U.S. urged to develop policy on possible water shortages

Problems imperil nation, experts warn lawmakers

January 10, 2003|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON - Leading water experts warned yesterday of shortages and a potential crisis if the United States proceeds without a national water policy that spells out cooperation between governments and regions.

In letters to the White House, governors and every member of Congress, the experts argued that the country urgently needs to develop a "national water vision" to cope with shortages and other looming problems.

The letter asserts that the United States' inability to effectively plan for drought, flooding and improved water quality jeopardizes the nation's strength not just at home but abroad.

"In many areas, we do not have enough water for forecasted long-term municipal and industrial use," the letter said.

"Our nation once led the world in water technology and management. Today our water expertise is dwindling and with it our capacity to help lead the world's growing efforts to avert famine, drought and related humanitarian disasters - the breeding grounds of terrorism and violence," the letter said.

The letter delivered the recommendations from the Water Resources Policy Dialogue, a gathering last fall of representatives from federal agencies, state governments, local planning departments and conservation groups from around the country.

Since then, the punishing drought of last year has abated in parts of the country, particularly in the Southeast. But experts warned that light winter snowfall in parts of the West probably will present problems along the Missouri River and elsewhere this year.

The looming shortages are especially serious in California, they said, where more than 1 million households could be affected by a new federal rationing policy cutting California's share of the Colorado River.

The letter also warned that diminished river flows around the country have dropped the water levels at many river ports to dangerously low levels.

Retired Army Gen. Gerald Galloway, chairman of the National Water Dialogue, presented the recommendations at the National Press Club. He said he worried that the government has all but abandoned the effective river management that helped build the country in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The letter to political leaders mentioned the impasse between federal agencies over proposals to make environmentally friendly flow changes in the Missouri as one of several principal water disputes around the country.

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