Colorado College’s State of the Rockies Project Conference 2013 Day Two
by Nathaniel Kelley, Rockies Project Writer
If Denver could hold the 2024 Summer Olympics, would you support it? Such a large event would have major economic and environmental impacts on our state. Would hosting the Games be worth the possible fiscal and quality-of-life risks? Former Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm and Ceil Folz both addressed this issue on the second night of Colorado College’s 2013 State of the Rockies Project Conference, backdropped against the extensive research Colorado College students conducted over the past year on the Colorado River Basin.
The session opened with the unveiling of the State of the Rockies Report Card, featuring the results of the 2012-13 student research. Marking the 10 anniversary of the project, this report focused on “Water Friendly Future for The Colorado River Basin,” examining critical issues affecting the eight-state Rocky Mountain region, composed of Colorado, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.
This year’s report focused on the perennial goals of Research, Report, and Engage, looking for ways to achieve a “water friendly future” for the Colorado River Basin. A large part of the report paralleled a two-year study by the Bureau of Reclamation that looked into the demand-supply imbalances that exist.
The first section, “Lake Powell to Lake Powell: Portraits of the Upper Colorado River,” explored the Colorado River Basin up close and personal, incorporating elements and research from the Bureau of Relcmation study. This study resulted in the forthcoming Powell to Powell online video series that comes out in late April.
“Agricultural Water Use in the Colorado River Basin: Conservation and Efficiency Tools for a Water Friendly Future” investigated irrigation inefficiencies and the detriments of “buy and dry” tactics to increase municipal supply. It found that “irrigation efficiency strategies fail to offer a silver bullet for water conservation in agriculture and that alternative transfer methods must play a crucial role in meeting the competitive needs” for a water friendly future to exist. It recommends transcending misconceptions of water use in agriculture, fostering cooperation and collaboration among stakeholders, and supporting conscientious decisions that keep in mind the needs of all stakeholders.
“Municipal and Industrial Water Use in the Colorado River Basin: Moving Towards a Paradigm Shift in Water Reclamation” looked at the conservation techniques already being implemented on the Colorado Front Range, as well as tried to find new routes for municipal and industrial users to take. As the population of the Basin states doubles to a projected 62 million over the next 50 years, education is the main goal, the study says. Water providers need to provide the tools to consumers for balanced cooperation and sacrifices that benefit everyone.
“Water and Watts: How Electrical Generation Has and Will Continue to Shape the Colorado River and Can Renewable Energy Lead the Colorado River Basin into a Water Friendly Future?” explored the different paths utilities could take to meet the ever-increasing energy demands of the Basin States, focusing on less water-intensive technologies. The study recommends that plants switch from coal to natural gas, an easy change that would use half the water and would emit half the carbon dioxide. Coupled with a slow transition to more efficient renewable energy and cooperation between states, energy usage could become significantly more sustainable over the next few decades.
Lastly, the report urges Coloradans to be active in “learning about, enjoying, and helping to protect the spectacular vistas and regions Colorado College is blessed to call ‘our backyard.’” Calling for civic engagement from students, alumni, friends and the community, the project seeks to create a sustainable Colorado for generations to come.
The presentation of the Champion of the Rockies Award to Colorado’s former Governor followed. The Champion of the Rockies Award was initiated in 2007 to honor leaders of vision, drive and determination whose efforts are positively shaping the Rocky Mountain region’s present and future. Last year’s recipient was then-Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. Previous recipients include environmentalist and philanthropist Ted Turner; Ed and Betsy Marston, the former publisher and editor, respectively, of the High Country News in Paonia, Colo., and author and conservationist Terry Tempest Williams.
After accepting the award, Lamm delivered the keynote talk (what he called “a movie review with two book reviews and some environmental talk in the middle), entitled, “Early Colorado Environmental Movement and the 1976 Winter Olympics Controversy.” He referenced Gwynth Paltrow’s movie Sliding Doors, a film that questions the idea of split destinies and the idea of serendipity. The possibility of life going completely different paths carried over into his question of “how do you change public policy?”
He followed the path of the Woman’s Movement from “no talk; no do” to the final stage where equality is so engrained the discussion is unnecessary: “no talk; do.” To get to that point, though, Lamm said,“it starts off with a conversation, with an audacious person raising an issue.”
Focusing on, what he called sliding doors and audacity, Lamm dove into the battle against the 1976 Olympics. In 1972, most everyone, including public opinion, favored having the Winter Olympics in Colorado. Lamm saw the issue differently, though, realizing that the past two places to hold the Olympics had been holding $1 billion in debt. The cost of the bobsled and luge alone was four times the annual state appropriation for air and water pollution control.
