Sacrificing river flows makes an impact on the fishing industry’s bottom line.
By Jimmy Hague, Center for Water Resources Director at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership
The drought out West has reduced stream flows and raised water temperatures, leading to devastating impacts on fish and fishing and an additional burden on cities and farms dealing with constrained water supplies. AFFTA members are already seeing the effects of drought on their bottom lines and their favorite fishing holes, and we will have to contend with the impacts of low water levels and high temperatures until this10istoric, multi-year drought subsides.
But we also have to plan ahead. Taking steps now to make our country more resilient to the next drought will help us avoid crisis situations, like the one we’re in, and ensure that harm doesn’t come to fish and wildlife. After all, the worst time to respond to a drought is in the midst of one, when there are few, if any, good options available.
In a proactive step, the White House, with help from the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, convened an all-day symposium in July 2015. Representatives of 40 diverse water interests, including sportsmen’s groups and conservationists, met to discuss ways that our country can become more drought resilient. This important meeting occurred at a time when Congress was considering several bills to respond to Western drought—some of this legislation is still on the table—and federal agencies had already pumped millions of dollars into drought relief.
As a result of the symposium, sportsmen and conservationists are urging decision-makers to address water conservation with four principles in mind, to keep us from reaching a point of crisis for fish and wildlife during future droughts:
- Federal programs must reduce the risk of water shortages, create flexibility, and improve reliability across entire watersheds. We need the ability to transfer water voluntarily in times of need without jeopardizing property rights, sustainable farming and ranching, or healthy fish and wildlife populations. This will require flexible and market-based mechanisms to manage water, which will be even more effective if coordinated across entire river basins.
- Federal programs must restore healthy, functioning watersheds before a drought occurs. Creating healthy watersheds is a cost-effective way to increase water supply, reduce wildfire threats, protect against floods, and improve drought resilience. Healthy wetlands, meadows, and floodplains can absorb high flows and slowly release water over time.
- Federal programs should incentivize and support successful collaboration in local watersheds. Drought solutions work best when they are driven at the local level by a collaborative group with effective communication among diverse stakeholders. The federal government should reward watersheds that already have such processes in place and encourage the development of similar processes elsewhere.
- Federal programs need to be more accessible to users. With dozens of programs available across multiple federal agencies to improve water resources, it is difficult for a water user to know where to turn for federal assistance and to navigate those different bureaucracies. It is time that we make these programs easier to use.
Sportsmen are in this together with our friends working on farms, living in cities, and operating businesses. We must unite in urging our lawmakers to make water supplies more drought resilient, while protecting and restoring healthy river flows.
Jimmy Hague is the Center for Water Resources director at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. Learn more at trcp.org.