Now Is the Time for National Water Resource Policy

Water is our most precious natural resource and, yet, we abuse it and fail to effectively manage it.

The Center for Neighborhood Technology, a not-for-profit organization based in Chicago that focuses on sustainable cities, estimates that the loss of water from our municipal distribution systems approaches 2.1 trillion gallons per year. Just this past summer, part of Southern California experienced the classic failure of a 90-year-old water main on Sunset Boulevard that flooded the UCLA campus with 2 million gallons of water. This represented a major breach in our nation's water distribution system. However, there are thousands of less-publicized breaks that happen on a weekly basis. This is not sustainable.

Increasingly, we see domestic conflicts arise over the allocation rights to tap into our surface and sub-surface water supplies. There have been 15 years of disagreements over the management and rights to the Missouri River and longstanding difficulties in developing an agreement among state officials in Alabama, Georgia and Florida over the allocation of the water from the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint rivers. And of course, there is a debate among four states and Mexico over allocating the decreasing flow of the Colorado River.

Many of our water resources are under stress. Consider the problem of drought: In 2002, 49 percent of the United States was in moderate to severe drought conditions. Despite the precious nature of our water resources, hundreds of thousands of miles of our rivers don't meet basic water quality standards. And more than half of nature's water-cleansing systems -- wetlands and marshes -- have been lost because of development. And, of course, the impact of climate change is stressing our natural and constructed infrastructure with either too little or too much precipitation.

It is only reasonable that we establish a national policy to guide us in developing regional water-resource plans, establish guidance to ensure that our groundwater resources are not exploited, develop water allocation priorities to minimize the impact of current and future conflicts over the allocation of water, and require that sustainable water management strategies be established.

The time is right.
Water is too precious to be abused.
We need to plan for our water-dependent future.