The Rocky Mountain News let him make his case against it, and bumpers stickers “Don’t Californicate Colorado” began popping up on the cars of those who opposed the massive growth, enormous fiscal risk, and potential decrease in quality of life that hosting the Olympics presented. Eventually, his efforts led to the idea being shot down. The incident left a bad taste in the mouth of the Olympic Committee, though, who still continue to avoid Colorado as a host for the Games.
Lamm noted the significant differences today, especially concerning environmental issues: voters are more conscientious, as are corporations; there are more intangible threats to the environment that we are trying to deal with so future generations can live healthily; and the responsibility has shifted onto the individual.
He ended his talk with his “two book reviews.” The first was The Spirit Gene by Reg Morrison which argues that, as a species, we are genetically dispositioned to want to growth and expansion, a trait that is difficult to escape. Unfortunately, a 3 percent growth rate means a double of economic activity every 23 years, so how do we find a sustainable society?
The second review was of Millennial Momentum, a book that focuses on the burgeoning Millennial generation, a group that has 17 million more members than the Baby Boomers. It claims that every 80 years, a real leadership generation faces and overcomes the gargantuan challenges that are presented. The Millennials are that generation, Lamm agreed, saying to the audience, “So, go at it.”
Ceil Folz, president and chief executive officer of Vail Valley Foundation, spoke about “Major Events…Bringing the World to Colorado and Colorado to the World: Vail Resorts Hosting of February 2015 World Cup Ski Championships.”
The 2015 Championships marked the third time in less than three decades that Vail/Beaver Creek have hosted the event. Folz noted that World Championships medals are just as valuable as Olympics,’ and that all of the alpine events cross over.
She then showed the clip of Franz Klammer’s 1976 Olympic Gold run which, in what is known as the “Klammer Kick,” stimulated the skiing industry for the next two years for the fastest growth it has ever had. At that time, Beaver Creek did not exist yet, and Vail had less than 1,000 residents. She agreed with the “real and legitimate” concerns that Lamm had about the 1976 but illustrated why Colorado is know the perfect place for large events.
Per capita, Colorado is number one for major events per year. It is also the fittest state, the third youngest, and the second most educated. This demographic, especially with the high microbrew consumption, perfectly matches the sports-going crowd.
Already, $9.4 billion is brought in annually through recreation tourism, and an estimated $160 million will be brought in through Championships. We are a “tourism-drive state,” Folz said, shifting focus to how the 2015 event will be beneficial to Colorado. The decision to have the Championships for a third time was a community decision, and the infrastructure and budgeting can be used from the previous proceedings, she said.
Finally, Folz examined if Denver would be in the running anytime soon to host the Games. It is highly contingent on the I-70 corridor, but maybe Summer 2024 or Winter 2026 will afford Colorado the chance. The facilities already exist, but she did note the possibly financial risks. “It’s not the Olympics that make us broke,” she said. “It’s the choices that are made around them.”
She concluded by stating that 13 percent of American pay attention to science while 60 percent tune into sports. Folz said that the Championships’ “really strong environmental method and message” could use events as a vehicle to teach about re-using and recycling, as well as other environmental issues. Paired with the building process to stimulate economic growth and the renovation of existing structures, she says that the Olympics could be just what Colorado needs.
“I would bet all of Gov. Lamm’s concerns still happened,” she said over a 2012 picture of Metro Denver. “1976 was a catalyst for change. It changed Colorado for good and bad.” The grudge of denying the Olympic Committee is fading away, though, and, she said, “in Gov. Lamm’s own words: ‘Colorado is the geography for hope,’ and we can hope.”
Nathaniel Kelley is a 2012 graduate from Lafayette College, who writes about environmental issues, health care reform and musicology.
Colorado College’s State of the Rockies Project Annual Spring Conference 2013
Day 1- Monday, April 8th, 2013
By Nathaniel Kelley, Rockies Project Writer
Are you a citizen scientist? You may not think so, but you’ve likely used Wikipedia, the popular free Internet encyclopedia with entries that can be created and edited by anyone around the world. Along the same line, citizen science rides on the back of technology and the proliferation of social media to foster large-scale field observations. The concept is now being applied to environmental projects to collect previously unimaginably large amounts of data that can then be dispersed to the greater scientific community.
