Congress of the United States


Date of this Version



Published by Congressional Research Service, 1-19,, IB10019


For more than a century, the federal government has constructed water resource projects for a variety of purposes, including flood control, navigation, power generation, and irrigation. While most municipal and industrial water supplies have been built by non-federal entities, most of the large, federal water supply projects in the West, including Hoover and Grand Coulee dams, were constructed by the Bureau of Reclamation (Department of the Interior) to provide water for irrigation.

Growing populations and changing values have increased demands on water supplies and river systems, resulting in water use and management conflicts throughout the country, particularly in the West, where the population is expected to increase 30% in the next 20-25 years. In many western states, agricultural needs are often in direct conflict with urban needs, as well as with water demand for threatened and endangered species, recreation, and scenic enjoyment.

Debate over western water resources revolves around the issue of how best to plan for and manage the use of this renewable, yet sometimes scarce and increasingly sought after, resource. Some observers advocate enhancing water supplies, for example, by building new storage or diversion projects, expanding old ones, or funding water reclamation and reuse facilities. Others emphasize the need to manage existing supplies more efficiently — through conservation, revision of policies that encourage inefficient use of water, and establishment of market mechanisms to allocate water.

The 109th Congress is considering a number of bills on western water issues, including title transfer, water recycling, and rural water supply legislation and may also revisit drought legislation introduced in the 108th Congress. Oversight of CALFED — a joint federal and state program to restore fish and wildlife habitat and address California water supply/quality issues — and Klamath River Basin issues is also likely.

The 109th Congress may also consider Indian water rights settlement legislation; however, Indian settlement bills are not tracked in this issue brief.