By Mark Scharfenaker, Denver resident

When I moved west from Michigan in the early 1970’s I was dumb and dumber about water.

But the first Earth Day had awakened me and many others to the perils of pollution, EPA and the Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water Acts had just emerged  and I began wading trout waters with a fly rod in my hand and joy in my young heart.

credit: Wikipedia

Who knew that…

  • Those strange riverside structures were USGS streamflow gauges?
  • The big dams that store big water were funded by taxpayers and built by the federal  Bureau of Reclamation?
  • The US Forest Service is an Agriculture agency charged with keeping  forest snows shaded to extend the flows of meltwaters to  the massive network of  irrigation ditches that stitch the western landscape together?
  • Toxic waters were still seeping from old mines into nearly every watershed ?
  • Windy Gap is part of a massive water project that diverts west-slope waters to a river basin that eventually joins the Mississippi River?
  • EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers have been channeling  billions of dollars to states to prevent floods and support clean and safe water?
  • USDA grants and loans help rural communities improve their water and wastewater systems?
  • Millions more Bluegrass  Americans, dumb as I was, would move into the arid western states demanding more and more cheap and steady flows of this  “for fightin’” resource through an ever-expanding network of collection and distribution systems?
  • So many benefit so much from federal water programs and projects that initially enabled and continue to preserve the  storied Western Way of Life?

Who knew then and who knows today all the ins and outs and hows and whys of water, especially  where and how the money for water flows westward from Washington?

The CFWE certainly does, and thank the heavens for all this organization’s efforts to educate Coloradans about water! Would that Water 101 could be mandatory curriculum from K – 12 and beyond!

Western Governors know for sure, as evidenced by two recent resolutions by the Western Governors’ Association on Water Quality and Water Resource Management in the West.

Here you can read the 2014 water politics and policy agenda the governors of 19 Western States and three US-flagged islands have agreed on, including Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper.

Regarding water management, you can learn the full scope of state interests and priorities in the face of the pressing challenges posed by extreme weather, increasing demand and aging infrastructure.

Regarding water quality, you can learn how important grants and loans from EPA’s  Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds or “SRFs” and USDA’s Rural Utilities Service are to helping states prevent pollution of Western waters and support the delivery of safe water to our homes and workplaces.

And for those really interested in the nitty gritty of annual federal appropriations, you can plow through the 1,582-page 2014 Omnibus Appropriations Bill and its accompanying Joint Explanatory Statement, which lawmakers only passed in January 2014 for the Fiscal Year that began last October!

At once a monument to the dysfunction of the government spending process and to the stamina of congressional staffers who pulled together all of the dozen appropriations bills into this hydra-headed budget beast, these companion documents spell out who gets what share of this $1 trillion pot of discretionary funds, including all federally funded water programs and projects.

The “Rules Committee Print” of the spending bill contains the actual legislative language in Titles as spelled out in the Table of Contents (Caution! Enter at your own risk of being dazed and amazed at this one-stop document detailing one year of government spending).

The Joint Explanatory Statement is the real guts of the bill, where lawmakers speak something closer to common English in telling us all what the legalese really means to state and local interests in terms of dollars (there are no cents involved).

Here’s a bit a navigational help on that multi-part resource:

  • Details on the USDA Rural Utilities Service Water and Waste Disposal Program begin on page 25 of the  Front Matter – Division B section.
  • Details on Army Corps of Engineers projects start on page 2 of the Division D-F section.
  • Also in that section, see page 42 to read up on approved Bureau of Reclamation spending.
  • Details on EPA’s State and Tribal Grants (STAG) program begin on page 37 of the Division G-H section (don’t miss the charts of line-tem spending that begin on page 81!)

“Follow the money” is a famous (and infamous) and always wise  word of advice for discovering tough truths, and it sure applies to water, where every drop has a dollar value.

Following that path can be painful, but after  40 years living in and enjoying the American West,  I have come to fully appreciate how few of us could make this stunning land our home without the initial and continuing investments of federal funds to keep water flowing to our ranches, farms, houses and gardens.

Mark  Sharfenaker has been a writer and editor for the American Water Works Association since 1986 and the AWWA website editor since 2008, his contributions to the Your Water Colorado Blog include The Value of Water. He moved to Colorado in 1982 after a 10-year stint in Montana, where he earned an undergraduate degree in Journalism at the University of Montana and learned the joys of fly fishing and the wonders of western waters.

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