Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Friday, September 28, 2007

"On the Palouse, water is everybody's business"

Jon Kimberling and Paul Kimmell have written a column about water on the Palouse that appears in today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News. It is a refreshing take on the aquifer situation and urges local decisions, market solutions and conservation over external governmental meddling, hysteria, and development moratoria. By the way, I will be attending the Palouse Basin Water Summit next Tuesday as a reprsentative of Businesses & Residents for Economic Opportunity. I'll be providing blog updates throughout the day.
We cordially invite our Palouse communities to the third annual Palouse Basin Water Summit, Tuesday at the Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories Events Center in Pullman. According to the 2007 State of the Rockies Report Card, "The eight states which comprise the Rocky Mountain region - Arizona, New Mexico, Idaho, Colorado, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and Montana - could face a future of limited water availability, prolonged drought and rapid population growth. To some, the prospects look bleak. To others, however, these challenges can be met with disciplined efforts by all the communities involved. Regardless, water will be a fundamental determinant of how the Rockies will be shaped in the coming years."

The Palouse is equally affected by the western water challenge, and we hope this summit once again helps us shape future discussions. We believe success in this effort depends upon broad collaboration in refining our collective understanding of both our options and our challenges. Much is at stake in our lifestyles and economy as the communities of Whitman and Latah counties seek to develop and implement sound water management policies.

Richard Meganck, director of UNESCO's Institute for Water Education, recently remarked, "Water promises to be to the 21st century what oil was to the 20th century." Meganck also stated that, "Water can either divide us, or help form bonds and agreements that make us better neighbors - and at all levels of social, political and economic organization."

Both of us believe that now is the time to begin a "cooperative conservation" dialogue that encompasses water management, land-use development, community values and economic sustainability. Until we commit to a more collaborative, consensus-driven decision-making process, we will struggle with how we protect, manage and develop this important resource. Because we live within a "trans-boundary watershed," our adaptive water management style must include a large number of stakeholders from both Washington and Idaho. Fortunately, much of the necessary planning framework already is in place and many local stakeholders are committed and eager to participate in a meaningful process. We also are grateful for the involvement of all the respective water agencies that remain committed to working with local communities to help create real solutions through better water research and education, involvement, understanding and adaptation.

It is critical that local decision-making drive the water management process and also recognize the need to find a marketplace solution. We also should carefully consider the growing perspective that the marketplace should play a large role in how we establish the real cost of water, and how we build a framework for a reliable, flexible and comprehensive water management plan. Conservation also is an essential tool in the efficient use of water on the Palouse. The concept of conserving for growth and developing the water conservation ethic is imperative. Combined with innovative approaches to promote conservation among residents, cities should experiment to find more marketplace solutions. After all, basic capital economics teaches that markets and prices are some of the best allocation tools - water could be priced to provide both a steady revenue generating capacity and an effective conservation program while providing for continued growth and business expansion.

As two former local representatives charged with helping create a lasting and sensible solution to our water management challenges, we will continue to support these efforts through groups like the Palouse Basin Aquifer Committee.

In addition, we propose to include consideration of other possible solutions including development of surface water storage, aquifer storage and recovery, building code updates, tiered water rates and more efficient land-use planning. While some Palouse communities have begun implementing more refined water management planning and conservation measures, others are just beginning to engage in the discussion.

Significant opportunity now exists to create a water road map for the future. However, the end result of these locally driven, broad-based efforts should have balance. Our water management decisions should equally recognize municipal, agricultural, environmental and economic needs. We urge our fellow residents to join us in the important work ahead in establishing a locally appropriate balance. Through collaboration, outreach and goodwill we will succeed in managing this critical resource in the best interests of all of our communities and those who follow us in the future. Please join us Tuesday.


Bruce Heimbigner said...

Tom, while you are at the Palouse Basin Water Summit it’ld be great to learn how much of water is lost to ‘leakage’ in the various cities of the Palouse, especially Pullman vs. Moscow.

What is the total amount of water used in each city and then how much of that water is used by the major irrigation users like the city (parks), the school district (play fields), WSU lawns, Golf course. What I’m really wonder about is if there really is a problem (and I think there is) why do we irrigate with such expensive and valuable water why not have the major irrigators pump water from the Snake River to reduce extraction from the aquifer? And would this really make a difference?

April E. Coggins said...

Bruce: It's my understanding that Whitman County is nearly swimming in water. So much so that it is a problem in smaller towns. Moscow has it's own agenda and conservency may serve them, but not at the expense of water rich Whitman County.

Anyway, my point is that it would be easier and more practicle to bring in water from within Whitman County than to build pipelines from the Snake River. The Indians, the salmon people and logistics would make that nearly impossible.

We don't have a water problem, we have a political problem.

Tom Forbes said...

I'll post again some comments made in a Daily News op-ed last year by Larry Kirkland, former technical advisor to the Palouse Basin Aquifer Committee.

1. The region does not have a water crisis.
2. There is time for sound planning to deal with aquifer decline in a rational, economical manner.
3. We are not a water limited area. Sufficient water falls on the area as rain and snow to handle all foreseeable development
4. Conservation �creates� water for additional domestic use without increasing the total supply of available water.
5. Growth and development will eventually require supplemental water supplies.
6. Funds and manpower are in far too short supply to dissipate in needless controversy.

Of course, publicly espousing this viewpoint was tantamount to high treason to our local lunatic fringers. A month ago, Chuck "Mr. Civil Discourse" Pezeshki defamed Mr. Kirkland in his column in the Daily News. Did Chuckie refute any of PBAC's findings or present research of his own? No. He discredited Kirkland's work on PBAC because of his stance on creationism (Kirkland is a member of Bridge Bible Fellowship Church in Moscow.) In comments on his column on Dnews.com, Pezeshki went into a further frothing outrage, attacking evangelical Christians who believe in the Rapture.

Political? You betcha.