Protecting the Water of the Arid West

October 10, 2007
03:10 PM
Sen. Jeff Bingaman, joined by Sens. Pete Domenici, Maria Cantwell and Tim Johnson, has introduced legislation to address some of the serious water-related challenges facing this country.  S. 2156, The SECURE Water Act aims to improve water management and increase the acquisition and analysis of water-related data to assess the long-term availability of water resources, particularly in parts of the country where water is scarce.
“Water resource issues are putting state and local officials to the test all over the country,” Bingaman said.  “In the western U.S., these challenges are exacerbated by drought, population increases, environmental needs and climate change -- all of which are affecting water supplies.  Much more needs to be done to ensure that sufficient supplies of quality water are available to meet the basic needs of our citizens, as well as for important economic and environmental uses.”
“In order to meet our water-related challenges head on, we must have an accurate and current assessment of where our resources stand now.  This legislation will help us obtain a clearer picture by providing for better data collection and analysis of water in the west.  I look forward to working on this legislation in the Energy Committee and to its eventual passage by the full Senate,” Domenici said.
As the intense competition for limited water supplies increases, more sophisticated water management strategies are necessary.  One way to improve in this area is to enhance the nationwide data collection and monitoring activities associated with water.
The SECURE Water Act does this by requiring an expansion of the National Streamflow Information Program and the development of a systematic groundwater monitoring program.  The bill also directs the U.S. Geological Survey to formally establish a water use and availability assessment program consistent with recommendations made by the National Research Council.
Another area requiring more attention concerns the impacts of global climate change on water resources.  Reports from the last several seasons indicate that increasing temperatures are resulting in less snowpack and more rain in many regions, changing the timing of snow-melt runoff and underscoring the need for more data like the kind prescribed in the bill.   Moreover, at a recent hearing on climate change and water held by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the USGS indicated that current climate models are also projecting a long-term drying trend in the Southwest -– the fastest growing region in the country.
The SECURE Water Act directs the Secretary of the Interior to establish an intra-governmental panel to link the scientific community and water managers to improve water availability forecasts and to implement adaptation strategies.  The bipartisan legislation also requires the Bureau of Reclamation to initiate a climate change adaptation program to develop strategies and conduct feasibility studies to address water shortages, conflicts and other impacts to water users and the environment.  In addition, both Reclamation and the Department of Energy are directed to assess the effects of climate change on the water supplies needed for hydropower production, which represents the source of at least 7 percent of the nation’s electricity supply.
Finally, the SECURE Water Act recognizes that promoting the efficient use of water is critical to respond to any of the threats that may impact available supplies.  Accordingly, the Bureau of Reclamation is authorized to provide financial assistance to states, tribes and local entities to construct improvements or take actions to increase water-use efficiencies that respond to drought, climate change and other water-related crises.
“Of course, states bear the primary responsibility and authority for managing water resources in this country,” Bingaman noted.  “Nonetheless, given the reality that adequate and safe water supplies are fundamental to the health, economy and ecology of the United States, it is imperative that the federal government be a strong partner in assisting state and local communities address present and future water supply challenges.  The SECURE Water Act was developed with this strong partnership in mind.”

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