Infrastructure can solve a lot of water problems. Litigation will always have its place in water, and state water law primacy and water rights must be defended whole heartedly. No exceptions. However, the true resolution of a water dispute occurs when all interested parties receive the water they need. That is a simple statement, but such resolution is very difficult to achieve with a finite resource.

The great water projects built by Reclamation in the 17 western states over the last 100 years are often acclaimed for their ingenuity and creativity in solving a variety of engineering challenges. This issue of Irrigation Leader sheds light on a very representative sampling of irrigation district general managers and water organization leaders who are showing the same inganuity and creativity in solving water supply problems. To them, water is not a zero-sum game of winners and losers.” Problems have solutions. These managers and leaders show that by making their distribution systems more efficient with new engineering projects, water supplies can be stretched to do more. Are there limits to what such engineering solutions can provide? Absolutely—conservation has its limits—but engineering can go a long way. Money spent on such solutions is always a good investment.

Sonia Lambert of Texas’s Cameron County Irrigation District #2, Jim Trull of Washington’s Sunnyside Division, and Marc Thalacker of Oregon’s Three Sisters Irrigation District are highlighted in this issue for taking a proactive approach to water conservation measures. Each understands the benefits of infrastructure projects undertaken with water savings goals in mind. “You need to be a leader instead of a litigator,” said Thalacker in the article “Heading Off Potential Water Management Crises: A Blueprint for Success.”

Two other featured leaders—Tim Quinn of the Association of California Water Agencies and Bill West of Texas’s Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority—demonstrate the value of approaching new challenges with both water supply and environmental goals in mind. “Cooperation is necessary to ensure the diverse needs of the environment and Texas water users are met,” wrote West in his article, “Cooperation Necessary to Protect State Water Rights from Federal Intervention.”

Furthermore, Ron Bishop of Nebraska’s Central Platte Natural Resources District touts the efficiencies gained when local irrigators worked cooperatively to close an outdated, open canal in favor of using local ground water supply in his article, “Nebraska Natural Resources District and Farmers Work Together to Increase Irrigation Efficiency.”

Importantly, Reclamation remains as essential to the future of water in the West as it was in its first 100 years. When cracks were discovered in a Frenchman Cambridge Irrigation District dam, Brad Edgerton was very please with Reclamation’s response. “Throughout this experience Reclamation has taken this situation very seriously, put their best people on task, and gone to great lengths to keep us informed,” he wrote in his article, “When the Dam Breaks….”

Reclamation’s efforts surrounding the Nebraska dam break – and on many other technical issues across the country – are spearheaded by its Technical Services Center. The operations of the Denver-based resources center are the subject of the article “Reclamation’s Technical Services Center, A Resource for Irrigation Districts.”

Each of the water leaders featured in this issue demonstrate the value of infrastructure to solving critical water conservation challenges and the importance of working cooperatively to achieve solutions outside of the courtroom. With Reclamation’s valued support, leaders like these will help steer western water infrastructure forward to meet the many water conservation and supply challenges we will face in the future.

Kris Polly is editor-in-chief of Irrigation Leader magazine and president of Water Strategies LLC, a government relations firm he began in February 2009 for the purpose of representing and guiding water, power, and agricultural entities in their dealings with Congress, the Bureau of Reclamation, and other federal government agencies. He may be contacted at