Water challenges found throughout the West

Water challenges—from quality to quantity—abound throughout the High Plains.

However, California can give us a roadmap into the complexities of water policy, delivering the product and infrastructure, as Steven Greenhut writes in his book “Winning the Water Wars.” Greenhut writes California was one of the first states to understand water is the lifeblood of its economy and agriculture was at the forefront. Competing interests continue to find ways to fight rather than find solutions to problems.

Greenhut notes that California was ahead of its time, recognizing that water storage was one of the best strategies to provide water for residents, businesses and agricultural interests. They elected officials who understood in the 1920s through the 1970s. Then special interests through the legal system were able to find ways to stop or delay projects.

He also writes of one proposal that could divert water from the Mississippi River and pipe it westward in a manner similar to the Interstate highway system to help provide California water. In Greenhut’s opinion, there is not much of a need as it was to make better policy decisions. Agriculture, he said, should not pay any more of a price for a change of policies than other industries. The cause led by opponents, he explains, look to water as way to pursue non-development and they also tend to believe the needs of fish and wildlife are more important than Californians who are trying to make a living.

Greenhut is not an anti-environmentalist, as he says environmental movement has made a difference to improving California’s wildlife and landscape. However, nuances in today’s policies for some of those groups have become almost entirely anti-development and found friendly ears to stop necessary projects.

What Greenhut drives home is that much of the water that Californians believe is wasted is not so. Water also runs freely into the Pacific Ocean and was never captured at any point and could be tapped into if proper storage were in place. Conservation efforts have worked and he applauds initiatives. He wonders, though, how the innovative policy makers Govs. Edmund “Pat” Brown and Ronald Reagan, from ideologically different views, would be able to put together infrastructure projects to solve the state’s water storage and delivery problems that plague it today.

Greenhut writes governmental policymakers need to work together with a common goal of solving California’s water issues. It won’t be easy as he writes there is no perfect answer and the state should rely on many good ideas with multiple viewpoints to find a solution. Those solutions need to have significant input from private industry and agricultural interests. Investment from the private sector also should be an important component as he believes those organizations will have vested interest in making sure the system works right.

In the High Plains we can learn from what other states are facing and take solace that the grass is not always greener. “Winning the Water Wars” certainly shows that facet.

Dave Bergmeier can be reached at 620-227-1822 or [email protected].