Huffman, Lee, Cortez Masto Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Fill the Biggest Data Gap in Water Management

March 30, 2023

WASHINGTON – Today, Congressman Jared Huffman (D-CA), Congresswoman Susie Lee (D-NV), Congressman Chris Stewart (R-UT), and Congressman Burgess Owens (R-UT) introduced legislation to get critical water use data in the hands of water managers, farmers, ranchers, and decision-makers for improved water management and stewardship. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Senator John Hickenlooper (D-CO) reintroduced companion legislation in the Senate. 

The Open Access Evapotranspiration Data Act — or OpenET Act — would establish a program under the Department of the Interior (DOI) that uses publicly available data from satellites and weather stations to provide estimates of evapotranspiration (ET), a critical measure of the water that is consumed and removed from a water system. ET represents the largest share of water use in most arid environments around the world. 

“Year after year, the West grapples with how to manage crippling droughts – and it’s critical for us to operate with the best information and water-use data possible as we manage this increasingly limited resource,” said Congressman Huffman. “Knowing key water metrics like evaporation rates is incredibly valuable for folks across all sectors, and our bill will harness this information to help farmers, water utilities, regulators, and governments alike all make well-informed water management decisions.” 

“I’ve said it over and over - you can’t manage what you can’t measure,” said Congresswoman Lee. “The American West is facing the worst drought in 12 centuries. It’s going to require shared information and coordination across all fronts to solve this crisis. That’s why I am proud to introduce this common-sense, bipartisan bill to help manage our water resources more efficiently, both in the West and across the nation. Passing this legislation now means more-informed water management practices and a more sustainable future for Nevada and the Colorado River Basin in the years to come. This isn’t a partisan political issue. Democrats, Republicans, and Independents across the West are all facing this impending drought crisis, and that’s why we are standing together across the aisle here in Washington in support of this legislation.” 

“Nevada and other states along the Colorado River Basin are continuing to face a water crisis, and we need every tool possible to protect our water resources,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “My legislation will help us measure and better understand our water resources and will make essential water data more accessible. I’ll continue working to fight the drought and ensure Nevada’s communities have the tools they need to protect and manage our water supply.” 

“The ongoing drought is taking a toll on everyone,” said Congressman Stewart. “It’s absolutely necessary that we get the most use out of the water we already have. That starts with giving states more consistent, accessible, and accurate data. This legislation will allow us to be more prudent with our current resources and plan for the future of our communities.” 

"Water is the lifeblood of the American West," said Congressman Owens. "Already the second driest state in the nation, year after year of severe drought has devastated Utah's farmers, producers, and industries. The Open Evapotranspiration Act tackles these crippling conditions by upgrading our water infrastructure to improve the tracking and management of water consumption, evaporation, and transpiration. I am proud to help reintroduce this critical legislation and will continue championing efforts in Washington to solve this generational issue facing Utahns." 

“The Nevada Division of Water Resources strongly supports the continued development and public accessibility of OpenET,” said Adam Sullivan, Nevada State Engineer, Nevada Division of Water Resources. “This outstanding program directly benefits water users throughout Nevada and the west who strive to improve efficiency and conserve water. Public access to these data will be increasingly vital to support water users and responsible water management needs into the future.” 

“OpenET will allow water managers to assess how much water is being used via a cost-effective and easy-to-use web-based platform, filling a critical data gap in water management across the U.S.,” said Zane Marshall, Director, Water Resources, Southern Nevada Water Authority. “The Authority believes OpenET is a valuable tool for federal, state, and local policymakers and water users.” 

“OpenET will provide credible, transparent, automated, easily accessible consumptive water use data, through a broad network of collaborators also developing and refining operational applications,” said Tony Willardson, Executive Director, Western States Water Council. “No such system can provide more easy access to more timely data with more refined spatial coverage. Currently, access to satellite and ET data is limited and expensive to process and interpret for many water users and decision-makers.” 

The West is facing the devastating impacts of increased drought and a changing climate nationwide, and to maximize the benefits of our water supplies, we must know how much water is available and how much is being used. Access to this data has been limited, inconsistent, and expensive, making it difficult for farmers, ranchers, and water managers to use it when making important decisions that could benefit their families and communities. An existing OpenET public-private partnership brings together an ensemble of well-established methods to calculate ET at the field-scale across the 17 Western states. The OpenET Act will establish and support a nationwide OpenET program. 

Applications of ET data include: 

  1. Assisting water managers, users and decision-makers to better steward valuable resources — while helping farmers and ranchers protect the financial viability of their agricultural operations in light of the changing climate.
  2. Developing more accurate water budgets and innovative management programs to better promote conservation and sustainability efforts.
  3. Employing data-driven groundwater management practices and understanding impacts of consumptive water use 

This legislation is supported by the following entities and organizations: 

  • Desert Research Institute 
  • Environmental Defense Fund 
  • National Audubon Society
  • Sustainable Conservation
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership
  • Trout Unlimited
  • Water Foundation
  • California State Water Resources Control Board
  • California’s Central Delta Water Agency
  • California’s Southern Delta Water Agency
  • Central Utah Water Conservancy District
  • Metropolitan Water District of Southern California
  • Nevada Division of Water Resources
  • Oregon Water Resources Department
  • Southern Nevada Water Authority
  • Western States Water Council
  • Wyoming State Engineer’s Office 
  • E&J Gallo Winery 

You can find more information and additional quotes of support here.