As water cuts loom, Western stakeholders stress conservation, collaboration
The bipartisan infrastructure package included $8.3 billion for water systems, but as some senators noted this week, water is drying up faster than some projects can get off the ground.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing Tuesday about the Western drought and what additional measures lawmakers could take to address it.
The Congressional Research Service testimony stated, among other things, that lawmakers have authorized exploring alternatives to storing water above ground, like using groundwater storage and aquifer recharge. But it hasn’t given the Bureau of Reclamation funding to do so.
John Entsminger is the general manager for the Southern Nevada Water Authority. He says their work to reduce water use there has been successful, and encourages further efforts to establish water recycling in other communities.
“However, and there is no way around this, cities alone cannot address this crisis. Not because of indifference, but because we simply don’t use enough water to tip the scales. As in the cities, the primary consumptive use in the agriculture sector is grass,” Entsminger told lawmakers.
Wyoming’s Patrick O'Toole, president of the Family Farm Alliance, cautioned that agriculture is important to preserve, too.
“We also are about to do with agriculture what we did with manufacturing and let it go overseas,” he said, noting that this could contribute to worse conditions in other countries and destruction of rainforests.
All parties called for more water storage projects, conservation and ways for funding to quickly get to projects that could help.
"But no amount of funding can completely offset the severe shortfalls in precipitation being experienced this year across the American West," Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton said in her written testimony.
Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly, a Democrat, noted that the Colorado River Basin is expected to have a shortage of between 2 and 4 million acre feet of water next year. For context, he added that Arizona’s entire allocation of Colorado River water is 2.8 million acre feet.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
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