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Water Resource Management in the West

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Western Governors’ Association Policy Resolution 2014-03


1. The scarce nature of water in the West makes it a crucial resource for the communities, industries, habitats, and farms it supports. Clean, reliable water supplies are essential to maintain and improve quality of life.

2. States are the primary authority for allocating, administering, protecting, and developing water resources, and they are primarily responsible for water supply planning within their boundaries. States have the ultimate say in the management of their water resources and are best suited to speak to the unique nature of Western water law and hydrology.

3. Many communities in the West anticipate challenges in meeting future water demands. Supplies are nearly fully allocated in many basins across the West, and increased demand from population growth, economic development, and extreme weather and fire events places added stress on those limited water resources. Sustainability of our natural resources, specifically water, is imperative to the foundations upon which the West was developed. Growth and development can only continue upon our recognition of continued state stewardship of our unique resources and corresponding responsibilities.

4. Strong state, regional and national economies require reliable deliveries of good-quality water, which in turn depend on adequate infrastructure for water and wastewater. Investments in water infrastructure also provide jobs and a foundation for long-term economic growth in communities throughout the West. Repairs to aging infrastructure are costly and often subject to postponement.

5. Western Governors recognize the essential role of partnership with federal agencies in Western water management and hope to continue the tradition of collaboration between the states and federal agencies.

6. Tribal governments and Western states also share common water resource management challenges. The Western Governors Association and Western States Water Council have had a long and productive partnership with tribes, working to resolve water rights claims.


1. State Primacy in Water Management: As the preeminent authority on water management within their boundaries, states have the right to develop, use, control and distribute the surface water and groundwater located within their boundaries, subject to international treaties and interstate agreements and judicial decrees.

a. Federal Recognition of State Authority: The federal government has long recognized the right to use water as determined under the laws of the various states; Western Governors value their partnerships with federal agencies as they operate under this established legal framework.

Nothing in any act of Congress or Executive Branch regulatory action should be construed as affecting or intending to affect states’ primacy over the allocation and administration of their water resources.

Reauthorization of the Water Resources Development Act, proposed federal surplus water rulemakings, and/or storage reallocation studies should recognize and defer to the states’ legal right to allocate, develop, use, control, and distribute their waters, including but not limited to state storage and use requirements.

b. Managing State Waters for Environmental Purposes: States and federal agencies should coordinate efforts to avoid, to the extent possible, the listing of water-dependent species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). When ESA listings cannot be avoided, parties should promote the use of existing state tools, such as state conservation plans and in-stream flow protections, to conserve and recover species.

2. Infrastructure Needs: Aging infrastructure cannot be ignored; infrastructure investments are essential to our nation’s continued economic prosperity and environmental protection, and they assist states in meeting federally-mandated standards.

a. Federal Support for Infrastructure Investment: Congress should provide adequate support for the Clean Water Act (CWA) and Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) State Revolving Funds. Further, Congress should fully utilize the receipts accruing to the Reclamation Fund for their intended purpose in the continuing conservation, development and wise use of western resources to meet Western water-related needs, including the construction of Congressionally-authorized Bureau of Reclamation rural water projects and facilities that are part of a Congressionally-authorized Indian water rights settlement. 

Congress should reauthorize Water Resource Development Act (WRDA) legislation on a regular schedule and include adequate funding so all projects and studies authorized in WRDA can be completed in a timely manner.

Congress also should consider facilitating greater investment in water infrastructure, utilizing such tools as loan guarantees, revolving funds, infrastructure banks and water trust funds.

Capital budgeting and asset management principles should be used to determine funding priorities based on long-term sustainability and not annual incremental spending choices. It should be accompanied by dedicated sources of funding with appropriate financing, cost-sharing, pricing and cost recovery policies.

b. Alternatives to Direct Federal Investment: Federal and state policymakers should also consider other tools to promote investment in water infrastructure and reduce financing costs, including: public-private partnerships; bond insurance; risk pooling; and credit enhancements.

Congress should remove the state volume caps for private activity bonds used for water and wastewater projects, provide guaranteed tax-exempt status for bonds issued by state or local agencies to finance water infrastructure, provide loan guarantees, and otherwise support and encourage alternatives to direct federal investment of limited general funds.

c. Hydropower: Congress and the Administration should authorize and implement hydropower projects and programs that enhance renewable electric generation capacity and promote economic development through streamlined permitting processes, while appropriately protecting environmental resources.

d. Infrastructure Planning and Permitting: Infrastructure planning and permitting guidelines, rules and regulations should be coordinated, streamlined and sufficiently flexible to: 1) allow for timely decision-making in the design, financing and construction of needed infrastructure; 2) account for regional differences; 3) balance economic and environmental considerations; and 4) minimize the cost of compliance.

