A Letter from the Second National Water Resources Policy Dialogue

The following letter was written by the chairs of the 2005 Dialogue general chairman and steering committee chairman. The event is organized by the American Water Resources Association with participationof several federal agencies and other numerous other organizations...

American Water Resources Association
4 West Federal Street
PO Box 1626
Middleburg, VA 20118-1626

March 28, 2005

The President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

The purpose of this letter is to seek your assistance in addressing the serious challenges faced by the Nation in managing and protecting its water resources. These challenges were identified by the Second National Water Resources Policy Dialogue, held in Tucson, AZ on February 14-15, 2005. The Dialogue was conducted by the American Water Resources Association (AWRA) under the sponsorship of nine federal agencies and nearly 40 state, local, business, and non-governmental organizations, and was attended by over 250 of the Nation's water resources experts.

Water is our most precious natural resource. The growth and continued prosperity of our economy, the protection and security of our public health, and enhancement of our quality of life were made possible by past infrastructure investments that now provide municipal, industrial and agricultural waters, navigable waterways and ports, hydropower production, water-based recreation, sustainment of our natural environment, and protection from floods and hurricanes. Following the First National Water Resources Policy Dialogue held in Washington, DC in 2002, we reported to you that the Nation faced serious water problems, and conditions have not improved. Recent droughts have resulted in annual losses of over $5 billion and drought mitigation planning is moving slowly. Conflicts among States over water use and allocation are growing. EPA rates our coastal ecological and water quality conditions as fair to poor with no improvement over the last two years. More than thirty years after the passage of the Clean Water Act, beach closings abound. The States reported in 2000 that nearly 40 percent of our rivers and streams did not meet water quality standards and since then, EPA, because of a lack of State funding for monitoring, has questioned the reliability of even those assessments. Flood losses continue to grow and approach annual damages of $6 billion and an average annual loss of 80 lives. The American Society of Civil Engineers continues to give sub-standard grades to our aging water infrastructure - ports, waterways, hydropower facilities, water and waste water treatment plants - and our efforts to protect rare and endangered species and restore ecosystem deficiencies remain seriously under-funded. Problems exist in every water sector and are significant. A failure to address these problems poses significant long-term risks to the economic and social well being and safety of the Nation.

Tackling these problems in a rational manner will require that the Nation - the Administration, the Congress, state, tribal, and local officials, and the public - develop a vision that provides a national perspective on water resources. In turn the vision must be translated into a national water policy that clearly defines the roles and responsibilities of federal, state, tribal, and local governments with respect to water and the goals and objectives that would establish a blueprint for future actions.

The participants in the 2005 Dialogue identified four significant challenges facing the Nation, noting the close link to similar challenges identified by the first Dialogue 2002:
-- The Nation's water issues need to be addressed in an integrated manner, focusing not on single projects but on programs and watershed and basin level issues. The successful cooperative and holistic efforts evidenced in evolving programs to restore the Everglades, manage the California Bay Delta, and protect Coastal Louisiana, need to be replicated across the country.

-- There is need to reconcile the myriad laws, executive orders and Congressional guidance that have created a disjointed, ad-hoc national water policy and to clearly define our 21st century goals. Many important laws were passed early in the last century when national objectives and physical conditions were far different than they are today. Many of these laws are in conflict, placing executing federal, state, and tribal agencies in tenuous and sometimes adversarial situations. Reexamination of these laws would eliminate contradiction and confusion and lead to far more effective water policies and policy implementation.

-- Recognizing the fiscal realities facing the Nation, there is a need to more effectively coordinate the actions of federal, state, tribal, and local governments in dealing with water. Collaboration instead of competition will provide better and more fiscally efficient use of scarce resources and will assist in overcoming decision gridlock on key water programs.

-- The Nation is blessed with access to superb scientific capabilities and cutting edge information technologies that can support water-related decision making. These capabilities and technologies need to be clearly focused on supporting water policy decision makers as they carry out their challenging responsibilities.

Dialogue participants also noted that much of the public at large and many public officials lack a full understanding of the extent and complexity of our water challenges and that education about water must parallel efforts to solve water problems. Furthermore, the participants noted that funding to support our water resources infrastructure has not kept pace with needed repairs, replacements, and modernization.

The recent report of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy significantly increased the collective awareness of the issues being faced in living with our coastal areas and the rivers that feed them, and offered sound recommendations on how to address these issues. We urge you to support, in coordination with the Congress, the States, and the tribes, the formation of a bipartisan Commission to rapidly examine the water issues we now face and to propose strategies for dealing with the issues and the conflicts surrounding them.

We would further urge you, while the Commission is being formed and carrying out its duties, and where the need for action is clear, to take immediate steps to effectively clean our waters, plan for potential droughts, restore the strength of our infrastructure, and invigorate efforts to sustain and enhance our natural environment.

We are enclosing a short summary that further describes the issues raised during the Dialogue. We would be most pleased to discuss them with you and the White House staff. We are sending similar letters to the Senate Majority Leader, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, members of Congress, the Governors, as well as providing copies to other leaders across the nation.

Yours very truly,

Gerald E. Galloway, PE,
General Chair,
Second National Water Policy Dialogue

Richard A. Engberg
Chair, Steering Committee,
Second National Water Policy Dialogue

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