November 2015 President’s Column, Water Resources IMPACT
I can’t believe my year as President of AWRA has gone by so quickly. One of the benefits of being President of AWRA is that I have been made more aware of national water resource issues, rather than focusing only on issues that directly affect the community or region that I live and work in. This awareness was enhanced by being able to spend most of the last year working and living in the Washington, D.C., area, which also helped me learn more about water resource issues that affected communities across the United States (U.S.).
I am not sure if the last year was any more unusual than previous years, but from my perspective, it seems like it has been quite an eventful year for water resources, and not just because AWRA is starting its second half-century. The main headline for almost the entire year has been the continuing drought in California, which has now reached critical stages. Entire communities have had their wells go dry, losing the ability to provide any water to homes in their service area. For several decades we have been hearing about the need to repair and improve our water resource infrastructure, and now we are seeing the impacts. While there are questions surrounding the resiliency and robustness of some our nation¹s water infrastructure, it is clear that many of the communities relying on community well systems in California¹s Central Valley water infrastructure have clearly failed. However, the communities themselves are demonstrating a tremendous resiliency by providing a subsistence level water supply by setting up alternative methods to meet their most basic water needs.
While the California drought seems to have caught all of the headlines, as the latest maps have shown, there have been growing drought conditions across much of the west. Parts of Texas went from drought, to significant flooding in the late spring, with many areas returning to drought conditions by the end of the summer. Most of the water supply reservoirs in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado are at levels where they will not be able to carry over much water into the next irrigation season. If precipitation levels and snow pack are below normal this winter, almost the entire western U.S. could experience severe water shortages in the coming year. However, recent climatological reports indicate that the current El Niño condition is one of the strongest on record. This could mean higher than normal precipitation this winter for the entire southern U.S., which in turn could trigger significant flooding events, similar to those that occurred in the winters of 1982-1983 and 1997-1998 in the southwestern U.S. On the other side of the country I was able to experience first-hand some of the record breaking weather this winter in the Northern Atlantic states. While Washington, D.C., did not receive record snow fall, Boston did, with snow piles not completely melting until almost July. The extreme weather conditions did not seem to slow down as we headed into fall, with record rainfall (over 20 inches in a day in some places) leading to unprecedented flooding in South Carolina in October. These types of weather extremes seem to be becoming the norm, rather than the exception, and water managers now have the unenviable task of needing to prepare for severe drought and flooding simultaneously throughout the west, and in many other areas of the country.
To complicate matters for water managers along the Animas River in southern Colorado, an accident at a retired mine site managed to turn a clear mountain river orange, when contaminated water spilled into the river from a gold mine treatment pond. This spill affected both municipal and agricultural water supplies for many miles downstream in Colorado and New Mexico. The accident that led to the spill highlights the need to address not only cleanup efforts on the hundreds of thousands of abandoned mine tailing sites across the west, but also how agricultural, municipal, industrial, and ecological water managers need to incorporate man made hazards when developing resilient and robust water management plans.
I am sure I have missed some good water resource stories, but just from these events it seems clear that there is more to talk about water than ever before, from water supply to flood hazard management, managing the quality of our nation¹s rivers and lakes to developing more robust and resilient water infrastructure. Thus, more than ever I find that AWRA provides a valuable forum for learning about these issues, discussing their impacts, and working towards developing solutions. The AWRA Annual Conference in Denver, Colorado, November 16-19, will be a great opportunity to learn about all of these issues, and join in the conversation on how to address them (Registration Form for this conference can be found online at www.awra.org).
I want to thank everyone for giving me the chance to serve as President. It has been great working with the AWRA staff, the AWRA Board, and everyone that contributes to making AWRA the effective organization that it is. I look forward to seeing you all at the conference in a few weeks, and continuing to work with you in the coming years.
John C. Tracy