A call to action (The need for an integrated national water policy)
Why a National Water Policy . . . Why Now . . . Why Us?
Human and economic development in this country has always been reliant on access to, and the availability of, water. Indeed, when faced with challenges to our water quantity and quality, America harnessed its technological expertise and management prowess to overcome them. Until recently, such abilities had made water a resource so abundant that it was frequently given away free – unmetered, wasted, and taken for granted.
Based on what we thought were historic patterns of precipitation, water seemed to fl ow endlessly from the sky and from our rivers, fi lling our lakes and reservoirs and, with the help of a little engineering, being distributed to virtually every area with a dry throat.
But the past is no longer prologue. Population growth and concentrations, changing weather patterns and climatic conditions have forced us to re-evaluate how we use water. Climate change is turning some dry areas even drier, while others are subject to periodic feast-or-famine water supplies. But most importantly, it is making the future unpredictable and, thus, diffi cult to prepare for.
Adding to the challenge posed by climate change is the huge and growing demand for water from energy production. The nature of our energy supplies is shifting. While traditional and existing sources of energy, such as coal-fi red power plants and petroleum rely on a steady water supply, many of the new energy sources, such as oil shale, hydrocracking of gas shale, steam generators from solar towers, corn-based ethanol production and nuclear power, also require large amounts of water. These sources may all contribute to greater domestic energy production, but they also lead to water quality challenges and add a large, and often unforeseen, demand on limited water resources, especially in arid regions. The pressure on our water supply is similarly challenged also by a growing demand from industry more broadly as well as from the agricultural sector as the U.S. population continues to expand dramatically.
Traditionally, primary control of our water resources has been in the hands of local or regional entities. Further fragmentation has occurred, however, as state and federal agencies developed separate views (and regulations) for what is, essentially, the same resource. Today, a myriad of often disparate state approaches as well as federal laws and regulations exist, many of which treat the same resource differently, and some of which are in confl ict with each other.
For example, at the federal level there are numerous single statutes addressing individual components of our water resource management efforts, such as wastewater management (the Clean Water Act), drinking water management (the Safe Drinking Water Act), aquatic habitat (the Endangered Species Act) and air pollution sources (The Clean Air Act), to name but a few. Clearly, these pieces of legislation create separate bureaucracies that have developed their own cultures with the outcome that they can create confl icts and competing interests with the result of delaying progress toward improving the quality and quantity of our waters. Similar diffi culties exist at the local level where municipal authorities are many and where water resource management is not always a primary lens through which municipal planning is viewed.