Commissioner Camille Touton will be the referee in the battle over water

Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

The FilAm Editorial

Environmentalists have long warned that one of the major conflicts of the future will be over water. For the longest time, it sounded like science fiction. But global warming is hastening its arrival given the megadrought that has hit the western United States. It has been pointed out that the federal government may be forced to step in on a looming multi-state battle over water rights.

Filipino American Camille Calimlim Touton will be the referee or arbiter of that quandary as head of the barely known U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. She will be making the painful call that will affect millions of Americans in states from California to Colorado.

States such as California, Nevada, Arizona and Colorado have to hammer out by next year who gets access to a shrinking, vanishing resource. It is a combustible issue because a prolonged drought, climate change and unabated development in cities like Las Vegas, Nevada, and Denver have caused a severe water shortage.  The amount of water coming from systems like the Colorado River far exceeds the amount of water they produce. The two biggest reservoirs, Lakes Mead and Powell, have been driven down to historic lows. Same with the lake stretching behind the Hoover Dam.

The bottom line is: The Sun Belt is drying up.

Some towns and cities in California are already thinking of putting in place expensive desalination plants that would convert sea water into drinking water.

If there is no deal among the states on the allocation of water use by 2023, the Bureau of Reclamation will need to step in to determine who gets what and how much. Calimlim Touton, as commissioner, is going to get slammed by ranchers and farmers, cities, states and towns, no matter what decision she makes in trying to thread a needle on an issue more than 100 years in the making.

“As a Nevadan, I understand what this crisis means for people and the environment, and I look forward to working collaboratively with farmers, tribes, local communities, and with Congress to face these challenges,” she said in her confirmation hearing.

The White House says the Philippine-born Camille holds a BS in Engineering (Civil) and a BA in Communication Studies from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and a Master of Public Policy from George Mason University.  While her heart is in the west, Camille, her husband Matthew, and their daughters call Arlington, VA home.  

The FilAm recognizes the challenge ahead for Calimlim Touton, a water policy advisor with long years of experience working with diverse stakeholders. We hope political partisanship does not muddle the issue and make it even more complicated.

But politics is inescapable. The Democrats and Republicans will jump in and will, make for odd, no weird, bedfellows. Farmers in Imperial Valley, California, who get too much water to grow crops like rice and alfalfa that gobble up a lot of a scarce resource, will latch onto any official who will protect their access to the Colorado river.

It is that kind of issue. The climate wars have just opened up, and the West is ground zero.  


© The FilAm 2022

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