Conservation among keys to coping with West’s water woes |

Conservation among keys to coping with West’s water woes

Mike Stark
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

PARK CITY, Utah – The old quip in the West that whiskey’s for drinkin’ and water’s for fightin’ is a tired cliche by now but still rings true.

Only these days, there’s more people with a stake in the water fight and a dwindling supply to go around.

Quenching the growing demand for water in the warming West will require a bigger push for conservation, innovative technology and a rethinking of supply and demand, Western governors and water experts said Sunday.

About 600 people gathered in Park City for the first day of the Western Governors’ Association meeting.

The three-day meeting focuses on key issues that affect states throughout the West, including water use, climate change and energy. This year – with several cabinet members from the Obama administration and a record attendance – the political landscape has shifted and there’s a renewed urgency for swapping ideas and working together, attendees said.

“This is kind of where it all begins,” said Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, WGA’s outgoing chairman,

The governors approved several resolutions Sunday, including one calling for a national policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Global warming poses a serious threat to the Western economy, public health and environment,” the resolution said.

Sunday’s main discussion, which included Canadian officials and experts from the Middle East and Australia, focused on managing water amid changing climate conditions.

“As governors and premiers of the West, we’re all challenged by this,” said Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter.

Although many of the controversies in the West center around urbanization, natural resources and energy development, water – and often the lack of it – comes up again and again.

“Water is connected to all those things,” said Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, an environmental think tank based in Oakland, Calif.

Gleick, one of four panelists who spoke Sunday, said there’s evidence of intensified water disputes, ecosystem collapse in some places and a population growth that’s driving a sometimes-fractured water management system.

States can no longer rely on simply building more storage capacity, which can be expensive and “politically challenging,” he said. The West needs to consider other supply options such as rainwater, use of treated wastewater and desalination plants, Gleick said.

Climate change – which will alter precipitation and the timing of mountain snow melt – also needs to be incorporated into all water management decisions, he said.

Ritter said the region needs to do more to protect the water that’s already available.

“Conservation has to become an ethic in the West,” he said.

Inevitably, though, there will be hard decisions to make about who gets water and who doesn’t, said Doug Miell, an Australian water consultant and former leader of an irrigation council during some of the country’s worst drought conditions.

“The bad news is there’s no silver bullet,” said Miell, who advocated for more information gathering and sharing among resource managers.

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, the incoming WGA chairman, agreed that water needs to be better measured, moved more efficiently and conserved on a larger scale.

“Those of us who are managing water in the West know how important this is,” he said.

Monday’s agenda includes a session about tapping the West’s renewable energy potential. Scheduled speakers include Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

An afternoon session on climate change is expected to include Robert Zoellick, president of The World Bank and Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

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