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Leadership Drought, Not Water Shortage in Northwest

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SEATTLE—Seattle and the Central Puget Sound region are in danger of an inadequate water supply—due not to lack of water potential but to what a report by the Cascadia Center of Discovery Institute calls a “leadership drought.” The report, prepared by Discovery Adjunct Fellow Matt Rosenberg, argues that Central Puget Sound’s swelling population should prompt the region to expand its water supply, and that, under proper leadership, this can be accomplished in concert with salmon recovery efforts and a continued emphasis on water conservation.

“The region’s future water needs, for both man and fish,” the paper states, “will require more than conservation, and more than the current fragmented approach to planning and decision making on in-stream and out-of-stream water supplies.” The report is titled, “Ample Water Potential, But a Leadership Drought: Toward a 21st Century Regional Water Policy for Central Puget Sound.” 

The central findings of Rosenberg’s research are: 1) future supply options must include a serious look at underground water storage projects of potentially great regional significance; 2) environmental concerns are legitimate, but must not be allowed to prevent increased future regional water supply for residential, commercial and industrial use; and 3) a comprehensive, “super-agency” regional water supply planning and decision-making process for Central Puget Sound—advocated in a major 2003 state report and subsequently abandoned—deserves serious discussion. 

In recent months, public dialogue on water policy in Puget Sound has centered on drought concerns and water conservation. But there is more to discuss here than conservation; we need an expanded regional water supply to accommodate future economic growth. Tacoma Public Utilities Superintendent of Water John Kirner explains why:

“We have a substantially increased population (in the three-county region) versus 1970, and the Puget Sound Regional Council forecasts a significant increase beyond today’s population. That means more economic development. The homes, roads, streets, malls, parking lots, schools and work places to support population growth all put stress on the water resource. Add to that more emphasis than ever on leaving water in streams for salmon, and you’re faced with the choice of people using less water, or making new water supplies and water storage facilities available.”

Rosenberg’s research includes interviews with water utility managers, regional water officials, salmon and environmental experts, and state and tribal sources—as well as a review of several important studies on water supply planning and salmon recovery in Central Puget Sound.

“In Central Puget Sound, water is abundant,” the report states. “But utilizing it to meet the needs of man as well as nature requires real political leadership. The price will be substantial, but failure to start soon on developing a 21st century regional water infrastructure plan for Central Puget Sound means the tab will be even costlier in the end.”

Click here to download a PDF of the report.

Cascadia Center

Founded in 1993, as the Cascadia Project, Discovery Institute’s Cascadia Center for Regional Development is an important force in regional transportation and sustainable development issues. Cascadia is known for its involvement in transportation and development issues in the Cascadia Corridor, Puget Sound and in the U.S.-Canadian cross-border realm. We’ve recently added to that mix through a major program to promote U.S. efforts to reduce reliance on foreign oil, including the earliest possible development and integration of flex-fuel, plug-in, hybrid-electric vehicles.