On the Elusive Concept of Safe Yield and the Response of
Interconnected Stream-aquifer Systems to Development
Kansas Geological Survey, The University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas
The time has passed when abundant supplies of water
were readily available for development at low economic,
social, and environmental cost.
According to Hufschmidt
(1993), we are now entering the period of a “maturing
water economy” with increasing competition for access to
fixed supplies, a growing risk of water pollution, and
sharply higher economic, social, and environmental costs
It should be understood that most of the
available water in western states, including Kansas, has
been developed, and that future water management is
going to depend heavily on sustaining existing supplies.
The great challenge facing the world today is to cope with
the impact of economic growth on environmental pro-
The concept of
during the late 1980’s as a unifying approach to concerns
over the environment, economic development, and the
quality of life.
The World Commission on Environment
and Development (1987), better known as the Brundtland
Commission, defined sustainable development as “. . .
development that meets the needs of the present without
compromising the ability of future generations to meet
their own needs.”
Water is not only essential to sustain life, but it also
plays an integral role in ecosystem support, economic
development, community well-being, and cultural values.
How all these values, which sometimes conflict, are to be
prioritized, which are to be sustained, and in what fashion,
are still unresolved questions (Gleick et al., 1995).
concept of sustainable development is intended to provide
a framework within which the environment can be
properly managed to support economic development while
providing adequate resources for the future.
This has lent
weight to arguments for
rather than reactive
However, despite the progress
which has been made in defining the goals of sustainable
development, the mechanisms to bring about these
changes remain abstract.
The challenge of the 1990’s is to
turn the principles of sustainable development into
achievable policies that lead to positive changes in this
Science can assist by exploring the implications
of different interpretations of sustainability.
science cannot say that one particular interpretation is the
“correct” one for society, sustainable solutions will have to
be based on fundamentally sound hydrologic analyses and
supply of ground water or surface water
can be assured if no more water is withdrawn than enters
the system over the long term.
To evaluate existing and
potential development of dependable water supplies in a
given area, a
is needed—a statement of
the balance between the water that enters the area during a