will see many oral histories that pertain to water and some of them were sponsored but the California Water Resources Center. It looks like all of them have been digitized and are available to read online and the researcher can print a certain amount of pages.

Here’s how to prepare for an oral history (there are many links there).

Of course, now you can videotape oral histories but you have to still do the preparation as I mentioned before so that you have a quality finished project. And as I mentioned before, you can do an entire career (long) or just a major project or a part of a career.

I think most major universities would have an oral history department, as it truly is a unique way to capture history with the people who “made it happen.”

Bottom line: Anyone can learn a lot by talking to veterans. Use these resources, find your own, or — best of all — go find some water managers to tell you “how they did things in the old days.”


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