Potential Water Crisis Looms without Smarter Water Planning, Management

June 27, 2010

WHITEFISH, MT – The demand for water across the West is beginning to outstrip supplies, and states have no time to waste in averting a potential crisis, said Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, Chairman of the Western Governors' Association. WGA is holding its annual meeting here through Tuesday morning.

"It's a combination of increasing demands for our growing population and the economy, as well as the uncertainty in supply due to drought and climate change," Schweitzer said. "As a region, we have to become more aggressive and a lot smarter in how we manage this resource."

Robert Glennon, author of "Unquenchable: America's Water Crisis and What To Do About It ," pointed out ways the crisis already is affecting communities, states and the region and how to turn it around.

"Traditional infrastructure alone cannot solve this problem," Glennon said. "We need to use a full suite of tools, including conservation, desalination, reclaimed water, and pricing incentives. We also need to facilitate reallocation of water to the highest-value uses."

Mike Connor, Commissioner of the federal Bureau of Reclamation, who also participated in the discussion, said he is committed to working with the states to find solutions to these challenges.

"Our WaterSMART Initiative, which includes basin studies (Colorado, Yakima and Milk-St. Mary Rivers) and incentives for conservation and efficiency improvements, demonstrate ways we can work with the states and other parties to find solutions for the future," he said.

WGA Vice Chairman, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter said he is concerned about water transfers from agriculture to municipal or industrial uses.

"Agriculture holds most of the senior water rights in the West," he said. "Although water may go to higher-value uses through market transfers, we need to make sure we protect agricultural communities and economies, the environment and food security."

Otter also pointed out the important connections between energy development and water supplies in the West and emphasized that "both traditional and renewable energy resource development requires adequate water."

The Western Governors' Association and its affiliate, the Western States Water Council, have a long history of working on Western water issues and have ongoing initiatives around drought, energy and water, infrastructure, and climate adaptation. At the end of the session, the governors approved their resolution on Negotiated Settlements of Indian Water Rights and accepted a Progress Report from the Western States Water Council on implementation of the Governors' report on "Water Needs and Strategies for a Sustainable Future."

Speaker presentations and more information about WGA's Annual Meeting are available on the Web at www.westgov.org.