The Lincoln Institute today announced the establishment of the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy, the centerpiece of a new initiative to integrate land use planning and the management of an increasingly scarce resource.
The Center, based in Phoenix, is named for Bruce Babbitt, former Arizona governor, Interior secretary, and longtime board member of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. Jim Holway, who has years of experience in water and land use issues in Arizona and throughout the Intermountain West, will serve as the first director.
“It’s been said that water is the new oil, and if we want to ensure that future generations have adequate supplies, we have to understand the intimate connection between land and water,” said George W. “Mac” McCarthy, president and CEO of the Lincoln Institute. “It’s a two-way street: how we plan and use land has an impact on water, and water availability has an increasing impact on how we can use land. We seek to bridge these two worlds to better meet the needs of people, agriculture, and nature.”
The Babbitt Center will gather data, develop indicators, and build and test new tools for fair, efficient, and sustainable management of water resources. An initial activity will be to develop a map, using satellite imagery, for selected tributaries of the Colorado River Basin. The aim is to provide a foundation – potentially scaled up to the entire basin, serving seven states and some 30 million people – that illustrates the relationship between land and water, and can be used for better projections, modeling, and scenario planning.
“We hope that conversations with communities and decision-makers throughout the basin might bring together stakeholders who don't necessarily talk to each other,” said McCarthy. “We seek to help state and local officials integrate land and water policies across an entire geography, to imagine better futures.”
At the same time the Babbitt Center is launched, the longstanding joint program between the Lincoln Institute and the Sonoran Institute, previously known as Western Lands and Communities and now renamed Resilient Communities and Watersheds, will aim to better integrate land use planning and water management at the local level. The partnership with the Sonoran Institute will be an important part of the work of the Center.
Ultimately, it is hoped that the Babbitt Center will become a hub that connects the people and practices of the arid American West to people and practices in the rest of the world. By 2025, the United Nations predicts that 1.8 billion people – nearly one-quarter of the planet’s population by that time – will be living in regions with severe water scarcity.
The Center will become part of the emerging global footprint of the Lincoln Institute, from Beijing, where long aqueducts are planned as the sprawling city confronts rapidly draining aquifers, to the megacities of Latin America, which struggle to provide water to citizens through cycles of drought and floods.
“I am honored to be associated with this initiative and vision,” said Bruce Babbitt, who is currently advising state government in California on water issues. “The Lincoln Institute has emphasized the importance of land and land policy in addressing the world’s toughest problems, and the stewardship of water resources is at the top of the list. We all need to be aware of the connection between water and land.”
“We are optimistic as we all share the goal of ensuring water for future generations,” said Holway, formerly director of the Lincoln Institute-Sonoran Institute joint program and assistant director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, who currently serves on the board of the Central Arizona Project.