Experts Predict Growing Uncertainty for Water Supplies

Taylor Hillman Drought, General, Water

Water forum at AFBF
A combination of population growth, increasing environmental demands and climate change poses long-term questions for water availability, particularly in the western U.S. Speakers at a workshop at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 96th Annual Convention and IDEAg Trade Show said that creativity and leadership will be needed to resolve those questions.

Robert Johnson, executive vice president of the Washington, D.C.-based National Water Resources Association, said current climate models suggest reduced water supplies in the West due to long-term droughts. That means people in Western states “need to figure out what to do” in terms of water management, he said, noting that that will vary from region to region.

“Solutions take time,” Johnson said. “Major infrastructure projects take 20 to 30 years to develop, so things have to move. It takes cooperation to solve problems. Leadership is critical.”

Maurice Hall, senior hydrologist for the Nature Conservancy, described himself as “a water resources engineer for fish and wildlife.” Hall, who is based in Sacramento and works on California water issues, stressed the need for what he called integrated water management.

“We want to provide a water supply for fish and wildlife, and if water supplies for nature are going to be dependable, then the supplies for our communities and farms are going to need to be stable and dependable as well,” Hall said.

California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger told the workshop that water supplies have become increasingly less dependable for cities and particularly for farms. He said water has been devoted to flows for fishery needs without an understanding of whether those flows will actually benefit the species.

“Yes, we’ve had a drought,” Wenger said, “but with the water infrastructure we have today, we should not have reservoirs as empty as they are because of mismanagement.”

Wenger said the potential for climate change underlines the need for additional water storage in California.

“Seventy percent of our water storage has been in snowpack in high mountain reservoirs,” he said, “so as climate change comes, we have to adapt, and that means we’d better have lower-level capturing systems to be able to capture that water, because it’s going to come as rainfall, not snowpack.”