From The Courthouse News Service (Samantha Hawkins):
A crippling drought — largely connected to climate change — is gripping the Western United States, affecting over 70 million people and around 40% of the U.S.
Large wildfires have already begun in Arizona, California and New Mexico. Lake Mead, a reservoir formed by the Hoover Dam, has sunk to its lowest level since it was filled, and fish disease and death rates are skyrocketing for the Yurok Tribe in the Klamath River Basin.
Farmers, scientists, tribal officials, foresters and other groups affected by the worsening drought testified at a House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife hearing on Tuesday, asking lawmakers for both short-term relief and long-term solutions from the worsening conditions.
“Unfortunately, federal investment in water infrastructure has simply not kept pace with the need,” said Democratic Representative Jared Huffman of California, chair of the subcommittee. “Over the past 40 years, the federal government’s share of water infrastructure investment has fallen from 63% of total capital spending to just 9% in recent years.”
Amy Cordalis, a representative of the Yurok Tribe, told lawmakers that within the next couple of months, hundreds of homes will be without drinking water because the streams that feed their municipal systems are expected to run dry.
The states that rely on the Colorado River for water are also expected to have a water shortage: Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.
“The past 20 years have convinced us that less and less Colorado River water will be available to distribute as temperatures continue to warm — that we must make do with less,” said John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
Entsminger said that there’s an immediate need for federal assistance to create large-scale projects to recycle and reuse water on the Colorado River…
Witnesses also spoke of the need for active forest management to thin overcrowded forests to ensure that the remaining healthy trees have access to the limited water, so that forests are better able to withstand wildfires, pests and droughts…
Meanwhile, Elizabeth Klein, senior counselor to the secretary of the Department of the Interior, told lawmakers that the White House created the Drought Relief Working Group last month to identify financial and technical assistance for irrigators and tribes.
Klein also said that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working to ensure water supplies remain available, and the Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation has announced over $40 million in grants to develop water efficiency projects.