Sunday’s main discussion, which included Canadian officials and experts from the Middle East and Australia, focused on managing water amid changing climate conditions. Although many of the controversies in the West center around urbanization, natural resources and energy development, water — and often the lack of it — comes up again and again. “Water is connected to all those things,” said panelist Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, an environmental think tank based in Oakland, Calif. Gleick said there’s evidence of intensified water disputes, ecosystem collapse in some places and a population growth that’s driving a sometimes-fractured water management system. States can no longer rely on simply building more storage capacity, which can be expensive and “politically challenging,” he said. The West needs to consider other supply options such as rainwater, use of treated wastewater and desalination plants, Gleick said. Climate change — which will alter precipitation and the timing of mountain snow melt — also needs to be incorporated into all water management decisions, he said.
Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter said the region needs to do more to protect the water that’s already available.
“Conservation has to become an ethic in the West,” he said.