From Water Wiki
"Rbw" is Richard Byron Whisnant. I founded and am a lead editor for this water wiki. My interests in water go back at least to the time when, as a boy, I revelled in canoeing the New River as it flows from North Carolina into Virginia. The stretch of river I loved the best, from Cox Chapel down to the U.S. 221 bridge, featuring the "S Turn Rapid" and "Molly Osborne Shoals," aka "Penitentiary Rapid," was also the planned location of two dams to be built by Appalachian Electric Power Company. Surprisingly, though, the dam building was stopped by a federal scenic river designation in 1976. I think the scenic river designation planted a seed in my mind about this curious and powerful new thing, environmental law.
I wrote my college honors paper in philosophy, at UNC-Chapel Hill, on the dispute over a dam on the Tellico River in eastern Tennessee, and more particularly, on the disturbingly vacuous cost-benefit analysis of the project. How, I wondered, was it possible to quantify things like the value of an endangered species (the snail darter) or the loss of native american cultural and archeological sites? Was the Corps' attempt to quantify these things anything more than window dressing for a decision already made? On the other hand, if quantification and objectification of subtle, non-market things was not possible, how else could they be factored into public decisions without giving in to completely subjective relativism? I am still trying to sort out the roles of rationality and individual, subjective context in public policy. Recently I've been drawn to Bent Flyvbjerg's discussion of these problems, as in "Rationality and Power" and "Making Social Science Matter."I went on to paddle many rivers in the southeast and around the world, working at Nantahala Outdoor Center in 1982 after travelling with NOC's founders, Payson and Aurelia Kennedy, on a river trip in Nepal. I still love river trips; the best is the Grand Canyon of the Colorado.
In 1998 I took a job at the Institute of Government at my alma mater, UNC-Chapel Hill. I love the work there and have greatly appreciated the chance to learn from so many colleagues who are so dedicated to the notion that universities can help solve practical problems in the real world, not just contribute to theory. In the water realm, I have particularly benefitted from work with Milton Heath, who has made a huge personal contribution to water law in North Carolina.
I conceived this wiki as an experimental new way for those interested in water policy and law to share their ideas and develop them over time. I hope you will pitch in and contribute your own thoughts.
~~Richard, San Jose, California, December 2007