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Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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"If we destroy our agricultural industry in this country, food isn't going to be as safe and we really have a homeland security issue."
Farming faces competing demands for water

Maintaining sufficient amounts of fresh water for agricultural irrigation, municipal use and other needs will be a growing concern in the next few years, according to two conference speakers at the American Farm Bureau Federation's 85th annual convention.

Water use in the United States peaked in 1980, and has decreased since then despite a 16 percent rise in population, said Jonathan Pawlow, counsel for the House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee. That's good news, but the country could be on the cusp of a change for the worse, Pawlow said.

The decrease in water use was achieved largely because of improved efficiency, such as better irrigation equipment. But, as the U.S. population continues to grow, the demand for water is starting to outstrip the efficiency gains.

The arid West has seen water conflicts for decades, but droughts in recent years have focused more attention on water conflicts in the East. Total irrigated acres in the West have decreased, while irrigated acres in the East are rising. These trends have resulted in more water wars where water used to be considered plentiful and affordable.

Meanwhile, migration to the South, Southwest and West has only intensified the water wars in those regions, Pawlow said.

"There should be adequate water to meet our needs," he said, "but pollution has eliminated some usable water, the water supply is not uniform around the nation and water isn't necessarily where the population and the needs are. People are trying to work out solutions to these problems."

Pawlow said his subcommittee had held several hearings on the issue. He called on conference attendees to support passage of the 21st Century Water Commission Act (H.R. 135), which would establish a commission to assess the water supply and come up with a comprehensive strategy. The House passed the bill last November, but the Senate has yet to act on it. Pawlow said attendees should also urge their senators to pass the Water Resources Development Act (H.R. 2557), which would also provide resources to assess and address the water quantity problem. The House passed the bill last September; the Senate has yet to consider it.

The majority of water wars still occur in the arid West. The second conference speaker, Lee Miller, an attorney with the Colorado law firm of Burns, Figet and Will, explained several aspects of the Interior Department's "Water 2025" project to develop ways to meet water supply challenges and help prevent more lawsuits and conflict over water rights in the West.

Miller said the proposal wasn't perfect, but, "We can't put our heads in the sand and hope it goes away because we don't like what's being proposed. We have to be involved in the process." Miller focused on the importance of maintaining adequate water for agricultural use, despite competition from cities, recreational interests and endangered species protection. Miller represents Colorado Farm Bureau in its efforts to defend Colorado farmers' water rights.

"If we destroy our agricultural industry in this country, food isn't going to be as safe and we really have a homeland security issue," he said.


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