WERA1020: Western Region Multistate Coordinating Committee on Water Resources
Statement of Issues and JustificationWater is a key natural resource issue that will only grow in importance in the western United States over the coming years. Water quantity already limits agricultural (Ag) productivity, environmental health, and recreational amenities, but threatens to further limit the well being of our economy in coming years as population growth and attendant energy needs put pressure on limited water resources. Water quality impairments further constrain limited supplies. Freshwater ecosystems, already impaired in many basins, will be further threatened under projected climate forecasts, requiring more water for environmental flows, not less. Endangered species concerns, such as the recent problem in the Bay Delta, will potentially disrupt Ag diversions at critical times during the cropping season, when producers are most at risk. Ag currently consumes over 70% of total freshwater diverted, competing with the energy sector, which comes in a distant second. Even so, energy and other users can often out-spend Ag for water. It is important to recognize that while only 15% of total U.S. crop acres are irrigated, approximately 40% of total crop value comes from these acres, including many of the economically important grain, vegetable, and fruit crops. The High Plains Aquifer, for example, irrigates almost 15 million acres in eight states from 165,000 irrigation wells, comprising 25% of all irrigated acres in the U.S. and much of the large-scale confined animal feeding.
We must create new mechanisms for increasing Ag productivity while using less water. Promising approaches include: developing new crop varieties and cropping systems; sharing water between Ag, cities, and the environment; marketing ag water; transitioning to dryland and limited irrigation strategies; modernizing water distribution networks; developing economic tools to help producers determine highest use of their available water; linking life-cycle of energy and water inputs to ag production systems; developing ag systems that are resilient to uncertain water supplies and drought; and improving ag water management institutions, policies and organizations. Additionally, our catchments, particularly forest and rangeland, must be actively managed to sustain necessary water resources and preserve functioning ecosystems and watersheds.
USDA-NIFA has provided funding under Section 406 for the past decade for an effective, coordinated National Water Program that uses integrated approaches to solving complex water quality and water quantity problems. Integrated, multi- disciplinary approaches are more effective than traditional single-discipline (i.e., soil science or plant pathology) approaches. As USDA-NIFA looks for a new funding and programmatic model to integrate water resources research, teaching and outreach coordination, a Western Multi-State Coordinating Committee is needed to fill the gap created by the completion of the current cycle of Regional Integrated Water Projects. In addition, there are a number of existing networks and applied research programs with which we need to link to solve critical water resources problems. USDA-NRCS and ARS, Cooperative Extension, Ag Experiment Stations, Water Resources Institutes, existing Multi-State Committees and Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) all have unique roles that should not be duplicated. The niche of Land Grant Institutions (LGI) water programs should be to foster the integration of university research, teaching, outreach and partnering to translate science into actionable results. One necessary component is more significant partnerships with USDA-ARS and NRCS. The 1994 institutions and Hispanic serving institutions (HSI) in the Western Region should also be nurtured to create linkages to underserved audiences and build capacity within these institutions.
The proposed Regional Water Resources Coordinating Committee will include representation from all 13 western states, Insular territories in the pacific and 1994 LGIs. Once formed, the team will develop specific output and outcome goals that are complementary to the other existing water-related Western Multi-state Committees, in particular, W2128 Microirrigation for sustainable water use, W2170 Soil-Based Use of Residuals, Wastewater and Reclaimed Water, W2190 Water Policy and Management Challenges in the West, WDC018 Meteorological and Climate Data to Support ET-Based Irrigation Scheduling, Water Conservation, and Water Resources Management, WERA103 Nutrient Management and Water Quality, and WERA1011 Sustainable Rangeland and Watershed Stewardship.
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