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A look into the future, Idaho Statesman 4/21/05
Crapo: Drought, politics necessitate local water solutions 4/21/05.

Preface by Dan Keppen, Family Farm Alliance Executive Director:

The Family Farm Alliance participated in the Cecil Andrus Center on Public Policy forum held at Boise State University Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. The conference – entitled “Troubled Water: Exploring Solutions for the Western Water Crisis” – has received fairly widespread media coverage. A summary of the views presented by the Alliance and other panelists yesterday – which ran in the Idaho Statesman - follows, as does a statement issued by Idaho Senator Mike Crapo, who appeared via satellite at the Andrus event.

The role of enhancing Western water supplies and the importance of developing local solutions were key themes that arose in several of the panel discussions that took place in Boise.

Other relevant links about the conference include a summary of Wednesday’s events – “Resolving Western water conflicts will take collaboration" – which can be viewed on The Idaho Statesman website, at: http://www.idahostatesman.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2005504210338.

Also, a positive article about Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner John Keys Wise ‘”Wise, well-liked water official talks at conference" - can be seen on this same website at:


A look into the future
Idaho Statesman 4/21/05

The experts, water users and policy makers assembled at Boise State University this week looked ahead to what could happen if the West faced an even more serious drought than the current one.

In an elaborate hypothetical discussion, the year was 2015 and "It's damn, damn dry in the West, and the reservoirs behind the dams are dry as well," Andrus Center President Marc Johnson said.

The talk focused on weighing the needs of Los Angeles against the rest of the Colorado River basin, and the different pressures on the Columbia River drainage produced some interesting glimpses into what might lay ahead for Western water.

Farmers and cities may cut deals to ensure water

Kay Brothers, a Las Vegas water manager, said one way that fast-growing cities can make sure they will have enough water is to negotiate with farmers.

"I think we'd have to have agriculture recognize that cities have to have water first if they're using it well," she said.

But she wouldn't rely on good will.

First, cities would have to show that they are being responsible and conserving water. But they could pay farmers to be more efficient — even in wet years — but the understanding would be that in dry times, the city would get the water, and the farmers would have gotten enough money to get through without it.

"When you get to the bad years you have to exercise those options," she said.

Without agreements, some experts warned, Western agriculture may be left behind anyway.
Former Bureau of Land Management leader Patrick Shea, now a Salt Lake City attorney, envisioned one future where "beneficial use" has been redefined to include metropolitan growth — a time when the public sees a better use of water in a bottle on the grocery store shelf than in a green field.

And San Francisco attorney John Leshy said irrigated agriculture — which took much of the industry from naturally watered fields in the east — may lose in a shift back if water becomes so precious.

The dams of the future (and yes, there may be some)

Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner John Keys said the era of dams in the West — maybe even big dams in the West — is not over.

"I think the days of the large federal projects are gone," he said.

But they'll be replaced with cooperative agreements between public and private groups — paid for with money that isn't necessarily coming from the federal coffers.

The dams may look the same, he said, but it's likely that all the water gathered behind them will be paid for and parsed out before they're even built.

Family Farm Alliance Director Dan Keppen agreed that new water storage facilities — reservoirs — are still needed. Keppen, who represents farmers and other water users in 17 Western states, said his group asked its members for new ideas recently and along with canal lining and better management, many suggested both off-stream and on-stream storage.

Even Save Our Wild Salmon Director Patrick Ford said he could foresee drought conditions so bad that he could see the need for a dam, but the needs and jobs the dams would help would have to outweigh the "in-stream values" of wildlife and ecology and the economic benefits of the fish and wildlife the rivers sustain.

"I suspect we would see very few opportunities for large dams, maybe none," he said. But there may be new solutions that don't involve old strategies, he said.

Some unusual ways of securing more water

• Tapping the oceans: Keys noted that part of the current long-term water plan in Washington, D.C., involves exploring de-salination plants so converting ocean water into potable water could be more affordable.

The process exists now, but costs more than many alternatives. (Though they're being used in places like Carlsbad, Calif., already.)

Keys suggested a foreseeable future where the city of Las Vegas builds a "de-sal" plant on the California coast, and trades the water it produces for upstream flows in the Colorado River basin.

• Water banks: One way to make sure water goes where it's needed is to set up a marketplace — Idaho's done that with it's water banks, which lets users with extra water lease it to those who need more.

Keys said strengthening water banks could help to make sure both crops and cities will get water when they need it.

•Underground reservoirs: Shea laid out a scenario in which the reservoirs of the future aren't above ground behind dams and over miles of habitat, but instead in depleted oil and natural gas reservoirs under the earth.

Already, water is intentionally banked in naturally occurring aquifers — recharging the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer is part of the way Idaho leaders and water users hope to make sure there's enough water there for everyone who needs it. And natural gas is sometimes stored in water aquifers.

Water stored underground doesn't evaporate as quickly — Arizona banks on that by storing much of its water below the arid landscape.

Shea also mentioned cloud seeding (already used but controversial) and icebergs (already bottled by some entrepreneurial Canadians).



Senator warns Congress, outside interests can step in


April 20, 2005

CONTACT: Susan Wheeler (202) 224-5150

Lindsay Nothern (208) 334-1776

Washington, DC – Idaho residents must continue to work together to find solutions to ongoing water issues or risk the threat that the federal government or interests from out of state will step in to override local interests, warned Idaho Senator Mike Crapo. Crapo spoke by satellite this morning to attendees at the Idaho Statesman and Andrus Center’s “Troubled Water” conference at Boise State University.

“The federal government now offers the ‘carrot and stick’ of landowner incentives and water regulatory authority under laws like the Endangered Species Act or Clean Water Act,” Crapo said. “But the federal government has also recognized state water authority. Proactive planning must continue so that states retain water control.” Crapo said. “With the drought, we will see increasing pressure regarding water allocation issues. We must focus on collaboration and consensus-driven decisions at the local level, which can then be brought to the Congress for ratification.”

Crapo held water talks between irrigators and salmon advocates in September 2003. He has also spearheaded collaborative efforts related to elk recovery, the Owyhee Initiative, and, most recently, reducing litigation and improving recovery efforts under the Endangered Species Act.

He said locally-driven consensus planning improves state water control issues before the Congress. “The dynamics surrounding the close voting margins in the United States Senate mean that the proposals with the most success will come from local collaborative efforts agreed to by all sides of an issue. The more we can agree at the local level, the better the chance that local agreement will survive a vote in a divided Senate,” Crapo added.

Crapo also commented briefly on his efforts to improve the ESA in response to questions from participants at the conference. He said a bipartisan coalition of both the U.S. House and Senate are working to reduce litigation which robs resources that could better be spent recovering species. Crapo noted the group is focusing on what is politically and legally achievable to repeat the problems of lawsuits which stop progress under the ESA.





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