3. Western States Require Innovative and Integrated Water Management. Western Governors believe solutions to water resource challenges require an integrated approach within states and with federal, tribal and local partners. Water resource planning should occur within a framework that preserves states’ authority to manage water through policies which recognize state law and the financial, environmental and social values of the water resource to citizens of the western states today and in the future.

a. Water Transfers: Western Governors recognize the potential benefits of market-based water transfers, meaning voluntary sales or leases of water rights. The Governors support water transfers that avoid or mitigate damages to agricultural economies and communities while preventing injury to other water rights.

b. Energy Development: Western Governors recognize that energy development and electricity generation may create new water demands. Western Governors recommend increased coordination across the energy and water management communities, and support ongoing work to assess the interconnection of energy and water through the Regional Transmission Expansion Planning Project for the Western interconnection and similar efforts.

c. Conservation and Efficiency: Western Governors encourage adoption of strategies to sustain water resources and make existing water supplies go further in light of diminished water resources and declining and inconsistent snowpack, including the use of water conservation, water reuse and recycling, desalination and reclamation of brackish waters, and reductions in per capita water use. The Governors encourage the use of and research into promising water-saving strategies.

d. Local Watershed Planning: Western Governors encourage federal agencies and Congress to provide resources such as technical support to states and local watershed groups. States can choose to empower these watershed groups to deal with local water issues associated with water quality, growth and land management as best complements state water needs.

e. Intergovernmental Collaboration and Conflict Resolution: Western Governors support the negotiated settlement of interstate water disputes, Indian water rights claims, and other federal water needs and claims, the settlement of which are in the best interest of Western states.

f. State-Federal Coordination: Western Governors recognize the important role of federal agencies in advancing sound water resource management in the Western states. Governors appreciate the efforts of federal agencies to coordinate water-related activities, particularly through the Western States Water Council, and support the continuation of these key state-federal partnerships.

4. Western States Need Reliable Water Resource Information: Basic information on the status, trends and projections of water resource availability is essential to sound water management.

a. Basic Water Data: Western Governors support the U.S. Geological Survey’s Cooperative Water Program and National Streamflow Information Program (NSIP), the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting Program, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s weather and hydrology-related data collection, monitoring, and drought information programs, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s National Land Imaging (Landsat) Program with its thermal infrared sensor. Western Governors support federal efforts to coordinate water data gathering and information programs across multiple agencies.

b. Drought Information and Planning: Western Governors encourage federal agencies to partner with states in the gathering, coordination and effective dissemination of drought-related data between the federal government and states. The National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) is a successful model of state-federal collaboration in the development of information services.

i. Governors recommend Congressional reauthorization of the NIDIS program, particularly with respect to implementation of regional drought early warning systems.

ii. Governors support a comprehensive national policy that promotes a coordinated and integrated approach to future drought, including improved forecasting and monitoring, drought preparedness and planning, and efficient delivery of drought programs.

iii. Governors believe that drought preparedness and contingency plans – created through partnerships of states, federal agencies and local communities – provide a proactive approach to addressing drought.

c. Extreme Weather Events Planning: Western Governors recognize the significant potential impacts of extreme weather variability and change on water supplies. Western Governors urge Congress and the Administration to work closely with states and other resource managers to improve predictive and adaptive capabilities for extreme weather variability and related impacts.

d. Water Data Exchange: The Western Governors’ Association and the Western States Water Council have worked together to create the Water Data Exchange, an online portal that will enable states to share their water data with each other, federal agencies, and the public via a common platform. The Governors encourage the use of state water data in planning for both the public and private sectors. 


1. The Governors direct the WGA staff, where appropriate, to work with Congressional committees of jurisdiction and the Executive Branch to achieve the objectives of this resolution including funding, subject to the appropriation process, based on a prioritization of needs.

2. Furthermore, the Governors direct WGA staff to develop, as appropriate and timely, detailed annual work plans to advance the policy positions and goals contained in this resolution. Those work plans shall be presented to, and approved by, Western Governors prior to implementation. WGA staff shall keep the Governors informed, on a regular basis, of their progress in implementing approved annual work plans.