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Norton Calls for Local Solutions to Water Crises
Environmental News Service

DENVER, Colorado - Preventing conflict over chronic water shortages must be addressed by local communities in long range, cooperative planning efforts with state and federal agencies, Interior Department Secretary Gale Norton told Western officials today.

Speaking at a conference called "Water 2025: Preventing Crises and Conflict in the West," Norton told attendees that "long lasting solutions will come from the people who must live with or learn to live without the water they need."

Today's meeting is the first of nine consulting sessions in Western cities aimed at expanding the dialog on ways of preventing the water supply problems facing many communities.

Population growth is the major pressure on Western water supplies as it increases the competition for a finite supply among home owners, businesses, farmers, American Indian tribes, and fish and wildlife. Sustained drought, which currently affects much of the West, is adding further strain on the region's water supply.

Norton said the aging water infrastructure of the West must also be addressed, and communities must find agreements before a crisis hits.

"Many water supply facilities continue to use 19th century technology to attempt to meet 21st century problems," she said. "Some are 60 years old, while others have been in service for almost a century. In some instances, canals can lose up to 50 percent of their irrigation water either through seepage or through old, inefficient control structures."

Through the Water 2025 initiative, Norton says the federal government has "assessed the situation and come up with areas we consider to be hot spots with the potential for future conflict over water."

There is a role for the federal government, the Interior Department Secretary said, but "the hard work of preventing crises and conflict will take place in meeting rooms like these."

"For a long-lasting solution, we need everyone at the table, state and local governments, tribes, and stakeholders," Norton said. "We are looking to states and localities to take the lead. We can then help with technical expertise, with facilitation support, and with seed money."

Norton added that federal agencies are striving to better coordinate their efforts, citing a formal memo announced Thursday between the Interior and Agriculture Departments to create interagency Drought Action Teams to focus scarce resources quickly where and when they are needed.

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