Innovative Water Management in the Northwest
The Northwest’s magnificent rivers are the lifeblood of natural ecosystems and human communities. We cannot take our rivers and fresh water for granted. Climate change, population growth, and the increasing value of water as a marketable commodity have led to calls for new water supply reservoirs and more water withdrawals from rivers, both of which can devastate river ecosystems.
The shortcomings in current policies and management include:
- Lack of basic information: We withdraw billions of gallons of water every day from rivers, streams and aquifers across the state, yet we are missing essential information about how much water is withdrawn and when. Similarly, we don’t know the validity of most claimed water rights, and some have existed only on paper for over 100 years. In many places, there is no adequate monitoring of groundwater and aquifer levels, despite the fact that most of our drinking water comes from underground sources.
- Lack of essential environmental protections: Roughly two-thirds of the rivers and streams in Washington lack protections to ensure they have adequate flows of water. For those rivers and streams that do have recognized “minimum instream flows,” many of the protections are outdated and do not include any mechanisms to get water back into the river.
- Lack of accountability: States in the Northwest suffer from wasteful and illegal water uses that harm both the environment and other water users. Due to political pressures and a lack of funding, there is little to no enforcement against water users who waste water or exceed their permit conditions, and there has even been resistance to regulating large water users who lack any permit at all. To make matters worse, a loophole in the law lets developers and others drill thousands of new wells each year without getting a permit or ensuring that enough water is available to avoid harming groundwater-fed rivers or infringing on the rights of downstream water users.