Speakers at the first evening of Colorado College’s two-day annual State of the Rockies Project Conference, on April 8 at the Cornerstone Arts Center on campus, discussed this issue and others relating to this year’s overall theme: “Conservation in the Rockies: Issues of Citizen Science, Water Friendly Futures and Winter Recreation.”
Now in its 10th year, the Project examines 2,500 miles of the Colorado River, focusing on the basin. Expeditions traverse the length of the river, getting hands-on data. The output comes in many forms, though, from the annual Rockies Report Card to talks at Ivy League universities and a five-part online video series, which will premiere in late April. An expedition, entitled “Traversing the Spine of the Continent,” is slated for later this year to explore locales from the Crown of the Continent in Montana to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Thomas J. McMurray, president and chief executive officer of Marine Ventures Foundation, moderated Monday’s presentation, which focused on “Citizen Science in the Rockies: Outdoor Adventure Strengthening Knowledge of Nature.”
Since founding Marine Ventures in 2000, McMurray has been involved in a wide range of conservation project in the United States, Argentina, Mexico, Cuba, the Bahamas and Western Australia. He is also a co-founder of the BlueCloud Spatial, a collaborative project of dedicated research and conservation groups pursuing protection and restoration goals in some of the most important marine, estuarine and river ecosystems, in North and South American, and Western Australia.
Citizen science has been around for centuries, he said. Alexander Von Humboldt led a Latin American expedition from 1799-1804, studying animals and the surrounding culture and then dispersed that knowledge to the larger exploration community.
The Audubon Society carried the next torch, McMurray said, with its Christmas bird count, which began in 1900 with 27 participants. The three-week count consisted of watchers shooting birds and collecting them for classification. Last year, the count of visual confirmation had 60,000 counters observing over 70 million birds.
More recently, the Oxford Astrophysics department created the Galaxy Zoo program, which turned into Zooniverse. The program brings together 816,000 volunteers in 196 countries to look at space images and decide what each contains. This allows for the constituent parts of an image to be verified repeatedly. The next wave, McMurray said, is coming from emerging technologies, allowing for large-scale field observations. Web and App platforms are essentially free, allowing for rapid network growth. These “new ideas with a lot of risk” could speed up the accumulation of knowledge so that we can “move faster to protect the environment,” he believes.
McMurray outlined four steps to using this new system: community, content, curation and engagement. If the community can rally around a clear objective and understand it, people can effectively collect content. Technology allows for accurate data to be collected immediately, which then allows for quick digestion and turn-around back to the audience for evaluation.
Carson McMurray, a 2012 Colorado College graduate, discussed “Uses of Citizen Science on the 2012 Down the Colorado Expedition—Blue Cloud Mapping Effort.” The trip culminated in the Powell to Powell: Portraits of the Colorado River five-part online video series that will be shown in efforts with Canoe and Kayak Magazine.
The Down the Colorado Expedition was an 80-day trip that covered about 900 miles from the headwater of the Colorado River to Glen Canyon Dam. The travelers worked with the University of Colorado at Boulder and Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation to collect soil samples to trace carbon from recent fires. They also created an interactive map to display findings, and, most importantly, McMurray noted, they each experienced the Upper Colorado River firsthand.
“The story is so much more dynamic” living out there and interacting with the community surrounding the river, he explained. He talked to farmers, environmentalists and other people who had strong viewpoints about water rights issues. “You understand when you feel it,” he said. “It can’t be communicated. When you see it, it all clicks.”
McMurray made no qualms about why he began the venture, explaining that, as a recent graduate, he did not want to get a desk job, and this opportunity let him travel the Colorado River with some of his best friends. He went on to show the fourth episode of the documentary called “Confluence.” This section of the film focused on “community engagement” and how to get more people focused on the issues that plague the river.
Various experts talked about how the change begins with the simplest of choices, such as turning off the water when brushing one’s teeth, because it shows a mental commitment. Discussions can develop from there. The next step involves personal experience with the river. Once common ground is established, the larger culture can come to an understanding before “a multi-national corporation comes in and pushes us around to drill and mine and dam,” as one expert said. The river itself does not get any water allocation, even though it provides all of it, and no changes will come unless the public pressures lawmakers to “fix our rivers.”
McMurray shifted gears, bringing the focus back to a more local level on how citizen science could be improved at Colorado College. He mentioned current projects in the environmental and biology departments, as well as the State of the Rockies Project. Potential exists through the Outdoor Recreation Club, the Ritt Kellogg and Venture Grants—which have sent students on trips around the world, such as ice climbing in British Columbia—and the guided trips, such as the New Student Orientation, which could incorporate science components.
