New report calls for sustainable policies to address water issues
The regional policy institute Western Progress released a report today examining the state of water policy in the West and calling for a new approach to solving the challenges of allocating this increasingly scarce resource throughout western states. A New Western Water Agenda, by Lawrence MacDonnell and Denise Fort, identifies eight actions that states and localities throughout the region can take to address the West's water needs in the 21st century...
Feb. 21, 2008 -- The regional policy institute Western Progress released a report today examining the state of water policy in the West and calling for a new approach to solving the challenges of allocating this increasingly scarce resource throughout western states.
A New Western Water Agenda, by Lawrence MacDonnell and Denise Fort, identifies eight actions that states and localities throughout the region can take to address the West's water needs in the 21st century and is featured as the cover story in the Feb. 15, 2008 edition of The Water Report. It also sets out a brief overview of the existing water policy framework and explores the changing role of water in the West. As climate change and a rapidly growing population combine to threaten water supplies around the region - the report emphasizes strategies that contain four essential elements: efficiency, flexibility, sustainability and collaboration.
"Western leaders need to think beyond old prescriptions as they respond to water scarcity in the region," said Sarah Bates, the Policy and Outreach Deputy for Western Progress and a noted water expert. "States and should advance solutions that position us for prosperity rather than disaster."
Throughout the West it is increasingly difficult to find water sources that are not already committed to another use. Most rivers have been dammed to capture high flows and to recapture water for subsequent use. Groundwater has been tapped at rates well beyond the ability of aquifers to recharge, so water levels have dropped and associated surface water has declined. Alteration of aquatic systems for water development has caused extinction of species of fish, and others are in jeopardy. The West is approaching a zero-sum game in which the benefits of developing additional water are offset by the losses.
"More and more, we are seeing a realization across the West that the conservation and sustainability of water is essential to our future," said Lawrence MacDonnell, co-author of the report and an attorney specializing in water law, "this report seeks to extend existing efforts across the entire region and also suggest new ways of tackling increasing scarcity."
"The status quo simply won't work," said Denise Fort, the other co-author of the report and a professor at the University of New Mexico Law School, "we must find new ways in decrease our use of the limited water supply we face in the West."
The eight actions recommended by the report are:
• Strengthen and expand water conservation and efficiency programs
• Integrate water planning with growth management and land use planning
• Adopt integrated strategies at the federal level
• Improve the process for transferring water from agricultural to urban and environmental uses
• Enhance and expand state instream flow programs
• Promote local watershed efforts
• Establish and strengthen statewide and local water trusts
• Improve groundwater management strategies
The Rocky Mountain region, already noted for the ferocity of its interstate water battles, was identified by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as one of most vulnerable parts of the country to future water shortages due to climate change and variability. As Western Progress has previously noted, these changes are already underway with declining snowpacks, earlier spring runoffs, and record high temperatures. The need for new solutions to the water issue increases with each passing year.
To read the full policy report, visit www.WesternProgress.org.
Western Progress is an independent, non-partisan public policy institute dedicated to advancing progressive policy solutions in the eight states of the Rocky Mountain West.