Western Water

January 30, 1987

Report Outline
Special Focus


Water Is Growing More Precious Than Ever in the American West. Sun Belt Cities, Worried About Serving Expanding Populations and Attracting New Industries, Are Searching Far and Near for Future Water Reserves. Farmers and Ranchers, Indian Tribes, Federal Land Agencies and Environmental Groups Are Protecting Their Rights or Pressing New Claims to the Rivers and Underground Streams. the Era of Reclaiming the Deserts Is Fading, and the Vast Arid Regions of the West Now Are Adjusting to the Natural Limits of Water Supplies. Much of the Available Water in the West Has Become a Marketable Commodity.

“The West is beginning to feel the desert winds of reality,” Richard D. Lamm, the former governor of Colorado, has declared. Agriculture's long domination of western water resources is yielding, however slowly, to the growing political clout of the Sun Belt's super cities, whose future growth is jeopardized for want of adequate water supplies. It is in the metropolitan areas, not in the wide-open spaces of folklore, that the western population is concentrated. The urban demand for a greater share of the available water addresses still another reality. It is that the federal government's past generosity in funding new water projects is evaporating.

A decade ago, President Carter fanned the “winds of reality” by trying to cancel 19 of the 320 water projects then being federally funded, including several that western states had counted on to tap what they considered their fair share of the few rivers within reach. Sending this list to Congress in a revision of his predecessor's budget was one of Carter's first acts. Though he achieved a partial victory, it was politically costly. Several senior lawmakers from affected states denounced his “hit list,” souring his relation with Congress and initially reinforcing the notion that a politician could cripple water projects only at his peril.

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Regional Planning and Urbanization
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