Water Transfers in the West Report Released
Innovative Water Transfers Workshop Materials Online
Water is essential to the economy, natural environment, and quality of life in the West, and increasing demands are placing a strain on this limited resource. The Governors recognize the importance of water in the West and have led with several projects and policies on the matter of water. Together with its partner organization the Western States Water Council, WGA has worked on infrastructure strategies, drought preparedness, Indian water rights, and is now engaged in an in-depth project on water rights transfers.
The Western Governors' Association and the Western States Water Council (WSWC) have released a joint report titled Water Transfers in the West, which provides an overview of how the region can use voluntary water transfers to meet new demands.
The report identifies trends and leading practices for transfers, exploring how market-based sales and leases of water rights can be done with minimal impact on agricultural economies, rural communities, and environmental values. This initiative fulfills an objective set by Western Governors in their 2008 report Water Needs and Strategies for a Sustainable Future: Next Steps.
As part of the year-long project, WGA and WSWC hosted a series of workshops to solicit ideas and information on water transfers. Materials and presentations from those meetings are available here.
The Water Transfers in the West project, including the workshops and the report, received support from the Walton Family Foundation.
Water Resources Infrastructure Strategies:
Identifying, Prioritizing and Financing Needs
The Western States Water Council, an affiliate of the WGA, and Texas Water Development Board held a symposium on this infrastructurein November 2010. Multiple stakeholders and public and private experts discussed how best to implement recommendations from WGA's 2008 Water Report related to growing water infrastructure needs, as well as cost sharing and financing current and future projects and programs. The Water Council developed a summary report on the symposium that is now available online.
Droughts are expected to become more frequent and severe across the West, which is why Western Governors have long advocated for a comprehensive, integrated response to drought emergencies. The Governors’ resolution emphasizes drought preparedness, improved forecasting and monitoring, and effective delivery of drought response programs. One key step was achieved with the passage of the National Integrated Drought Information System Act of 2006. Since that time, WGA has worked with NOAA and other partners to establish drought.gov and to improve early warning systems, provide decision-support tools, and improve delivery of drought response programs for the end-users on the ground who are most affected by drought emergencies. Over the last year, the WGA and Western States Water Council convened a series of stakeholder meetings across the country to continue to continue to strengthen the provision of drought services.
Recognizing that a decade of drought has severely impacted communities, economies and the natural environment, Western Governors are working to improve drought forecasting and promote drought preparedness throughout the region. WGA held a series of meetings in 2010 with end-users of drought information. In January 2011 the WGA and Western States Water Council produced the report, “Improving Drought Preparedness in the West: Findings and Recommendations.” It focuses primarily on three areas:
- Strengthening the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS);
- Improving drought preparedness and planning; and
- Identifying the role of states and other stakeholders in shaping climate services.
As a part of this series of workshops, WGA and WSWC hosted a September 2010 Workshop on Drought, Water and Climate: Using today’s information to design tomorrow’s services. Participants included water managers, policy makers and agency leaders from across the U.S. The workshop agenda and presentations are available online.
Water Needs and Strategies for a Sustainable Future
Two WGA reports, Water Needs and Strategies for a Sustainable Future (2006) and Next Steps (2008) concluded that there is substantial stress on the water sector today even in the absence of climate change. There are many watersheds that are already over-appropriated, and new stresses are coming from population growth, land use changes and water needs for in-stream uses.
These reports, approved by the Governors, include consensus recommendations for how the Western states can work with federal, local, and private sector partners to address these challenges. The reports address a range of issues, including providing water supply to meet future demands, maintaining water supply infrastructure, resolving Indian water rights, preparing for climate change, and conserving endangered species.
The Western Governors recognize that climate change poses a serious threat to the Western economy, public health and environment. The impacts of climate change are being observed in Western states and are predicted to worsen in the future. Water resources in the West are expected to experience some of the more dramatic impacts from climate change, resulting in hard trade-offs among competing uses of water. More information - including WGA's 2010 Climate Adaptation Priorities report, is available on WGA's Weather and Climate Variability page.
The Western Governors’ Association will work closely with partners, including federal agencies and municipal water providers who are working to address climate impacts to water supplies in the Western U.S.
Good Samaritan Mine Clean-Up
Inactive or abandoned mines are responsible for threats and impairments to water quality throughout the Western United States. These historic mines pre-date modern federal and state environmental regulations that were enacted in the 1970s. The Western Governors have long supported the clean up of abandoned mine sites. Thousands of stream miles are impacted by drainage and runoff from such mines, one of the largest sources of adverse water quality impacts in several states. Because many of these sites are abandoned, ‘good samaritans’ are often needed to come in and take on the mine clean up.
Indian Water Rights
The concept of reserved water rights originated from the landmark case Winters v. United States, 207 U.S. 564 (1908). The Winters doctrine simply states that when the federal government established a reservation, the government implicitly reserved a quantity of water necessary to fulfill the purposes of the reservation. Historically, costly and protracted litigation was the general method used to quantify what are known as Winters rights, and often it resulted in "paper" water only. Beginning in the 1980's, an effort was made toward encouraging negotiated Indian water rights settlements. These negotiated settlements proved to be a much more effective means of quantifying Winters rights, and they resulted in "wet" water to the tribes. WSWC maintains a list of these settlements that is updated biannually.
The Western Governors’ Association has consistently advocated for negotiated settlements to Indian Water Rights claims. The Ad Hoc Group on Indian Water Rights includes of the Western States Water Council, the Western Governors' Association, and the Native American Rights Fund. Since 1981, the Ad Hoc Group has worked to encourage support for Indian land and water rights in the hopes of avoiding prolonged and expensive litigation. Past settlements have proven they can satisfy the interests of affected Indians and non-Indians. Importantly, they can also meet the trust responsibilities of the United States relative to the Tribes, if they do not deprive Tribes of funding for other vital programs.