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Great Lakes Article:

Water Crisis Facing Entire Nation
Environmental News Service
01/10/2003

WASHINGTON, DC- The United States is facing major challenges to its water resources, the American Water Resources Association (AWRA) has warned the Bush administration and Congress.

The group, a national trade organization representing publicly owned wastewater utilities, sent a letter to President George W. Bush, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Majority Leader of the Senate, calling on them to address the problems. The letter is based largely on discussions that took place at the National Water Policy Dialogue, held in Washington DC in September 2002.

That conference was convened by AWRA, sponsored by 10 federal agencies, and cosponsored by 24 non-governmental organizations. It was attended by 267 persons representing 41 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

In the letter, AWRA points to ongoing drought, inadequate water for forecasted long term municipal and industrial uses, ports operating at the margin in terms of channel depths, and annual flood losses in the United States that continue to worsen. The letter also warns of annual losses of more than 70,000 acres of non-federal wetlands, a federal list of 1,260 threatened or endangered plants and animals, miles of rivers that do not meet water quality standards, and impaired coastal waters and estuarine areas.

The groups says there are major funding shortfalls for maintaining water infrastructure, and increasing support to remove dams that no longer serve their original purpose or threaten natural systems. Non-structural means of preventing flood damages are used with increasing frequency, the letter states, while new and innovative methods of producing energy and reducing and eliminating water pollution help reduce the need for hydroelectric dams.

The nation's courts have been asked to address a growing number of conflicts over the primacy of one water user over another, the rights of natural systems, and the rights of Native Americans to water.

The AWRA letter urges immediate action by the administration and the Congress to deal with national water resources issues, noting that failure to do so could impact the economy, reduce the country's capacity to participate in global markets and increase legal conflicts over rights and uses. Failure to act could reverse progress on cleaning up rivers and restoring natural areas, the letter states, and continue the escalation of flood damages.

AWRA calls on the administration and the Congress to develop a National Water Vision that would determine, in cooperation with the states and local governments, how the nation wants to deal with water resources. AWRA emphasized that it is not calling for a federal water policy that directs the actions of federal, state and local governments, but for a policy that defines the shared responsibilities at each level of government.

The national policy should ensure coordination and collaboration among federal agencies and with other agencies at state, regional and local levels, the letter states, and should deal with water issues on a holistic basis, using watersheds and basins as the setting for water resource projects and programs.

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