U.S. Water News Online
WASHINGTON -- The drought that has gripped the West for the
last several years is expected to ease some in the coming year,
although Bush administration officials warned that water wars will
Much of New Mexico and parts of Montana and Idaho are forecast to
continue suffering from a severe drought, according to projections
from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
But the long-term drought has left reservoirs in Nevada, New
Mexico, Utah and Oregon with less than half their normal reserve, and
it could take as many as 20 years of normal precipitation to
replenish the supply.
Even in normal conditions, many areas will continue to be plagued
by fights over water because of competing demands and rapid growth in
the area, Bennett Raley, the Interior Department's assistant
secretary for water and science, told the Senate Energy and Natural
``Unlike the past century, when water crises were intense but
typically occurred in drought years and only affected resources and
economies of local and regional importance, water supply-related
crises in this century will affect economies and resources of
national and international importance unless we take action now,''
Raley said supply problems are expected to be particularly acute
in the Klamath River Basin in northern California and southern
Oregon, and in New Mexico's Middle Rio Grande Basin.
In recent years, water in the Klamath River was diverted from
farms to protect endangered fish in the river. Last year, in the
Middle Rio Grande Basin a federal judge forced water to be diverted
from farms to protect the endangered silvery minnow further
``I don't even know where to begin to discuss the vast challenges
facing states like mine,'' said New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici,
chairman of the Senate committee. ``Water continues to be the
backbone of the economy and we all seem to be really walking in
place, while the problems seem to be all around us, wondering what we
To try to avert future crises, Interior Secretary Gale Norton has
started an initiative, Water 2025, seeking to prevent water conflicts
through a series of conservation incentives, water purchases,
planning collaboration and technology.
But Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., challenged the Bush
administration's commitment to Western water issues, noting it
proposed cutting $25 million from the Bureau of Reclamation
conservation and technology programs while adding $11.6 million to
the Water 2025 program.
Domenici said more needs to be done to develop new sources of
water, including research to remove salt and minerals from water to
make it useable and other purification methods.
And both Bingaman and Domenici questioned the administration's
plan to cut funding for the Middle Rio Grande project from $32
million this year to $18 million in the coming budget year.
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