TU urges infrastructure upgrades to secure water, protect rivers

Tue, 10/29/2013

Trout Unlimited Press Release


Oct. 29, 2013


Laura Ziemer, 406-599 2606


Steve Moyer, 571-274-0593




Trout Unlimited urges infrastructure upgrades to secure Western water supply, protect river habitat

Water supply solutions often require new thinking, not a bigger bathtub

WASHINGTON, D.C., Oct. 29, 2013—Speaking today at a U.S. House hearing on water and hydropower supplies, Trout Unlimited Senior Counsel and Water Policy Adviser Laura Ziemer told lawmakers that a multi-stakeholder, collaborative approach that draws on a variety of strategies to meet water needs is the best way to secure water supplies while making rivers more resilient to the predicted impacts of climate change and drought.

Just building a bigger bathtub is often not the best solution.

“On the ground throughout the West, partners are coming together to find innovative solutions to water scarcity challenges at a variety of scales,” Ziemer told the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power. “Congress should encourage cooperative stakeholder processes to solve storage challenges, and provide adequate funding for cost-effective programs that catalyze cooperative solutions, such as key Farm Bill programs, and the Bureau of Reclamation’s competitive grant and basin study programs.”

In recent years, TU has worked with ranchers, farmers, and large irrigation districts across the West to design, fund, and upgrade irrigation infrastructure to secure new water supply for multiple uses, including irrigation, municipal, and restoration of river flows. Often these projects deliver water savings at a fraction of the cost of large-scale storage proposals.

For example, the Sun River along Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front irrigates 117,700 acres in two irrigation districts serving hundreds of water users—but it’s chronically dewatered. TU and partners analyzed various options to address water scarcity in the basin, from adding capacity to an existing storage project to upgrading irrigation water conveyance systems. The best storage option—expanding Pushkin Reservoir—cost $29 million, producing new water supply at $1,115/acre foot. With funding from a Bureau of Reclamation WaterSmart grant, project partners instead chose to convert almost 5,000 feet of leaky ditch to PVC pipe, resulting in 4,158 acre-feet of new water delivered at $53/acre foot—21 times cheaper than the Pushkin reservoir option.

The WaterSmart program “is an excellent example of successfully getting federal dollars to the ground to solve water scarcity conflicts in a cost-effective way,” said Ziemer.

In scores of these successful projects, Ziemer noted, federal programs have been crucial to cost-share the investment in modern irrigation infrastructure and other innovations.  Congress can help encourage this collaborative work by passing a five-year Farm Bill so that hard-working conservation programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the new Regional Cooperative Conservation Partnership program will be available to irrigators.

TU is not opposed to new storage projects. “New, small-scale storage can implement water supply strategies that TU supports, such as water reuse and flexible water sharing arrangements between agriculture and municipalities,” said Ziemer. These projects can also provide opportunities for new hydropower.  She also highlighted that larger new supply facilities should also be discussed but only in the context of comprehensive basin study type processes where the cost-benefits of such facilities are thoroughly assessed by a diverse array of stakeholders and must provide multiple benefits, including long-term fishery benefits.

She noted that “it can be a lot cheaper, faster, and smarter to re-allocate or expand an existing reservoir than build a new one.” And whether new reservoirs can even be filled is unclear, given the uncertainties of climate change impacts.

“The only thing we know for sure about the West and climate change is that the weather is going to get more unpredictable. With less snow, more rain, and more frequent droughts and storms predicted, if you plan on building a bigger bathtub, you want to know that you’ll be able to fill it, given predicted changes in precipitation.”

Read Ziemer’s full testimony here.



Trout Unlimited is the nation’s oldest and largest coldwater fisheries conservation organization dedicated to conserving, protecting and restoring North America’s trout and salmon and their watersheds. Follow TU on Facebook and Twitter, and visit us online at tu.org.


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