for a national water strategy?
By Phil Magers
United Press International
DALLAS, July 22 (UPI) -- Water planning, routine in the
arid states of the Southwest, is becoming a national issue
and a Georgia congressman is fighting for legislation
that would bring together the foremost experts to layout
a national strategy.
Rep. John Linder, R-Ga., wants to bring "the best
and brightest minds" together on a 21st Century Water
Commission that would establish the groundwork for a comprehensive
plan to ensure enough fresh water in the United States
for the next 50 years.
"I have watched over the years as we keep growing
in population and using more and more water in increasing
areas of water shortage, including east of the Mississippi,
which we never thought would ever come to shortage,"
he told United Press International.
Linder said he envisions a commission similar to the
one that created the nation's interstate highway system.
"I have no intention to nationalize water planning
or water policy," he cautioned, just attract the
best minds to work on planning for the future.
His bill has received support from several water resources
organizations and 13 bipartisan co-sponsors. It would
create a seven-member panel appointed by the president
to assess current water management programs and available
technologies at all levels of government and the private
The commission Linder envisions would conduct a minimum
of 10 regional hearings across the nation and issue reports
of its findings every six months, as well as a final report
within three years after its creation by Congress.
"The United States only re-evaluates its water policies
when a crisis hits," he said. "But failure to
plan for future water shortages is a recipe for disaster.
We must begin now to advance the science and knowledge
that will be necessary to deal with 21st century water
There are thousands of employees at all levels of government
and in private industry who collect and disseminate information
on water resources, but there is no longer a single national
agency that assesses the future water needs of the nation.
The Advisory Committee on Water Information, which reports
to the secretary of Interior, includes representatives
from government, industry and environmental groups. It
has been active and improved the way that water resource
information is provided, but it doesn't look at the future.
A newly formed White House panel will recommend ways
for the nation to improve science and data programs on
water, according to Robert Hirsch, co-chair of the White
House Committee on the Environment and Natural Resources
and deputy water director at the U.S. Geological Survey.
But still, Hirsch said, there is no regular, single forum
for the discussion of future water issues as there was
when the National Water Resources Council existed. It
produced a national water assessment before it was disbanded
"I know there have been a number of people who have
really been talking about the need to re-institute a forum
like that to deal some of these higher level issues,"
he said, explaining that he was taking no position on
any pending legislation.
Hirsch said it's important for the public to be informed
about water resources and how drought and human usage
impacts the dwindling supplies. He said projections, however,
are a risky venture even for experts. There is a tendency
to want to do "straight-line projections" that
don't always work when climate is a changing issue.
"The fact is that there are a tremendous amount
of really human choices involved in the future of demand
and, in fact, we have seen that most demand projections
that were done several decades ago way, way overshot the
amount of water that actually ended up getting used,"
Hirsch said water policy decisions usually have to be
made at the local or regional level.
"There are a few exceptions to that where there
are large interstate rivers, where resources are very
scarce, where you cannot make decisions in isolation,"
he said. "Certainly, for example, the Colorado River
Basin because that one is so heavily stressed. Decisions
made in Wyoming are significant to what happens in southern
Arizona or California."
New Mexico is one of the most recent states to take an
aggressive approach to water planning with new legislation
enacted this spring that would create a comprehensive,
statewide water plan for the state in the fourth year
of a persistent drought.
"We cannot achieve our economic, or personal goals
without taking immediate steps to ensure New Mexico has
an adequate supply of water for generations to come,"
said Gov. Bill Richardson.
The new plan will address critical issues like water
rights, requiring state planning agencies to create a
database on surface and groundwater resources, and consult
directly with local governments, including Indian nations,
tribes and pueblos.
"This will be a process of inclusion, with many
avenues for input and participation, but with a timetable
for rapid progress and regular reports to the Legislature
and to me," Richardson said. "Finally, it will
be a conservation-minded plan, incorporating smart water
resource management with all possible methods of re-use