SALT LAKE CITY — Sportsmen's groups around the country and Colorado River advocates are applauding action taken today by President Barack Obama to step up a federal, coordinated response aimed at countering impacts of long-term drought, particularly in the West.
Obama, at the first White House Water Summit held Tuesday in conjunction with World Water Day, announced an "action plan" to boost drought monitoring and forecasting capabilities in particular.
"There is nothing more important in the West than water,” said Catherine Greener, a member of the Colorado River advocacy organization Protect the Flows.
"Today’s executive action is an important step toward addressing the drought in the West and protecting limited water resources.”
Citing the 2012 drought that covered 65 percent of the nation and plunged farmers and ranchers into a financial nightmare, the administration outlined six steps to be taken this year, including extending federal water efficiency grants underway in California to other regions suffering from drought or those areas at risk.
The White House plan also calls for improving access to drinking water for communities most vulnerable to compromised supplies and mandates that drought impacts be included in emergency response plans as a condition for funding for new water and wastewater development projects.
The plan includes an accelerated emphasis on drought related research. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA, will form an agencywide Western Water Applications Office housed at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. There, researchers will develop strategic applications analyzing satellite observations and airborne technologies to better meet the challenges of drought, flooding, declining snowpack and shrinking groundwater across the West.
The administration's plan responds to a call for action in a report issued by the Western Governors' Association, which asked that federal agencies coordinate their efforts in on the ground conservation efforts aimed at improving watershed health, enhanced data collection and subsequent sharing of information.
As part of the national response strategy on drought, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will award $3.5 million grants to five research institutions — including Utah State University in Logan — to study the health and ecological impacts of water conservation. The University of Utah is one of four research institutions that will share in $4 million to study how drought and wildfires affect water quality.
Summit participants on Tuesday, such as the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation, announced a petition signed by sportsmen that calls for action from federal agencies to meet challenges posed by rising temperatures, falling water supplies and increased demand.
"“The message from hunters and anglers across the country is that we need to create flexible water systems that can better weather the next drought or flood,” says Jimmy Hague, director of the organization's Center for Water Resources.
“We also need to promote healthy fish and wildlife habitat while providing water to cities and farms.”
Last year, the partnership, joined by the American Sportsfishing Association and Trout Unlimited, formed a list of recommendations that called for more investment in water conservation projects and voluntary water sharing agreements, which the administration moved to address in the new plan.
“This move to increase coordination of federal resources will better protect vital water supplies, especially in places like the drought-stricken Colorado River,” Hague said.