Senator Cantwell Releases a Bold Vision for Water in the 21st Century

New white paper outlines a national policy framework for drought and water security

Washington, DC – Today, on World Water Day, Ranking Member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) released a white paper to advance the development of a 21st century national framework for addressing drought and water security in the United States.

An unprecedented drought last year and 15 years of drought across the American West have demonstrated the need to rethink U.S. water management in the 21st century. Since 1980, droughts have cost the United States more than $200 billion. The drought last year caused widespread and serious impacts for communities, agriculture, industry and the environment. As drought is predicted to continue in the coming years and as communities throughout the United States face significant water-security challenges, it is a crucial time to evaluate and develop new strategies at the national level.  

Sen. Cantwell’s paper lays out a national framework to address water challenges through the modernization of federal programs to support and finance sustainable, watershed-scale solutions; advance science and technology; and promote partnerships with communities. The purpose of the paper is to foster a public dialogue and to develop a comprehensive policy agenda to address national drought and water security needs, as called for by states, tribes, local governments, utilities, agricultural producers and conservation groups.

Modernizing federal programs is critical to supporting a more water-secure future,” Sen. Cantwell said. “The Yakima water bill is a national model for watershed management. The federal government has a responsibility to act now to support these efforts.”

The framework document reflects lessons learned from Washington’s Yakima River Basin, where an extraordinary collaboration has led to a watershed planning effort that has become a national model. Last year, Sen. Cantwell introduced the Yakima Basin bill (S. 1694) to authorize federal participation in this effort, which will help usher in a new era in water management. The bill will help to restore ecosystems and endangered species, conserve water and provide water security for families, fish and farmers for years to come. Last month, Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior Michael Connor called the Yakima process a model not only for working through water challenges, but any natural resource management challenge.

The white paper released today builds on that approach and outlines five policy principles as a national framework for drought and water security:

1. Supporting collaborative watershed-scale solutions that are locally-driven. Governance solutions should support and incentivize collaborative, locally driven, watershed solutions by modernizing, coordinating, and streamlining federal programs to make them more effective.

2. Financing solutions through partnerships and streamlined federal funding. Innovative water financing solutions should utilize an integrated watershed funding approach that streamlines federal funding and increases opportunities for public-private partnerships.

3. Using and advancing the best science, technology and tools. Science and technology solutions should focus on accelerating innovation and the advancement of tipping points in science, technology and tools to transform water management.

4. Advancing sustainable water supply solutions for people and the environment. Water supply solutions should take an integrated, portfolio approach that balances the needs of both people and the environment, including: (1) increased use of water markets, efficiency, conservation, recycling, reuse and desalination; (2) improvements in existing infrastructure, operations and low-impact infrastructure (such as aquifer storage and recovery); and (3) nature-based solutions and restoration of ecosystems and fisheries.

5. Partnering with Tribal Nations, Arctic and Island Communities. The federal government should partner with and support Tribal Nations, Arctic and Island communities as they face unique challenges in responding to and addressing long-term water security needs.

Addressing long-term drought is also a priority for the Obama administration. Ahead of today’s White House Water Summit, the administration released a presidential memorandum to institutionalize the National Drought Resilience Partnership (NDRP), which seeks to reduce the vulnerability of communities to the impacts of drought.

Download Sen. Cantwell’s white paper on drought here:
Read the presidential memorandum on long-term drought resilience here:

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