Throughout the West it is increasingly difficult to find water sources that are not already committed to another use. Most rivers have been dammed to capture high flows and to recapture water for subsequent use. Ground water has been tapped at rates well beyond the ability of aquifers to recharge, so water levels have dropped and associated surface water has declined. Alteration of aquatic systems for water development has caused extinction of species of fish, and others are in jeopardy. The West is approaching a zero-sum game in which the benefits of developing additional water are offset by the losses.
"More and more, we are seeing a realization across the West that the conservation and sustainability of water is essential to our future," said Lawrence MacDonnell, co-author of A New Western Water Agenda, a policy report out today from Western Progress, "this report seeks to extend existing efforts across the entire region and also suggest new ways of tackling increasing scarcity."
"The status quo simply won't work," said Denise Fort, the other co-author of the report and a professor at the University of New Mexico Law School, "we must find new ways in decrease our use of the limited water supply we face in the West."
The Rocky Mountain region, already noted for the ferocity of its interstate water battles, was identified by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as one of most vulnerable parts of the country to future water shortages due to climate change and variability. As Western Progress has previously noted, these changes are already underway with declining snowpacks, earlier spring runoffs, and record high temperatures. The need for new solutions to the water issue increases with each passing year.