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Fostering Public Engagement in Water Choices

Lessons from a Sun Corridor Workshop

Jim Holway and Alexandra Arboleda

October 2012, English

Water is an essential component of growth, sustainability and land policy throughout the Colorado River Basin. As Mark Twain famously said of the American west; “whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over”. Today these “fights” most often occur in the form of policy debates about water rights, water policy, infrastructure investments, and climate. Western Lands and Communities (WLC) is seeking to inform these debates and advance efforts to expand public engagement. Toward this end, WLC sponsored a workshop in January 2012 to engage the public on the topic of water and on our key water policy choices, the values that underlie these choices and the challenges we face. This paper provides a brief overview of these challenges, and synthesizes information from the workshop including: background essays prepared in advance of the workshop, identification of the fundamental value choices, the results from both small group discussions and key pad polling conducted during the workshop and potential next steps in this engagement effort.

Prominent themes from the workshop covered in the discussion of workshop results include: strong support for the continuation of agriculture, an increasing priority for allocating water to support the natural environment, and a call for increased dialogue and public engagement on water issues. Participants also recognized the significant uncertainties in our water future and the need to address these issues.