Western Water Woes Continue
By Krista Rinehart, CSG Toll Fellows Program Manager
Though last winter’s record-breaking snowfalls finally ended a drought that gripped California for three years, the water crisis remains a key illustration of the dire water issues facing Western states.
“Western water is our scarcest resource,” said Wyoming Rep. Tom Lubnau, co-chair of The Council of State Governments’ Energy and Environment Task Force.
Consider this: California was strangled by severe drought from mid-2008 to March 2011.
In 2009, Farmers were forced to leave thousands of acres of land bare because adequate water for crops was not available. City managers across the state were only able to supply between 35 and 50 percent of the water supply demanded by residents and farmers. The crisis also brought unemployment rates as high as 40 percent in some agricultural areas.
Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in February 2009.
California isn’t alone in the problem. Shifting climate conditions and changes to age-old weather patterns are impacting every Western state. Southwestern and Southcentral areas across the Western region have been experiencing decreased rain and droughts, while their counterparts in Northwestern and central areas are experiencing increased levels of precipitation.
As a result, a region known for its natural resources, beautiful scenery and agricultural offerings is faced with serious decisions regarding water policy and supply issues.
“Our centuries old water law was not designed to address these complicated water issues, and so, the only way to resolve our water difficulties will be through cooperation between the Western states, our neighbor countries and other interested parties,” Lubnau said.
He will moderate a panel discussion of existing cooperative efforts between Western states, and actions taken by the U.S. federal government to help address the issue of water management in the West during The Council of State Governments National Conference and North American Summit Oct. 21 in Bellevue, Wash. Panelists from Canada and Mexico will discuss cross-border cooperative opportunities for managing Western water.
Maria Elena Giner, general manager of the Border Environment Cooperation Commission, will provide an overview of current conditions in the West and existing efforts between Western states to work collectively to address water management and climate change conditions. Felipe Arreguin Cortes, general deputy director with Mexico’s National Commission of Water, will discuss international efforts along the Southwestern border. A representative from the Canadian consulate will be on hand to discuss Northwestern efforts at water management.
Benedito Braga with the World Water Forum will open the breakout session at 2 p.m.