As the western U.S. continues to chart a new normal of drier years and more intense droughts, Rep. Xochitl Torres Small says it’s time to “lay the groundwork for long term adaptation strategies.”
In her recent testimony before the House Natural Resources Committee, the New Mexico Democrat talked up her bill intended to help stabilize and improve water infrastructure in the U.S.
“The droughts we are facing now are among the most severe in recorded history,” Torres Small said, “and the continued diminished flows in the Rio Grande and the Colorado River Basin indicate that this is not a one-time occurrence.”
Despite a recent reprieve in dry conditions, the freshman lawmaker said that a changing climate all but guarantees increased threats to water resources going forward.
The 2018 Four Corners drought — centered on the junction between Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico — was among the worst of the last millennium. Climate scientists at the University of California, Santa Barbara, attribute drier conditions primarily to human-induced warming. Their findings appear in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society’s annual issue.
Nathan Steiger, a scientist whose research focuses on droughts in the Western U.S., recently told Newsweek that people and governments need to prepare for harsher, longer-lasting droughts and adapt water policy accordingly.
To mitigate the impact of climate change on water scarcity, Torres Small, a former water and natural resources attorney, says her bill provides the “next generation of consensus water policies for the West.”
Introduced last year, the Western Water Security Act aims to strengthen water infrastructure and conserve and restore water supplies in the West.
The bill increases the scope of federal grants to combat water scarcity and gives state governments, nonprofit organizations and Native American tribes the right to declare drought emergencies and access federal relief funds.
Portions of the bill call for increased wildlife conservation efforts, which proponents argue would help protect water resources in protected areas from industrial contamination.
The bill would also fund innovation in water technologies, like desalination, the process of removing salt or other minerals from water. Torres Small said desalination is more important now than ever, as ash leftover from wildfires — which are increasing in frequency and severity — can contaminate water reservoirs.
The congresswoman cited the 2012 Little Bear fire, which poured ash into water supplies at Holloman Air Force Base and in the city of Alamogordo, NM, as an example. “New brackish desalination will help diversify their water supply,” she said.
“New Mexicans know that agua es vida, water is life,” Torres Small said, adding that she looks forward to working with committee members “on implementing these necessary policies for water in the West.”