Thursday, June 25, 2009

Woe is H2O

Oh, water. We like to drink it, flush it, clean with it, sprinkle it sparingly on our lawns, and even share it with our animal friends. We like it clean, we like it abundant, and we like it now.

Unfortunately, water supplies are being stretched and the resulting competition for diminishing supply is causing major conflicts. Especially in Eastern Washington where demand is exacerbated by agricultural and livestock operations.

The issue is complex and affects rural families, ranchers, tribes, and other interests. As described in this article, at heart of much of the discussion is a long-standing exemption that allows unlimited use of water for livestock. The state Department of Ecology worries the exemption is being abused by some dairy and feedlot operators who should be seeking a permit to draw up groundwater.

The Legislature took up the issue earlier this year though not much happened in the way of legislation.

What did happen was the formation of a new Stock Water Working Group, a committee made up of folks from the farming and enviro communities, state agencies, federal government and Native American tribes. State Reps. John McCoy and Brian Blake will serve on the group which is tasked with providing recommendations for the Legislature to consider next session.

McCoy says he's "committed to finding strategies for responsible and realistic water-conservation. " The committee has until December to come up with such strategies so stay tuned as discussions unfold.

And may we offer you a glass of water while you wait?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Washington needs more people to go to college

The Legislature has asked for the most comprehensive review of our state's higher education system in more than 30 years.

Rep. Deb Wallace, who chairs the Higher Education Committee, says that with baby boomers beginning to retire, changes in technology, and jobs in the 21st century requiring specific skills it is especially important to ensure our higher education system is meeting the needs of both students and industry.

For the first time in U.S. history the current generation of college going age students is less educated than their parents. This is due in part to the opportunities offered to returning WW II veterans after the war. Wallace hopes a combination of expanded education benefits for veterans, new federal tax credit programs and state support through the state need grant will help to expand the ability for students to attend school.

According to the Higher Education Coordinating Board, we need to produce about 40 percent more college degrees by the year 2030 to adequately meet the workforce needs of employers. That equals an additional 11,400 four-year degrees, 9,300 graduate degrees, and 10,300 two-year degrees.

Where will these new degree-earners come from? The HECB says a better job must be done helping minorities go to college and recruiting current workers to go back to school. In addition, expanding use of online and hybrid courses can increase access for those who don't live close to a college campus.

And that's where the new "System Design Plan" comes into play. The plan will include:
  • Recommendations to increase undergraduate and graduate educational attainment levels for Washington by the year 2030.
  • Recommendations to determine when and where to locate new campuses and higher education centers.
  • “Rational rules for growth” to help guide expansion and coordination of the higher education system in Washington over the next several decades.
  • Recommendations to increase higher education for under-served areas and populations.
The next meeting of the System Design Study Group is July 20 in Everett. Final recommendations are due to the Legislature in December.