U.S. Department of the InteriorDOI News Header

Office of the Secretary
February 4, 2008

Contact: Shane Wolfe, 202-208-6416
or Frank Quimby, 202-208-7291

Kempthorne: Water for America Initiative Will Work with State, Tribal and Local Governments to Secure Critical Water Supplies

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Because chronic water shortages, dramatic population growth, and aging water facilities are increasing the potential for conflict over water resources around the nation, the President’s FY 2009 budget for the Department of the Interior includes a $21.3 million initiative to help state, tribal and local governments better conserve, manage and develop their vital water resources.

The multi-agency Water for America initiative would help communities meet increasing demands on limited water supplies through collaborative projects, water conservation technologies and expanded information sharing.  In 2009, the Bureau of Reclamation will partner with the United States Geological Survey, States and local water users to begin this initiative to conserve and expand existing water supplies; develop new sources; and protect endangered species in major river systems. The U.S. Geological Survey will also carry out the first national water census in 30 years; modernize stream gages; and plan for the nation’s future water use in partnership with state and local governments.

“In 2006, the National Science and Technology Council reported that abundant supplies of clean, fresh water can no longer be taken for granted,” Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne said in announcing the initiative today. “Water wars have spread to the Midwest, East, and South. Competition for water is increasing because of rapid population growth and burgeoning environmental and energy needs,” said Kempthorne, whose responsibilities include overseeing major Interior water storage and distribution projects in the West and serving as Water Master for the Lower Colorado River.

“As this competition escalates during a time of chronic drought and changing climate,” the Secretary noted, “water conflicts are occurring within states, among states, between states and the Federal government and among environmentalists and state and Federal agencies.” Kempthorne also serves as the President’s special representative to help Georgia, Alabama and Florida resolve regional water issues in the southeast.

The Water for America Initiative responds to the nation’s water realities by merging three existing Bureau of Reclamation water supply management programs (Water 2025, Water Conservation Field Services, and Investigations) and by using the scientific expertise of the U.S. Geological Survey in monitoring water quality, quantity and flows in U.S. rivers and streams as well as the conditions of the nation’s major aquifers.

Under the initiative, Interior partnerships with state, local and tribal governments will use the latest technologies in water planning and management to help these communities respond to their changing water needs.  At the watershed level, Interior agencies will work with urban, rural, and agricultural water users to stretch existing water supplies and carry out measures to protect endangered species at high-risk watersheds, thereby averting water crises. 

“The initiative also will begin a nationwide assessment of water availability, water quality, and human and environmental water use to be completed by 2019,” said Kempthorne.  The initiative will measure groundwater storage, develop models to determine nonpoint sources of water pollution, use remote sensing, and improve predictions of hydrologic effects of climate change. 

“We will conduct the long-overdue inventory of our nation’s water resources so that we have the information we need to plan for the nation’s water future, working with states and others to manage water sustainably,” Kempthorne said.

Reclamation’s budget includes an increase of $13.1 million for this initiative.  The 2009 program including this increase will fund basin watershed planning and smaller-scale geographical studies, and challenge grants, to support partnering with urban, rural, and agricultural water users to stretch existing water supplies through such things as real time monitoring, measurement, and control; new technologies to reduce the cost of desalination of sea and brackish water; and canal lining or piping to reduce water seepage.  As part of the initiative, Reclamation plans to manage and protect endangered species in major water river systems.

As a part of the initiative, Reclamation is also examining how climate change information can be considered in the bureau’s water and power operations and planning through several project-specific studies.  Through collaborative efforts with the U.S. Geological Survey and other Federal and non-Federal agencies that have complementary expertise and a common stake in Western water, Reclamation is well positioned to use the most relevant climate information and manage its water resources under changing conditions.

For its role in the initiative, the U.S. Geological Survey will use increased funding of $8.2 million to initiate work on a national water census, the first in 30 years. This funding also includes upgrades and additions to the nation’s network of 7,000 streamgages, as well as increases for research related to groundwater resources. These improvements will provide water managers with critical data for future decision making.

— DOI —