WGA Hosts Drought Forum to Share Drought Experiences, Solutions and Best Practices across the West

The Western Governors’ Association (WGA) hosted a series of meeting in the Fall of 2014 in an effort to bring together experts from the public and private sectors “to discuss drought impacts and share policy solutions, case studies and best practices.”  The Western Governors’ Drought Forum was created in collaboration with the National Integrated Drought Information System in response to the ongoing drought in the Western U.S. and is the Chairman’s Initiative of Nevada Governor and WGA Chairman Brian Sandoval.

Each of the four invitation-only workshops focused on a different economic sector:

On September 18 and 19, the Drought Forum convened in Norman, Oklahoma.  The main focus of the two-day meeting was the energy sector’s response to drought, with presentations by representatives from energy companies, electric utilities, and state government. Some of the solutions discussed included using lower quality water—such as municipal wastewater, produced water or brackish water, in power plants or oil and gas extraction—and enhancing cooperation between agencies, utilities, and water users.   As The Oklahoman reported, some of the biggest takeaways had less to do with policies and more to do with persuasion, as many members of the public still do not appreciate the importance of water conservation.

The second session of the Forum met from October 7-8 in Tempe, Arizona.  Its main focus was on manufacturing, industry, and mining sectors.  One of the major issues facing these sectors is wastewater, which is both a burden in terms of disposal but also an opportunity as a potential source for reuse.  The forum also produced some general findings, including the importance of “agreed-upon, well-thought-out” institutional frameworks and conservation incentives, the need for public education efforts, including the use of various forms of social media, to support long-term conservation and drought management strategies, and the challenge to keep pace with technology advancements.

In November, the Forum moved to Sacramento to discuss the agricultural sector.  The meeting brought together state and federal officials, researchers, and farmers and ranchers, and covered a range of topics, including improving communication about water availability conditions, streamlining interagency collaboration, allowing implementation of locally-developed, tailored solutions, fostering a culture of conservation and preparing for drought “as an eventuality, not a rarity.”  There were also comments about dealing with short-term supply issues through markets and the need for data on where trades are occurring, at what price, and the anticipated price for the future.

The final meeting of 2014, held in Las Vegas on December 8-9, looked at supply issues, focusing on water providers.  The meeting covered how water agencies plan for drought, ways they are using technology to minimize shortages, and policy options at the federal, state, and local level—including a presentation that proposes to debunk a myth that conservation will harm a water utility’s financial viability.  Paul L. Matthews, CFO of the Tualatin Valley Water District in Beaverton, Oregon, argues that conservation delays the need for major capital investments and stabilizes revenue because overuse is eliminated from the system.

Each of the four workshops began with an overview of drought in the host state, before turning to the subject sector or sectors.  Common themes and messages came out all of the workshops, including:

• The need for collaboration or cooperation among agencies

• The desire for using the best data, whether this came in the form of suggestions for better metrics (e.g. using snow water equivalent rather just the amount of precipitation), new data, like the information now available from satellites, or general improvement (i.e. make sure data is accurate, integratable, understandable and accessible)

• Suggestions for promoting conservation, which include engaging in public outreach that supports long-term conservation strategies and establishes credibility before a drought occurs, establishing a credit system so that agricultural users can benefit from conservation, reshaping forfeiture and abandonment laws so that water is not used inefficiently in order to protect a water right, and accepting that trade-offs in efficiency and cost will need to be made in some sectors (especially the energy sector) in order to conserve water.

Additional shared themes, include:

The water-energy nexus

• Using produced water, effluent or brackish groundwater as sources of supply

• Recommendations to plan for drought as a constant or certainty

• The need for regulatory flexibility

• The benefit locally-developed solutions

• The importance of engaging in planning and management activities with a large-scale or holistic perspective

• An additional workshop addressing drought impacts and solutions for the recreation and tourism sectors will be held in Santa Fe, New Mexico in late January.

Written by Marta Weismann and Stratecon Staff