A Twenty-First Century US Water Policy

By Juliet Christian-Smith; Peter H. Gleick et al. | Go to book overview

Introduction: The Soft Path for Water

AS WE MOVE through the second decade of the 21st century, the United States faces a complex and evolving set of freshwater challenges. Despite the fact that the nation is, on average, a comparatively water-rich country, we are approaching “peak water” limits in many places, for many water systems. We are reaching absolute limits on our ability to take more water from many renewable water systems like the Colorado, Sacramento-San Joaquin, and Klamath River Systems. We are overpumping non-renewable groundwater aquifers in the Great Plains and California’s Central Valley. Water quality threats are poorly understood, monitored, or addressed throughout the country. Important federal water laws are out-of-date or are not effectively or equitably enforced. Aquatic ecosystems, fisheries, and wetlands are threatened with destruction. Much of our urban water infrastructure has not been adequately maintained, and confidence in our tap water system is falling. Rising energy demands and shifts toward domestic fuels are adding new demands for water, in competition with the production of food and fiber. Climate changes are already altering water availability and the risk of extreme events. And the institutions put in place in the 20th century to manage our water needs are often inadequate, inefficient, and uncoordinated.

The public cares deeply about water—it consistently polls as the most important environmental issue in people’s minds, yet it remains largely neglected in the halls of Congress, the White House, and in our federal agencies. Most water management happens at the local or regional level through complex mixes of public and private actors and activities. But there are clear roles for the federal government: setting consistent national standards and regulations for water quality and environmental protection, deploying advanced monitoring systems that collect global and national data vital for disaster planning and response,

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A Twenty-First Century US Water Policy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Foreword vii
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • List of Abbreviations xiii
  • Introduction- the Soft Path for Water xv
  • 1 - The Water of the United States 3
  • 2 - Legal and Institutional Framework of Water Management 23
  • 3 - Water and Environmental Justice 52
  • 4 - Tribes and Water 90
  • 5 - Water Quality 109
  • 6 - Protecting Freshwater Ecosystems 142
  • 7 - Municipal Water Use 167
  • 8 - Water and Agriculture 195
  • 9 - Water and Energy 221
  • 10 - Water and Climate 244
  • 11 - United States International Water Policy 263
  • 12 - Conclusions and Recommendations 288
  • Appendix - Key Pieces of Federal Legislation 305
  • Notes 313
  • About the Authors 317
  • Index 319
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