The League of Women Voters has worked on water issues for nearly as long as there has been a League of Women Voters. In “Impact on Issues 2016-2018 - Natural Resources”, this rich history is documented in detail. The role of League leaders in supporting thoughtful approaches to protecting water resources across the country is balanced by the role that water issues have played in building League membership and influence. As stated in “Impact”, “Water issues, from groundwater protection to agricultural runoff to the Safe Drinking Water Act, have energized League leaders, especially at the local level, for decades.”
How many Leagues are involved in work on water issues? Which water resources are the target of these efforts? What has been learned, and what can be shared to help others succeed? To learn the answers to these questions, LWV Upper Mississippi River Region sought information through a survey, sent to all Leagues in the United States. A detailed summary of the survey results is in this .pdf .
Based on the survey, Leagues in 26 states are active in water issues. The water resources that are being addressed include oceans, lakes, rivers, streams and groundwater. Ocean pollution is a concern in Oregon and Washington, and California Leagues work to prevent degradation of estuaries where freshwater streams meet the saltwater. LWV Benecia, near San Francisco, is very active in working on water use and conservation - click here for more detail. Sea level rise is a concern in Florida, where Leagues across the state work to support efforts to prepare for the impacts of rising coastal water levels.
The Great Lakes were mentioned by six Leagues. Key issues here are nutrient pollution, and cleanup of toxic contamination. Funding for the Great Lakes Initiative, a US EPA program, is seen as critical for ensuring that clean ups continue. For example, LWV Glen Ellyn (IL) reported that in March 2017 they joined with other organizations at U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam's office to protest major cuts in the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI). In April 2017, three LWV Glen Ellyn members met with Rep. Roskam's staffer. Among items discussed were proposed cuts to environmental protections; asked that Rep. Roskam to protect our water in the Great Lakes Basin by keeping full funding for the GLRI. This advocacy lead to full funding for the GLI in 2018. One League, LWV of Steuben County (New York) sits in both the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay watersheds, and reports working on water issues on both sides of the continental divide.
Focusing specifically on Lake Michigan, the LWV Lake Michigan Region ILO brings together 45 Leagues from the four states that border the Lake. This ILO has taken on a major project of stormwater education in their watershed, and is now working on developing watershed factsheets for the rivers and streams that discharge to Lake Michigan. Ohio Leagues are working to reduce nutrients, and the algae that results, in Lake Erie and the public water sources that flow into it.
Seven Leagues reported that they focus their efforts on the Upper Mississippi. All of these Leagues are members of the LWV Upper Mississippi River Region ILO. In this ILO, individual Leagues work on local water issues and the ILO brings additional emphasis to issues like the impacts of the US Farm Bill. LWV Galena (Illinois) has been leading local efforts in northwestern Illinois to monitor water resources and educate decision makers on the need for protection. Leaders in this League were instrumental in the formation of the LWV Upper Mississippi River Region in 2015, building this tool as way that Leagues in the basin can join their voices to advocate for river protection.
Water scarcity was reported as a concern by western US Leagues in Arizona, California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Montana and Kansas. LWV Grand County (Utah) outlined work they’ve done, including holding a Water Conservation Open House, doing a presentation on water source protection, water scarcity, and groundwater protection - more detail can be found - click here. Some California Leagues are looking at water reuse as a way to stretch water supplies. LWV Oregon is involved w/the regional Columbia River Treaty w/Canada. They report that they have published two studies on water quality/quantity (http://lwvor.org/study-archives/lwvorstudyarchivelibrary/#water ) culminating in new positions on which to advocate at the state and local level. Water scarcity is an issue not only in the west and southwest United States but in water-rich places like Florida and Massachusetts, where aquifer protection is a major concern for drinking water protection.
At the LWV Water Advocacy Workshop on June 27, seven Leagues will make presentations on their water work. This document will be updated at that time, to include more detail on the work that’s being done by Leagues to protect and enhance our water resources. We will post videos from this session on this blog in early July, so check back!