The Bureau of Economic Geology The University of Texas at Austin Jackson School of Geosciences

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Bureau Seminar, November 14, 2008

Redefining Mega-Engineering as a Hydrogeologic Discipline

Bruce L. Cutright
Independent Contractor

The term "Mega-Engineering" is usually confined to topics such as the world's longest tunnel or the world's tallest skyscraper. Hydrogeologists, however, are now engaged in projects that impact multi-state areas, modify the hydrologic flow regime over extensive ecosystems and play a critical role in climate modification for the entire planet. We are tasked with managing the full hydrologic cycle, from rainfall and runoff to recharge and discharge to meet the growing water supply needs of an increasingly urban population. We are also engaged in evaluating the removal and sequestration of carbon dioxide and high level radioactive waste in the subsurface environment for extensive lengths of time. In brief, our projects impact huge areas, modify extensive natural systems and extend across immense lengths of time.

It is important to keep our activities in perspective as we go forward. This presentation addresses how very large projects such as the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) impact ground water management and development decisions on a local basis. The substantive issues such as balancing withdrawals and water quality against increased operating costs are discussed for both short and long term impacts.

The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan is a very large and unique project, but the Milwaukee Deep Tunnel project, the Superconducting Super Collider and the nation-wide assessment of sites for high level radioactive waste disposal had comparable scope and potential impact.

Can the lessons learned from these projects provide useful insights if we are to consider an aquifer-wide management approach for the Ogallala or Edwards Aquifer? The Edwards Aquifer is as important to Central Texas as the Floridan Aquifer is to South Florida. Comparison of the per capita costs expended (or planned expenditures) in south Florida versus what is needed for the Edwards Aquifer will be discussed. From an economist's perspective, future dollars are always cheaper than present dollars, but from a hydrogeologist's perspective, pay me now or pay me later, the problems won't go away, and we are prepared to solve them now.


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Institute for Geophysics
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