He did not shy away from mentioning the potential obstacles, though, such as the initial investment in creating the framework and the size of the smaller college. His collaboration with CU Boulder on the Expedition, though, helped show that cross-college studies can prove extremely beneficial. Lastly, McMurray mentioned desire as both the “greatest potential and obstacle,” nothing that it all depends on “if the student body wants to do it and the faculty is there to support them.”
Scott Loarie, a post-doctoral fellow in the department of global ecology at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, Calif., discussed “Can Social Networks Save Biodiversity?” His presentation focused on crowd-sourcing citizen-science data through the lens of the iNaturalist company that he co-founded.
Loarie’s goal is to “scale the collection of data,” especially in light of “two huge problems:” people’s lack of engagement with nature and the “incredible conservation problems we’ll have to face this century.” He cited climate change and the exploitation of wildlife as two of the many factors, saying we are finally witnessing a paradigm shift that requires “new tools to address.”
He showed a few studies that directly linked climate change to extinction, but the “extinctions happened under our nose” because the data could not handle that type of study. Technology has given us the possibility to map in real-time, for example, the deforestation of the Amazon, which has been crucial to slow down the process. We can’t use satellites for animals, though. That’s where “crowd sourcing” comes in.
Loarie used the example of reCAPTCHA, an online system that presents two words to users trying to watch a video or see a website to ensure that the viewer is human and not a computer. The system only cares about the first word, though. The second word is a Google project that uses imaging software to identify scanned text. When Google has difficulty recognizing a word, it puts it into reCAPTCHA where users repeatedly validate what a certain word is. “This is the kind of data we need to answer these questions,” Loarie says, noting how apps like eBird have used this same idea to generate over 100 million records.
His company, iNaturalist—a website and an app that over 400 other programs use as a platform—lets users share photos of animals and plants to then be verified by the larger community. Their mission is to “connect people to nature through technology” which, in turn, leads to a greater understanding of biodiversity. Each submitted picture has a time, date, and location, just like a museum ID. People using the app then debate and come to a conclusion about what species is represented in the picture.
“This is the kind of system we want,” he said, because it can “turn those things from photos into observations.” No longer is one person both the citizen and the scientist. Each entry is able to rely upon thousands of minds to decide what a bird is, not just one like the Audubon’s Christmas bird count.
Loarie worries most about incentivizing the program so that both the submitters and the scientists feel value returning back to them. Both parties are giving their time and content for free, so it is important that each gets validation, at least from the social networking community. The platform can “connect groups of people that haven’t interacted in the past” – those who have the knowledge and are passionate about it, and those who have the access to all of the different animals and plants that inhabit our word. All of that data gets sent to the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, and, at an estimated $50 a specimen, iNaturalist’s volunteers have already generated $3 million in value.
Brendan Weiner, an ex-fire fighter turned program director for Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation in Bozeman, Mont., discussed “Turning to Adventure Athletes for Data Collection.”
Founded in January 2011 by Greg Treinish, ASC wanted to find a way to do more with all of the time people spend outside. After Treinish spent 667 days traveling 7,800 miles through five countries along the length of the Andes (thereby winning the National Geographic Adventurer of the Year award), he decided to create a program that would focus on “bringing the adventure and science communities together” through pairing athletes that are already going out into the field with scientists that need data. Rowers, climbers, divers, mountaineers and adventurers of all kinds are now collecting useable and meaningful data for both parties.
Over the past two years, ASC has sent more than 80 people as pika researchers, who found perhaps the highest known specimen of ice worm ever collected, the highest known plant life (moss) on Earth from 22,000 feet on Mt. Everest, and two new species of single-celled algae. Some of these findings, such as the Everest moss, have larger implications that may lead to helping crops survive severe droughts. Their more than 34 ongoing projects allow for many people to make multiple observations of the same places, helping to prove the presence or absence of certain species.
ASC also leads guided outings, working with students, military veterans, nonprofit agencies, and other groups to take, for example, students from Oakland who had not previous been in nature and turning them into scientists that helped document pikas in areas that had not had solid records before. Their future goals include continuing “to work with as many adventurers as possible” to collect data from around the world.
The question and answer session at the end tackled a few of the persistent problems that exist in such a burgeoning and, currently, niche field. Loarie conceded that it is only a “small fraction of the population who wants to spend their weekend looking at wolverines,” but that he would “rather try to bring people into this tent than change the idea” because that would sacrifice the science.
He again noted that the scientists are not getting any professional reward for helping with these endeavors, and that there needs to be a way for scientists to engage with the public while also receiving academic feedback, as well.
