Water managers emphasize conservation over storage

The Spokesman Review


BOISE, IDAHO_ Additional water storage capacity will probably be needed eventually, but not before the West exhausts alternatives for solving its impending water crisis, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner John Keys says.

"There's a lot of things we can do before we need storage," Keys told more than 200 people Thursday at the Interior Department's Water 2025 regional conference in Boise.

"It is the next step after we conserve and get people to work together," Keys said. "In the end, there are places where we might need more storage."

The cost of new storage would be significant, he said, when judged against the return from alternatives like conservation. He cited the failed Teton Dam in Eastern Idaho as an example where the cost has skyrocketed while the benefits remain unchanged from three decades ago.

"For every dollar we put into water conservation measures, we're showing a $3 return," he said.

The Boise session was the fifth of eight regional conferences where federal water managers hope to generate ideas for heading off a crisis as limited water supplies run headlong into conflicting demands. Billings plays host to the next con-ference on July 29.

Interior Secretary Gail Norton developed the initiative in response to the persisting conflict between agriculture and fisheries in Oregon's Klamath Basin.

Norton believes it could help stretch existing supplies through maintaining and modernizing her department's network of dams, reservoirs, pumping stations and pipelines. Investments in research and development could help provide more affordable ways to boost water supplies through desalination and other technologies.

President Bush proposed an initial investment of $11million in such efforts.

But Keys said conservation is the immediate way the process of maximizing water use can begin. He suggested lining irrigation canals to prevent water from seeping into the ground rather than flowing back into the rivers. He acknowledged opposition from well-irrigators whose groundwater supplies might be diminished without that seepage, but added: "We've got to start somewhere."

Former U.S. Sen. James McClure called compromise on future water policy essential.

"That's not evil. It's civilized," McClure said. "People have to be involved in a conversation, and that means they have to listen as well as talk."

"You've got to sit down and work with people who are willing to talk to each other and work out the compromises, the trade-offs that are necessary," he said.

"And people are going to have to understand that at the end of that process, they're going to have to live with the outcome."


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