New Major US Water Policy Recommendations: “Water Strategies for the Next Administration”

My new Science Magazine article “Water Strategies for the Next Administration” has just been released (embargo lifts 11am Pacific, November 3rd; the print version will appear in the November 4th issue of Science). It identifies six major water-related challenges facing the United States and offers explicit recommendations for strategies the next Administration and Congress should pursue, domestically and internationally. The article begins:

“Issues around fresh water are not particularly high on the U.S. political agenda. They should be. Water problems directly threaten food production, fisheries, energy generation, foreign policy, public health, and international security. Access to safe, sufficient, and affordable water is vital to well-being and to the economy. Yet U.S. water systems, once the envy of the world, are falling into disrepair and new threats loom on the horizon.”

The six key challenges addressed are:

  1. Inconsistent, overlapping, and inefficient Federal responsibilities for fresh water.
  2. Incomplete basic water science and data.
  3. Obsolete and decaying critical water infrastructure.
  4. Growing links between water conflicts and threats to US national security.
  5. The failure to provide safe, affordable water to all Americans.
  6. The worsening threat of climate change for US water resources.

The paper also offers recommendations in each of these areas and suggests that water policy offers an opportunity for bipartisan agreement. National water issues have been sadly neglected for far too long. The new Administration has many opportunities to build a 21st century national water system with broad public support. During the 2016 campaign, both presidential candidates have indicated their backing for clean water and concern over recent water-quality problems in cities like Flint, Michigan.

Among the recommendations I make in the Science Policy Forum piece are a call for a bipartisan water commission to make specific policy suggestions to Congress and the White House, an expansion of national efforts to collect, manage and share water data, modernization of federal water-quality laws, the testing for lead and other contaminants in every school in the country and remediation of any problems, new incentives for improved urban and agricultural water use technologies, an expansion of diplomatic efforts to reduce water conflicts, a boost in resources available for domestic and international programs to provide safe water and sanitation for all, and the integration of climate science into water management and planning at federal agencies and facilities.

The paper closes:

“We have neglected the nation’s fresh water far too long. The next Administration and Congress have the opportunity and responsibility to ensure federal agencies, money, and regulations work to protect our waters, citizens, communities, and national interests.”


[Update: November 8, 2016: The full article can be accessed, for non-commercial use only, here:



[The author, Dr. Peter Gleick, is co-founder and president emeritus of the Pacific Institute and currently serves as chief scientist. He is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and a MacArthur Fellow.]

Copies of the embargoed Science paper are distributed only by the AAAS Office of Public Programs, to working journalists. Reporters should contact +1-202-326-6440 or Others seeking copies of the paper may order them from


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Since most water issues are state ones, pushing everything to the federal level seems extreme. (other than perhaps the federal government encouraging interstate compacts between states that share resources). Water rights for example are a state by state issue with different forms of law used depending on if a state is a wet state (east of great plains) or a dry state. (The common law coming from the UK which is a wet country) did not work in the west at all.

Absolutely. My piece clearly notes the importance of local and state responsibilities, and focuses on those areas where there is a critical federal role and responsibility.

"Peter Gleick is a KNOWN liar and cheat to all who have followed his fearmongering career. While his current admonition to a new administration to place water problems at the top of their priority list sounds reasonable it in fact is a ploy to use water policy to take even further control of the nation's water than the current administration has attempted but presently failed to do. Water is clearly at the top of the world's resource problems, but historically we and other nations have managed to control and solve these problems without draconian government intervention. Predictions of water wars have failed to materialize for 2000 years. Were we to use advanced technologies of other mineral industries to locate and extract water and then price it and conserve it appropriately many if not most water problems would ameliorate. Mr. Gleick can be applauded for asking that water be an issue to pursue for consideration by any government body, but potentially calling for more government national policy is tantamount to the global warmer's ultimate desire to control the very air we breathe for the carbon dioxide we emit."

I thought about not permitting this comment thru the spam filter because of its rude, ad hominem nature, and because the author is a well-known, anti-government-anything climate denier. But I decided it demonstrates some important points about the nature of national environmental policy, as well as the weakness of right-wing debating points:
First, my recommendations do not suggest that the federal government "take even further control of the nation's water..." It is a classic ploy of weak arguments to claim your opponent says something and then argue against it. My Science article argues that the federal government needs to do a far better and more efficient job of managing what is already their responsibility. And, of course, there are critical federal responsibilities in this area that cannot devolve to the state and local level. Second, Lehr argues "predictions of water wars have failed to materialize for 2000 years": Another strawman: I'm not predicting "water wars," but to ignore the clear signal (see the Figure in the Science magazine article) of increasing violent conflict over water is to ignore reality (which Lehr and his colleagues already do for climate change), and I believe there is an important valuable role for US diplomacy and military strategy in this area (as does the military, in their annual threat assessments where they identify water challenges as an key problem). Third, just re-read Lehr's last sentence: this gives you the true flavor for the kooky thinking going on here -- not just for his blanket rejection of all things "government" but for his hyperbole around climate change.

I'm always happy to entertain thoughtful and useful comments, criticisms, and suggestions on my essays here but please keep the insults and spittle out or I won't approve them.

Peter, I agree with your decision to have Jay Lehr's comment show, because it gives you the chance to make an appropriate response, and points out a great example of poor reasoning of the kind we often see.

It goes like this:

Hey, there's a moose in the road, why don't you go around it?

(Driver notices moose, drives round it instead of into it)

Hey, there's another moose in the road, why don't you go around it?

Drive: You are always telling me to go around the moose, yet we've never hit a damn moose!

Then, well, they hit the moose.