Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Water in the West: Opportunities and Challenges in the Trump Administration Era

When Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently wrote to advocate for significant infrastructure funding, he started by discussing the Oroville Dam’s crumbling spillway, although he is mostly interested in transportation, airports and urban infrastructure.

Oroville Dam
In the quest for infrastructure funding, water and extreme climate have an advantage. They have caught the public’s attention. Drought, flood, pollution, dam failures and the need for more storage are regularly in the news. Indeed, water is increasingly mentioned as part of the infrastructure appropriation planned in Washington. Scott Pruitt, the new EPA leader, in particular, is an advocate.

The changes evident in Washington from the Trump administration and Congress should benefit the management and development of water resources. The administration wants to deregulate and focus on the EPA’s core mission. In addition, both Trump and Pruitt are strong advocates for states’ rights. For entities that have been dealing with the EPA, that would mean less federal intervention and more state involvement.

Colorado and the western states should benefit from more deregulation and more money if they can get organized. The competition for funding will be significant. Colorado needs to develop a strategy, identify a list of projects, empower a state team and build the case for the state’s water investments.

The good news is that Colorado has a water plan that identifies the state’s water needs and likely projects that can meet the need. By 2050, Colorado is projected to have a shortfall of 400,000 acre-feet of water that it needs to supply 1 million households. It will require $3 billion in water programs and projects to address the gap.

Also of benefit to the state, Colorado’s commitment to sound stewardship of water resources is apparent on many fronts. With more responsibility at the state level will come more scrutiny. Conservation through changes in residential usage, system improvements, reuse of water and conservation programs has become a priority for the state’s water agencies.

Coloradans support protecting their water and developing needed projects. In a statewide survey conducted in August 2016 for the Colorado Water Congress, voters strongly agreed that Colorado should store “its legal share of water” that flows out of state, and projects should be developed to stop the “loss of irrigated agriculture.”

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