Thomas McMurray brought the evening’s discussion full-circle, asking if “citizen science data is accepted as valuable” in the government and academic communities. The conclusion was a resounding “yes;” a Ph.D. student can only cover a few hectares of land over the course of an entire thesis study, but, with the help of crowd-sourced data, we all can cover so much more. Yes, Loarie said, we may sacrifice a bit of quality for quantity, but it is the Wikipedia model: errors are introduced and corrected so rapidly that program like iNaturalist now contribute data that is even more accurate than that of museums.
Nathaniel Kelley is a 2012 graduate from Lafayette College, who writes about environmental issues, health care reform and musicology.
State of the Rockies Conference 2012: Final Session of Conference on 4/10 highlighted Colorado’s Stake in the Colorado River Basin
Government agencies are aware of the concerns that the Colorado River won’t have enough water to meet legal obligations in coming years and are working to avoid that scenario, three industry experts said during the final presentation of the 2012 Colorado College State of the Rockies Project Conference.
Held April 9-10 on the campus, the concluding event Tuesday night featured a lineup of:
- Water Attorney Jennifer Gimbel, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board
- Colorado College alumnus Chris Treese, external affairs manager for the Colorado River District
- Eric Hecox, section chief for Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Water Supply Planning section
All spoke on the topic: “Colorado’s Stake in the Colorado River Basin: Managing Colorado’s Water for the Next Generation.”
Water: Front and Center
This is the year to focus on water, Gimbel said. Not only has Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper proclaimed 2012 as “The Year of Water,” several important anniversaries are being observed to commemorate long-standing commitments to ensuring sufficient water supply and acceptable quality. Her organization turns 75. The agency Treese works for will be 25.
And this marks the 90th year since the Colorado River Compact was signed. The agreement between the seven states of the river basin is a compromise of how the water should be allocated and includes depletion requirements. A treaty with Mexico was added in 1944.
New guidelines established in 2007 allow more flexibility within the existing framework of the Law of the River — the various legal mandates, decrees and court decisions governing the Colorado River Basin.
Shortages, meaning less water in the Lower Basin than the Compact allows, won’t happen until at least 2026, according to Gimbel. But some expert studies predict that by 2050, climate change and burgeoning uses of the river system will result in inadequate water to meet all of its allocated shares two-thirds to nine-tenths of the time.
Gimbel used this analogy: “It’s like a train coming at you at 3 mph. If you can’t get out of the way, it’s your own fault. We can see it coming, and it doesn’t mean we aren’t trying to do anything,” she said.
Already there are supply and demand imbalances, she said, “So we have to be paying attention.”
Drought conditions, rising temperatures and other factors have decreased the river’s water supply but reservoirs, such as Lake Powell and Flaming Gorge have helped in dry times, the speakers said.
Colorado River water extends far and wide, from faucets in Los Angeles to Phoenix. While there are competing interests for drinking, irrigating crops, energy development and other industrial uses, recreational activities and protecting the environment, the speakers believe solutions are at hand.
“It’s all about putting the water to beneficial use and sharing it,” Treese said. “Compromise, consensus and collaboration are very messy and time consuming, but they beat litigation.”
Decades of lawsuits involving Denver Water’s quest for additional supply, which serves about 1.5 million customers, have given way to new approaches, such as a water bank to ensure that human health and safety needs are met, and viewing the river as a whole system, including the riparian areas and native habitats.
Efforts are underway to protect supplies, including a salinity control program, which Treese said costs up to $50 million annually but yields $376 million annually in benefits.
“The program is working,” he said. “It means we have lettuce on our table in January.”
The Time Is Now
As the last speaker at this year’s conference, Hecox issued this warning: “Colorado faces significant and immediate water supply challenges.”
And if nothing changes, agricultural water allotments would be at risk of being sacrificed for municipal and industrial needs, he said.
“If we want to avoid that we’ll have to implement a mix of strategies,” Hecox said. “We’re not going to be able to conserve our way out of it.”
Losing agricultural irrigation, however, is generally considered unacceptable, he said, for economic and food security reasons. So preparing for climate change and population growth (Colorado is expected to have 10 million residents by 2050, twice as many as today) with innovative planning and water management is underway, he said, adding that, contrary to popular belief, water does not create or stop growth. Jobs do.
2012 State of the Rockies Conference: On 4/10 Governor Hickenlooper addressed youth and the future of Colorado’s water
While there’s no “single silver bullet” to solving the challenges facing the Colorado River Basin, Gov. John Hickenlooper said Tuesday that conservation will help ensure adequate water supply in the future.
