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Water Supply Issues Lead To Search for New Models.

At a national symposium on Water Supply Issues for a Sustainable 21st Century" co-sponsored by the Interstate Council on Water Policy (ICWP) and the American Water Works Association (AWWA), Richmond, Virginia Vice-Mayor Rudy McCollum (EENR Steering Committee member,) and I, representing NLC, heard presentations from speakers from different areas of the country on how they are attempting to resolve the competing interests among water users.

The sponsors of the meeting dearly would like to establish an alliance with the National Governors' Association and NLC in order to change how federal agencies operate in resolving conflicts from competing interests over water. Instead of the present command and control style and the emphasis on nailing people, ICWC wants to promote regional (watershed management) decision-making mechanisms.

AWWA wants to find a way to meet increasing environmental and recreational uses for water. Both groups are reaching for new models of decision-making and getting away from situations where everybody has a veto and gridlock reigns.

Curt Smitch, special assistant to Governor Gary Locke of Washington State described the statewide planning process resulting from a case triggered by the Endangered Species Act in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

As 75 percent of the public favor restoring diminishing salmon numbers, the Governor is asking local areas to determine how, in a growing state in which water is already over allocated, water can be returned to streams. By the Summer of 1999 a plan must be ready that will address water quantity and quality.

John Ueble, assistant executive director of the St. John's River Water Management District in Florida, described how boards made up of lay people decide competing uses and issue consumptive use permits good for two to twenty -- and even fifty -- years, if infrastructure is involved.

Jeffrey Featherstone, deputy executive director of the Delaware River Basin Commission, related the operation of this complex compact which supplies water to large and small cities in four states: New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

The federal government has pulled the plug on its financial support which used to be 20 percent of their budget.

Rita Pearson, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, described the negotiations to settle the senior water rights claim of the Gila River Indians (a 15 year court case which has already cost $52 million in legal fees), which places in potential jeopardy water supplies in the Phoenix metropolitan area.

Martha Pagel, director of the Oregon Water Resources Department, described their focus on watershed cooperation and voluntary efforts to get water back into streams as a result of Endangered Species Act listings of salmon and bull trout across the State.

"Woody" Woodraska, departing director of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, who is going to work for Enron, predicts a "sea change" in water policy.

Until now, economics has not been a driving force in decisionmaking when there are competing interests. An interest based industry may be moving towards an economic paradigm. (In California 75-85 percent of water is used by agriculture. During a time of drought, a farmer in Imperial Valley could make more money selling water than raising a crop.)

The rest of the world is privatizing water; a key issue for us is the question of whether water is a public resource or a commodity. Woodraska also commented that water quality will be a larger issue in the future, as the EPA regulations tighten and some constituent groups in the public insist on zero risk.

New Processes, New Models

Several speakers described new processes and models for solving competing uses and water development problems. As a result of a drought in 1996, Texas passed water reform legislation in 1997 mandating regional integrated water planning that requires public participation, a bottom up rather than the usual top down approach.

Dennis Left from the California Department of Water Resources described the efforts to develop a plan to deal with water supply, habitat degradation, unstable levees, and water quality in the CAFED Bay-Delta (Sacramento River/San Jacquin Valley). D. Larry Anderson, Director, Division of Water Resources, State of Utah, described their plan to augment water supply through conservation, water transfer, and potentially even a dam that has support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department. George Sherk, a lawyer in the School of Engineering and Applied Science at George Washington University outlined the ways we have a tendency to solve water conflicts; litigation, legislation, and interstate compacts. Each one creates a process, i.e. litigation may result in legislation, or the reverse.

We believe these issues deserve further thorough consideration by NLC members with a view to participating, affecting and supporting any resulting agreed on initiatives.

Janet Marcus is a member of the EENR Steering Committee and a Council Member from Tucson, Ariz.
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Title Annotation:cities compete for water supply
Author:Marcus, Janet
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Nov 30, 1998
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