Modernizing Federal Water Resource Decision-Making

Nancy Stoner, Acting Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Jay Jensen, Associate Director for Land & Water Ecosystems at the White House Council on Environmental Quality

Water scarcity in both urban and rural areas is a pressing concern for Americans, especially in light of a changing climate. One of the biggest challenges facing communities is the increasing severity of storms and weather events like drought. It’s time to modernize the policies underpinning the needed investment to tackle these challenges and to bring forth innovative solutions through partnerships between the public and private sectors. President Obama’s Administration is improving water resource management at the federal level through a number of initiatives grounded in principles that give communities a voice, make communities safer and generate economic opportunity.

First, the revised Principles and Guidelines for Federal Water Resource Investments (P&G) – which are informed by a wide range of input from water users and stakeholders – recognize the growing importance of stable and secure water supplies. By updating the criteria for evaluating major water resources investments, we will provide greater flexibility to support communities’ priorities and to achieve the many benefits that come from investments in secure water supplies, including benefits for local economies, health and safety. The modernized P&G will help ensure that more sustainable water supply projects are built to last and can stand up to changing climate conditions.

In addition, the President’s 2013 Climate Action Plan and subsequent climate preparedness Executive Order (13653) call on federal
agencies to help American communities strengthen their resilience to extreme weather and prepare for other climate impacts, including impacts
on freshwater resources. Specifically, agencies are directed to modernize federal programs to better support local preparedness for climate change impacts, manage natural land
and water resources to improve resilience, and develop information, data and tools to help communities and other decision makers.

A federal interagency Preparedness Council is seeking recommendations from state, tribal, and local leaders and will develop a list of priority federal actions by fall of this year, including those to support our valuable natural resources. Priorities could include assessing vulnerabilities to water supplies and infrastructure, collecting data on water use, or emphasizing investment in critical resilience projects.

Many communities are already on the forefront of a thoughtful and integrated approach to the use of water resources. These approaches include maximizing green infrastructure, conserving or reusing water, capturing stormwater, sustainably managing surface and groundwater resources, and generating energy while treating wastewater. The State, Local and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience created by President Obama last year to provide recommendations to the Administration will be vital to ensuring the Federal Government responds to communities’ needs and supports successful local approaches to increasing climate resilience.

Finally, in November of last year, we launched the National Drought Resilience Partnership to help communities better prepare for increasing droughts and reduce impacts on families and businesses. The Partnership will make it easier for states to access federal drought resources that can help with drought forecasting, and will also help develop longer-term drought resilience strategies in critical sectors, such as agriculture, municipal water supply, energy, recreation, tourism, and manufacturing. This Partnership is already helping to enhance Federal agencies’ existing work with communities, businesses, farmers and ranchers to build resilience where drought is currently an issue across the country, including for the severe drought impacting California.

The impacts of water resource scarcity and climate change are being shouldered by communities, families and businesses across our country. The time to modernize our water resource management decision-making is now, because the longer we wait, the greater the challenges will be.

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