“Our discipline around how much water we use is going to be the foundation of everything we do,” he said April 10, as a guest speaker at Colorado College’s annual State of the Rockies Project Conference.
For the past year, a team of Colorado College faculty and students have been examining issues pertaining to the Colorado River Basin, which starts in Wyoming and flows across seven southwestern states into Mexico, where the delta is now imperiled from numerous dams and diversions. Persistent drought, higher temperatures and other factors also have contributed to a decreasing water supply, at a time when demand is increasing from multiple interests.
Hickenlooper congratulated the students on the project and its findings, which five students outlined before the governor took the podium.
“You should be proud of the work those students have done – it’s very impressive,” he told Professor Walt Hecox, faculty director for the State of the Rockies Project, now in its ninth year.
The action steps students recommend in the 2012 State of the Rockies Report Card, which was released at the April 9-10 conference:
- Modify and amend the “Law of the River” to build in cooperation and flexibility, to remove the competition among users.
- Recognize the finite limits of the river’s supplies and pursue a “crash course” in conservation and water distribution.
- Embrace and enshrine basin-wide “systems thinking” in the region’s management of water, land, flora, fauna, agriculture and human settlements.
- Give “nature” a firm standing in law, administration and use of water in the basin.
- Adopt a flexible and adaptive management approach on a decades-long basis to deal with past, present and projected future variability of climate and hydrology.
Hickenlooper said he’s been a conservation advocate since he first took public office as Mayor of Denver in 2003.
“I tried to convince people by them using less water and keeping more water on the West Slope that they had a direct benefit — the better it is for people living in Denver and Colorado Springs and Fort Collins and Pueblo,” he said. “It’s not just skiing and white-water rafting. It’s farming and ranching and home values. A home on the Front Range (of Colorado) is worth more than Kansas City or Indianapolis.
He challenged students to bring “youthful exuberance, creativity, optimism and technology” into the picture to help address water supply and competing water rights interests for agriculture, drinking water, the environment and recreational activities.
“A lot of it is our own self-motivation or discipline (to conserve water). How do we make it joyful and give people a kick out of it? I think that’s where youth come in — young people always have a fresher way, a funnier way, a more interesting way of looking at almost everything,” he said.
Hickenlooper favors taking a cue from how other countries are testing new innovations to save water. Israel, for instance, he said, is using drip irrigation for almost all of its crops and is toying with using brackish water on certain crops.
“Conservation is the core of what we’re talking about. We need to make sure we don’t take any more water than is necessary from the West Slope,” he said.
In response to a student asking about preserving and replenishing underground water reserves, Hickenlooper said some cities, including Denver, are doing that.
“In Colorado, there’s great recognition that groundwater is precious. The key is to integrate the different water systems, with water providers talking to each other to do that,” he said.
Molly Mugglestone, project coordinator for Protect the Flows, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the Colorado River, followed the Governor’s address. Her advocacy group already is working on most of the CC students’ recommendations for preserving the Colorado River, she said.
The organization represents a coalition of nearly 400 businesses that depend on the river for their livelihood, from rafting companies to ski areas to fly fishing shops to outdoor retailers. About 800,000 jobs rely on the river, Mugglestone said, representing a multi-billion dollar recreation industry.
The group will release an economic impact study in May, which will demonstrate the economic value of recreational activity supported by a healthy Colorado River, she said, and is advocating on federal and local levels for recreational needs to be considered in water management decisions.
The organization’s website is www.protectflows.com.
The entire Colorado College 2012 State of the Rockies Report Card on “The Colorado River Basin: Agenda for Use, Restoration and Sustainability for the Next Generation” can be viewed at http://www2.coloradocollege.edu/stateoftherockies.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Director of U.S. Geological Survey Marcia McNutt speak at Rockies Conference on 4/9/2012
Protecting the environment and developing the economy can go hand-in-hand, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar told this year’s State of the Rockies Project Conference attendees in his keynote address April 9.
“When people say we have to choose, it’s a false choice. We can do both — we’re doing it here in Colorado,” he said. For example, “We know Colorado Springs and Denver will never grow together because hundreds of thousands of acres in Douglas County have been protected, and ranching life will be sustained,” Salazar said.
The annual conference is the culmination of the Colorado College State of the Rockies Project, a collaborative effort by faculty and students to examine issues affecting the environmental, social and economic health of the Rocky Mountain region. This year’s focus: “The Colorado River Basin – Agenda for Use, Restoration and Sustainability for the Next Generation.”
