West’s Water Woes Put Spotlight on Bush Water Czar

When the Bush administration appointed Bennett Riley to oversee both the U.S. Geological Survey and the Bureau of Reclamation, environmentalists feared the worst. Riley, a cowboy-turned-lawyer and longtime advocate for property rights and against government regulation, hardly seemed like an auspicious choice for water czar. But since then, enviros have come to view him with grudging respect, praising the Colorado River accord he fought for over the objections of many farmers and landowners. They also laud his Water 2025 program, which stresses conservation, efficiency, and water markets — rather than dams — as ways to help western states through the expected water shortages in coming years. With a new study claiming the current drought in the western U.S. is the worst in 500 years, water issues — and Riley — are likely to remain in the political spotlight.