Position on Water Resources

State or National:


Position in Brief:

Support a strong federal role in protecting drinking water quality, surface and groundwater, wetlands, watersheds, and the ocean, with particular attention to the adverse impacts of coal, oil, and gas production and to the challenges posed by inter-basin water transfers. 

Water Resources

The League supports: 

  • water resource programs and policies that reflect the interrelationships of water quality, water quantity, ground-water, and surface water and that address the potential depletion or pollution of water supplies;
  • measures to reduce water pollution from direct point-source discharges and from indirect nonpoint sources;
  • policies to achieve water quality essential for maintaining species populations and diversity, including measures to protect lakes, estuaries, wetlands, and in-stream flows;
  • stringent controls to protect the quality of current and potential drinking-water supplies, including protection of watersheds for surface supplies and of recharge areas for groundwater.

Proposed Interbasin Water Transfers

Interstate and inter-basin transfers are not new or unusual.  Water transfers have served municipal supplies, industry, energy development, and agriculture.

Construction costs of large-scale water transfers are high, and economic losses in the basin of origin also may be high. Environmental costs of water transfers may include quantitative and qualitative changes in wetlands and related fisheries and wildlife, diminished aquifer recharge, and reduced stream flows.  Lowered water tables also may affect groundwater quality and cause land subsidence.

As we look to the future, water transfer decisions will need to incorporate the high costs of moving water, the limited availability of unallocated water, and our still-limited knowledge of impacts on the affected ecosystems.

To develop member understanding and agreement on proposals for large-scale water transfer projects, state and local Leagues need to work together.  The following guidelines are designed to help Leagues jointly evaluate new proposals for large-scale water transfers.

The process for evaluating the suitability of new proposed inter-basin water transfers should include:
ample and effective opportunities for informed public participation in the formulation and analysis of proposed projects;
evaluation of economic, social and environmental impacts in the basin of origin; receiving area; and any area through which the diversion must pass, so that decision makers and the public have adequate information on which to base a decision;

  • examination of all sort- and long-term economic costs including, but not limited to, construction, delivery, operation, maintenance, and market interest rate;
  • examination of alternative supply options, such as water conservation, water pricing, and reclamation;
  • participation and review by all affected governments;
  • procedures for resolution of inter-governmental conflicts;
  • accord with international treaties;
  • provisions to ensure that responsibility for funding is borne primarily by the user with no federal subsidy, loan guarantees, or use of the borrowing authority of the federal government, unless the proposal is determined by all affected levels of the League to be in the national interest.


Water Resources Passage of an expanded Safe Drinking Water Act in 1986 and the Clean Water Act of 1987 marked important milestones in the League’s effort to ensure safe drinking water for all Americans and safeguards against nonpoint pollution. Groundwater, virtually unprotected by national legislation, became the focus of state and local League efforts in 1990, when LWVEF undertook a project to increase citizen awareness of the importance of protecting groundwater supplies, the source of 50 percent of the nation’s drinking water.

Leagues in 17 states sponsored public forums, conferences, action guides, educational videos, “water-watcher” teams, and media outreach. The local efforts were documented in a citizen handbook: Protect Your Groundwater: Educating for Action. In 1994, LWVEF sponsored a national videoconference on groundwater protection with more than 140 downlink sites nationwide. The education efforts were complemented with LWVUS lobbying to address groundwater concerns in the renewal of the Clean Water Act of 1994. Leagues across the country conducted surveys of local drinking water officials and held educational forums under the LWVEF Safe Drinking Water Project. The project’s publications, Safety on Tap and Crosscurrents, were used widely by Leagues and other citizen groups. In 1994 and 1995, the League opposed amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act that would require EPA to conduct formal cost benefit analyses with comparative risk analyses for every regulatory action and urged Congress to restore funding and adopt improvements to the act.

In 1997, LWVEF sponsored a second, award winning videoconference, Tools for Drinking Water Protection, featuring protection strategies and mechanisms at work in diverse communities around the United States. It was downlinked to more than 750 sites in the United States, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Canada, and Brazil, and allowed citizens, officials, business leaders, and nongovernmental organizations to share information, winning the 1997 award for “Most Outstanding Broadcast for the Public Good” from the teleconferencing industry.

In 1998, LWVEF published Strategies for Effective Public Involvement in Drinking Water Source Assessment and Protection, a handbook to facilitate the public involvement required by the Safe Drinking Water Act amendments of 1996. The League also focused education efforts on wetlands protection. In 1996, LWVEF held a Wetlands Protection Workshop, bringing together members from 23 states, national environmental specialists, and local leaders to explore the value of coastal and freshwater wetlands, highlight measures and programs geared toward wetlands protection, and examine methods for effective communication of wetlands information in local communities.

In 1997-98, LWVEF provided passthrough grants to 11 Leagues to educate their communities on wetlands. In 1998, LWVUS supported the President’s proposed action plan to crack down on polluted runoff and to restore and protect wetlands. In related action, the League submitted comments to the Army Corps of Engineers urging revocation of Nationwide Permit 26 (NWP 26), which sanctions the loss of thousands of acres of wetlands every year. In May 2000, LWVEF sponsored “The Ech2O Workshop: An Introduction to the Watershed Approach,” where League activists learned how to take leadership in protecting their local watersheds and educating the public about watershed protection. In February 2003, LWVUS submitted comments to the EPA on attempts to redefine and limit the jurisdictional focus of the Clean Water Act, noting that the Clean Water Act covers all waters. “Whether large or small, they function as an interconnected system; excision of parts of the system [from regulation] will impair health and optimal functioning of the whole.” The threat to streams and rivers from mountaintop removal, a coal-mining technique that can bury those water bodies, was fought by the League. In 2005, the League urged Senators to protect women and children from toxic mercury by supporting a bipartisan resolution to reject the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) rule to delay reductions in mercury emissions from power plants.

Delegates at the 2010 Convention shared information about hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as “fracking,” a process by which high pressure water, sand, and chemicals are pumped underground to fracture geologic formations to release natural gas. This process, as well as other fossil fuel extraction, poses a threat to water and other natural resources. State Leagues, using LWVUS positions on natural resources—particularly clean water and drinking water—worked to reduce the environmental impact of mining processes that contaminate and pollute. In 2012, LWVUS made its voice heard to several regulatory authorities of the federal government in relation to “fracking.” Comments went to the EPA, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

In 2015, the League supported a set of five bills referred to as the Frack Pack. The legislation would help protect the environment and public health from the risks of hydraulic fracturing by ending exemptions for oil and gas production from major environmental laws such as the Safe Drinking Water Act. State and local Leagues were active in the development of the development of the Waters of the United States regulation. This regulation would define the waterways, rivers, streams, and tributaries protected by the Clean Water Act. State and local Leagues sent in comments, participated in hearings, and worked with partners on the ground during the development of the regulation. They also worked to defend it when it was repealed by the Trump Administration. Together with coalition partners, the League participated in a final effort to push President Obama to permanently protect designated parts of the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans from offshore oil drilling. The League was successful in its efforts and President Obama designated certain areas off-limit to oil and gas leasing.

The League continues to battle the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management on this issue, while engaging on this fight with our partners as the decisions of the previous administration are reversed.

Position History:

The League’s 1956-1958 water resources study was the basis for action on a broad range of resource management issues. By 1958, the League had taken a position that, as rephrased and expanded in 1960, has formed one of two foundations for League action on water ever since. The key concept is a strong federal role in formulating national policies and procedures.