Students spent nine months studying the 1,400-mile river that extends across seven southwestern states, from Wyoming into Mexico. Their findings – that increasing demand and decreasing supply – will lead to severe water shortages in the future, and five action steps to take to prevent that from happening, were released at the conference’s opening day as well.
Salazar, who earned his undergraduate degree in political science from CC in 1977 before moving on to become a water and environmental law attorney, Colorado’s Attorney General and a U.S. Senator for Colorado, said he’s long touted a conservation agenda in conjunction with achieving economic goals.
“People would say, ‘Why are you concerned about conservation?’ I’d say, ‘It’s about the quality of life.’ And the conservation ethic we’ve been able to develop has given us great promise for economics in the future. It’s the same argument I’ve used in Washington, D.C.”
At the request of President Obama, Salazar is leading a “21st century conservation agenda” for the nation, known as America’s Great Outdoors initiative. It has three focuses. The first involves major restoration projects on 200 rivers, including the Colorado River. The creation of a National Water Trails System, which Salazar announced in February, is part of the improvements. The new network will increase access to water-based outdoor recreation, encourage community stewardship of local waterways and promote tourism.
Expanding urban parks and improving national landscapes through grassroots conservation are the other areas of concentration.
“When talking to the President, I describe it (the initiative) in ways I think accomplish both economic goals and a conservation agenda at the same time,” Salazar said, citing as an example preserving 1.1 million acres of tall grass prairies in Kansas to safeguard ranching as a livelihood, along with the native plants.
“It’s important that we protect our planet,” he said.
As a fifth generation Coloradan, Salazar said he’s familiar with the problems associated with the Colorado River.
“The Colorado River is already a water-short river — more water has been allocated than what that river has today, not only along southern states but with the treaty with Mexico,” he said, adding that a new allocation agreement with Mexico could be announced soon.
The river supplies about 25 million users with drinking water and irrigates 2.5 million acres of farmland, according to Marcia McNutt, director of the U.S. Geological Survey, who also addressed conference goers on Monday.
The river is ruled by decrees, rights, court decisions and laws referred to as the “Law of the River.” The keystone of these “commandments” is the 1922 Colorado River Compact, an interstate agreement for water allotments, which Salazar said was underestimated by 2 million acre feet the annual amount of water that could be extracted from the river.
“The Colorado River has been a highly litigated river over a long period of time. These compacts were put together not with the best knowledge or science. They missed the mark forecasting how much water would be available,” he said.
The river today is facing a future of a decreasing water supply due to climate change and other factors, and increasing demand for municipal, agricultural, industrial and recreational use.
In response to a question asked from the audience, Salazar said he doesn’t think the Compact will ever be opened up for negotiation: “The legacies that have been created over 89 years are so embedded in the Law of the River,” he said.
But that doesn’t mean the effort to resolve the water shortages, environmental needs, recreational opportunities, allocations to Mexico and the dry delta can’t be solved, he said.
“I’m optimistic no matter how hard these problems are, we can solve any one of these problems,” he said.
McNutt, the first female to head the U.S. Geological Survey in its 130-year history, said her mapping agency is working on mitigating the effects of dust, which decreases snowpack runoff. Eighty percent of the Colorado River’s water comes from snowpack.
“With just 5 percent less annual runoff, that’s two times Las Vegas’ annual allocation of water, 18 months of Los Angeles’ use and one-half of Mexico’s allocation,” she said.
Revising grazing policies, protecting native grasses, installing environmentally friendly fencing and digging trenches are other possibilities to help the problem, McNutt said.
Hope you can join us for the 2012 State of the Rockies Conference! http://youtu.be/X0YEID_5nI4
Whether we turn on a faucet in Los Angeles, Denver, or Phoenix, the water that flows out of it depends on the Colorado River for its supply. And the Colorado River depends on national and private forests as its source, a 1964 Colorado College graduate who works for the Obama administration said during February’s 2011-2012 Monthly Speaker and Conference Series.
Sponsored by Colorado College’s State of the Rockies Project, the event was held Monday, Feb. 6, in the Gates Common Room of Palmer Hall on the CC campus. This sixth and final Speaker Series was as well attended as previous presentations, drawing about 175 students, faculty and members of the general public.
The series is titled “The Colorado River Basin: Agenda for Use, Restoration and Sustainability for the Next Generation,” and has featured experts talking for the past six months about issues surrounding the Colorado River. Topics have ranged from legal problems regarding water rights and allocations to engineering challenges going into the future.
