July 28, 2004
Solutions to the West’s worsening water shortage are more likely to come from local rather than federal decisions, a top Bush administration official said Tuesday in Mesa.
Interior Secretary Gale Norton, in an hourlong interview with Tribune reporters and editors, said that "it’s going to take a lot of work" to supply Western cities with water in the coming decades of freewheeling growth.
New technology to collect and distribute water will be part of the picture, she said. Desalination plants could help coastal areas and places where groundwater is unusually salty. Conservation efforts must intensify, a fact that has been underscored by a drought that in some parts of the Colorado River watershed has lasted for nearly a decade.
"We view the current drought as a wake-up call of the kinds of things we need to do," Norton said.
But draining Lake Powell is not part of that picture.
The vast reservoir behind Glen Canyon Dam on the Arizona-Utah border is only half full, as is its downstream cousin, Lake Mead. Some environmentalists have advocated draining Lake Powell into Lake Mead to reduce evaporation and seepage.
But Norton said there are numerous legal barriers to doing that. More important, she said, "we would not have survived so well the years of drought we’ve already had were it not for the storage capacity of Lake Powell."
Despite the regional nature of the drought, Norton said, the federal government will not micromanage water policies in the West.
"We believe strongly that all the solutions need to be locally driven and no one-sizefits-all from Washington," she said. "I don’t think it makes sense for us to drive through and say, ‘Gee, you really don’t need that golf course’ and ‘People don’t need to have lawns.’ Those are decisions that need to be made on the basis of water availability and values at the local level."
On other topics, Norton said:
• Her department is working to reverse years of neglect of some national parks, with the help of a 20 percent increase in money for that purpose since the Bush administration began.
• Law enforcement has been stepped up at well-known "icon" parks and monuments amid heightened concerns about terrorism.
• Some of the smaller aircraft that have replaced grounded air tankers to fight wildfires this year have helped increase the success rates of initial fire attacks in New Mexico and Arizona.
• The Bush administration is pushing incentives and cooperation, rather than relying solely on heavy-handed law enforcement, to protect endangered lands and species.
• Her department is placing new emphasis on education and entrepreneurship to combat poverty and social problems on American Indian reservations.