Rationales Behind Irrationality of Decision Making in Groundwater Quality Management Academic Article uri icon


  • This issue paper presents how certain policies regarding management of groundwater quality lead to unexpected and undesirable results, despite being backed by seemingly reasonable assumptions. This happened in part because the so-called reasonable decisions were not based on an integrative and quantitative methodology. The policies surveyed here are: (1) implementation of a program for aquifer restoration to pristine conditions followed, after failure, by leaving it to natural attenuation; (2) the “Forget About The Aquifer” (FATA) approach, while ignoring possible damage that contaminated groundwater can inflict on the other environmental systems; (3) groundwater recharge in municipal areas while neglecting the presence of contaminants in the unsaturated zone and conditions exerted by upper impervious surfaces; (4) the Soil Aquifer Treatment (SAT) practice considering aquifers to be “filters of infinite capacity”; and (5) focusing on well contamination vs. aquifer contamination to conveniently defer grappling with the problem of the aquifer as a whole. Possible reasons for the failure of these seemingly rational policies are: (1) the characteristic times of processes associated with groundwater that are usually orders of magnitude greater than the residence times of decision makers in their managerial position; (2) proliferation of improperly trained “groundwater experts” or policymakers with sectoral agendas alongside legitimate differences of opinion among groundwater scientists; (3) the neglect of the cyclic nature of natural phenomena; and (4) ignoring future long-term costs because of immediate costs.

publication date

  • January 1, 2012