Photos: California's water woes

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  1. Tumbleweeds have replaced this irrigation canal near Tranquillity in California's Central Valley, seen on April 19. Drought and tight water supplies mean Central Valley farm losses are expected to be around $400 million this year. Some 20,000 full-time jobs will likely be lost, and fewer crops means upward pressure on food prices nationwide. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A farmer plows a dry field near Buttonwillow in California's Central Valley on April 16. The state's three-year drought hasn't shut down farming, but it has severely reduced planted areas. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Deprived of irrigation water, this field near Firebaugh, Calif., lies fallow and cropless on April 18. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. California's drought is also affecting the southern part of the state. Vacant storefronts are seen on March 12 along Main Street in El Centro, a farming town in Imperial Valley east of San Diego. El Centro is seeing 23 percent unemployment, nearly as high as rates during the Great Depression, with Latinos especially being hit hard. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Farmers and farm workers shout their demands as Gov. Schwarzenegger shows up on April 17 at the last stop on their march near Los Banos. The march was organized by the California Latino Water Coalition. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger greets farmers and farm workers demanding more water after their four-day march through the Central Valley that ended on April 17. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Sunrise on March 12 illuminates a farm irrigation canal near El Centro in California's Imperial Valley, an area north of the border with Mexico that was once desert. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Sprinklers water a field crop at sunset on April 16 north of Buttonwillow. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Hispanic farm workers harvest broccoli on March 12 near El Centro. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Sheep butt heads near an abandoned and dried-up irrigation ditch on April 18 near Firebaugh, Calif. The ditch is on a farm that receives no water allocation from government managers. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. El Centro residents in need receive a monthly food handout on March 13 from the Imperial Valley Food Bank. California is also reeling from a massive budget crisis that ushered in deep cuts to social services. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Maya Ramirez, a single mother in El Centro who relies on a monthly food handout for herself and her five children, helps her daughter Sherhar, 7, with homework on March 13 while holding her baby Alma. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A fence surrounds a site where new home construction has been suspended in El Centro. Like other once-booming areas across the U.S., El Centro's housing market has gone bust. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. The El Centro area has also relied on trade with Mexico. The nearby border town of Calexico is full of currency exchange outfits like this one. A plummeting Mexican peso has undercut the buying power of Mexicans who shop on the U.S. side of the border. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Many truckers, like this one in Firebaugh, are among the non-farm workers who rely on California's farms for their own livelihood. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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updated 6/15/2009 10:24:27 AM ET 2009-06-15T14:24:27

It's an old quip in the West: Whiskey's for drinkin' and water's for fightin'. Only these days, there's more people with a stake in the fight for water and a dwindling supply.

Quenching the growing demand for water in the warming West will require a bigger push for conservation, innovative technology and a rethinking of supply and demand, Western governors and water experts said Sunday.

The three-day Western Governors' Association meeting that began Sunday focuses on key issues that affect states throughout the West, including water use, climate change and energy.

This year — with several cabinet members from the Obama administration and a record attendance — the political landscape has shifted and there's a renewed urgency for swapping ideas and working together, attendees said.

Sunday's main discussion, which included Canadian officials and experts from the Middle East and Australia, focused on managing water amid changing climate conditions.

Although many of the controversies in the West center around urbanization, natural resources and energy development, water — and often the lack of it — comes up again and again.

"Water is connected to all those things," said panelist Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, an environmental think tank based in Oakland, Calif.

Gleick said there's evidence of intensified water disputes, ecosystem collapse in some places and a population growth that's driving a sometimes-fractured water management system.

States can no longer rely on simply building more storage capacity, which can be expensive and "politically challenging," he said. The West needs to consider other supply options such as rainwater, use of treated wastewater and desalination plants, Gleick said.

Climate change — which will alter precipitation and the timing of mountain snow melt — also needs to be incorporated into all water management decisions, he said.

Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter said the region needs to do more to protect the water that's already available.

"Conservation has to become an ethic in the West," he said.

Inevitably, though, there will be hard decisions to make about who gets water and who doesn't, said Doug Miell, an Australian water consultant and former leader of an irrigation council during some of the country's worst drought conditions.

"The bad news is there's no silver bullet," said Miell, who advocated for more information gathering and sharing among resource managers.

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, the incoming WGA chairman, agreed that water needs to be better measured, moved more efficiently and conserved on a larger scale.

"Those of us who are managing water in the West know how important this is," he said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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