Utility professionals from the West might have felt right at home at the Western Governors’ Association (WGA) annual meeting in Whitefish, Mont., June 27-29, as discussions covered three pressing issues—water, transmission and climate change.
Potential water crisis looming
On the meeting’s opening day, WGA chairman Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer told attendees that the demand for water across the West is beginning to outstrip supplies, and states have no time to waste in averting a potential crisis. “As a region, we have to become more aggressive and a lot smarter in how we manage this resource,” Schweitzer declared.
Guest speaker Robert Glennon, author of “Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What To Do About It,” noted that the problem is already affecting communities, states and the region. “We need to use a full suite of tools, including conservation, desalination, reclaimed water, and pricing incentives,” he said. “We also need to facilitate reallocation of water to the highest-value uses.”
WGA Vice Chairman, Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter pointed out the important connection between energy development and water supplies in the West, emphasizing that “both traditional and renewable energy resource development requires adequate water.”
At the end of the session, the governors accepted a Progress Report from the Western States Water Council on implementation of the Governors’ report on “Water Needs and Strategies for a Sustainable Future.”
Tackling complex energy issues
The push for clean energy is likely to accelerate in the wake of the Gulf oil spill and the Upper Big Branch Mine tragedy, and transmission will be needed to carry that energy to market.
Gov. Schweitzer unveiled WGA’s “Transmission Roadmap” on the second day of the meeting. The report can be used by anyone who wants to build a renewable energy facility with transmission. Developers who have not previously done a project will find the report especially helpful.
The governors also passed a major energy resolution that will have the WGA reporting on industrial and commercial energy-efficiency programs, the impacts of plug-in vehicles on the electrical transmission system, and issues associated with expanding nuclear energy in the West. Grant funds from the U.S. Department of Energy will be used to develop transmission expansion plans for the West. The plans will not only consider the development of renewable energy, but also wildlife and water concerns.
Report on climate adaptation
The governors also adopted a climate adaptation scoping report during the annual meeting. The report, which emphasizes the need for state and Federal agencies to coordinate efforts to identify key science that is specific to the West, is the first step in sharing and implementing smart practices.
The Scoping Report report comes from WGA’s Climate Adaptation Work Group, composed of western state experts in air, forests, water and wildlife. The report contains important recommendations for responding to climate change impacts and for including climate science in western states’ policy and management activities.
The WGA Climate Adaptation Work Group will work with stakeholders to implement the recommendations in the report, which is available on the WGA website. The reports are available online, along with more information about the annual meeting.