The Western U.S. has been deeply impacted by drought and climate variability in recent years. In January, 2014, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency in California as the state struggled with the least amount of rainfall in its 163-year history. Years-long drought also continues for West Texas, Southeastern Colorado, Nevada and much of New Mexico. The Western Governors' Association and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2014 to continue working together to improve the development, coordination and dissemination of weather and drought information for resource management decision making in Western states. WGA and NOAA produce Quarterly Climate Impacts and Outlook reports (see the most recent Outlook) that highlight trends in precipitation, temperature, and drought impacts across the West.
WGA has a broad-based energy program that over the years has included the Clean and Diversified Energy Initiative, identification of Western Renewable Energy Zones, developing policies and best practices for energy efficient buildings, and deploying near-zero emission technologies for coal. In 2010, the Governors, Western Interstate Energy Board and Western Electricity Coordinating Council launched the Regional Transmission Expansion Project to analyze transmission requirements under a broad range of alternative energy futures and to develop long-term, interconnection-wide transmission expansion plans. Funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, this project will provide valuable information to state and federal policy/decision makers, citizens, and the private sector in determining the need and potential location for new transmission. It will also facilitate all levels of participation in the project planning and permitting processes.
Wildfires have always been part of the Western landscape, however, America’s wildfire environment has changed. Forests are denser and unhealthier and the climate is hotter and dryer. These factors have contributed to the increasing frequency of large fires and increasing costs. Forest fragmentation and the rapid expansion of the wildland-urban interface have also complicated the management of landscapes and wildfires.
Through its Clean, Reliable Water Supplies program, the WGA works closely with the Western States Water Council, and stakeholders in advancing water supply and water management strategies for a sustainable future. 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. Other water-related issues WGA and WSWC are jointly addressing are drought management, "Good Samaritan" cleanup of abandoned mines, Indian water rights and agricultural water transfers.
The Western Governors Wildlife Council, at the direction of the Governors, has developed the Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool to assist states in identifying and conserving crucial wildlife habitat and corridors across the region. States have compiled information within their borders for the CHAT tool and continue to work with neighboring states to improve the regional understanding of areas important to wildlife to better inform land use planning efforts. Several states have released state-specific wildlife mapping tools that serve as the foundation for displaying crucial wildlife and corridor information across the region. WGA also has worked extensively on Sage Grouse Conservation.