The February event presented CC alum Harris D. Sherman, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment. In that position, he oversees the U.S. Forest Service and its 50,000 employees, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The Denver native previously served under Gov. Bill Ritter as Executive Director of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources.
During his presentation “Healthy Forests for the Colorado River Basin,” Sherman said water from the Colorado River and other rivers in the nation rely on good forest management.
“Our ability to protect this green infrastructure is every bit as important as our ability to build dams, canals, water treatment plants and other infrastructure,” he said. “Most people don’t realize that half of the water we drink comes from national forests, along with state and private forests.”
Sherman said 66 million people get their water from national forests, including 27 million along the Colorado River Basin.
But the U.S. Forest Service is facing a host of challenges in managing its 155 forests:
- Climate change has brought drought conditions in southern and western states and record precipitation in the northern tier, resulting in massive wildfires, flooding and erosion. The trend is expected to persist: Precipitation in the Colorado River Basin is running 35 percent to normal;
- Catastrophic wildfires are mounting in size – Texas, New Mexico and Arizona had the largest wildfires in history last year. In the past decade, nine states have had record-setting fires, including Colorado’s Hayman Fire in 2002. The amount of annual burned acreage continues to increase, from 7 million in 2000 to 9 million in recent years, with predictions of excesses of 10 to 15 million, depending on the drought. Wildfires can adversely affect wildlife, erosion, flooding, tourism and recreation;
- Many homes abut forest land. Colorado leads the pack with 341,175 homes lying in what’s called a wildland-urban interface.
- Money is tight, and there are an estimated 65 to 80 million acres of national forest land needing restoration. Another 325 million acres of state and private forests fall into that category. Restoration costs $200 to $2,000 per acre, depending on the method, from prescribed burns to thinning techniques using machinery.
- Warmer winters have led to the proliferation of the bark beetle, which has led to the largest epidemic in history. The destructive beetle has impacted 41 million acres of forest land. Colorado has been hit the hardest, with 6.6 million acres affected by the disease. In addition to aesthetics, health and safety issues are arising from the destruction.
Despite the challenges, Sherman said the U.S. Forest Service is addressing the problems through creative solutions. Partnerships and collaborations are a key factor. The city of Denver, for example, is paying the Forest Service $17 million to work on 40,000 acres of national forest land to help protect five watersheds.
“We call this payment for eco-systems services. The Hayman Fire resulted in tremendous erosion, which almost brought Denver’s water system to its knees. They had major problems with filtration and water treatment issues,” Sherman said. “Denver’s now decided to be proactive.”
The Forest Service also is looking at how to create new markets for wood products. Because the housing and pulp and paper industries do not use as much wood as in the past, there aren’t as many avenues to sell trees that have been thinned or expired. One possibility is to convert wood chips to electricity. But Sherman said that hasn’t yet reached the point where it’s economically feasible.
Other efforts include educating homeowners to create clear areas between their houses and forest land and working with environmental groups about the benefits of thinning forests and replanting.
During a question-and-answer session, a student asked whether the Forest Service views fires as a natural process that has benefits. Sherman said the philosophy that all fires are bad has changed in recent years.
“For a long time, the Forest Service didn’t let fires burn because they were not good. The result: We’ve ended up with these vast, dense, monolithic forests, which is partly why we have the condition we have today. Fire has to be carefully controlled; we do 3.5 million acres a year of prescribed fires. But when you have a fire near a community or an area that has a high amount of recreation, you have to be careful. When they get out of hand, you have an unfortunate situation. It’s a balancing act.”
The monthly Speaker Series will culminate with the State of the Rockies Project annual conference, April 9-10, on the CC campus. A stellar lineup of officials working on the future management of the Colorado River Basin will give presentations, and organizers will release the annual Rockies report card.
Check the Rockies website, http://www2.coloradocollege.edu/stateoftherockies/conference.html, for more information regarding the conference.
The Navajo Nation and the wetlands of Mexico have something in common: Both should be at the table of discussion when it comes to water rights of the Colorado River Basin, according to two experts in their fields.
More than 175 Colorado College students, faculty and area residents heard the speakers’ cases for their causes Monday, Jan. 30, during the fifth presentation of the 2011-2012 Monthly Speaker and Conference series, sponsored by Colorado College’s State of the Rockies Project.
The series is titled “The Colorado River Basin: Agenda for Use, Restoration and Sustainability for the Next Generation,” and features experts talking each month through February about issues surrounding the Colorado River.
The January event, held in the Gates Common Room in Palmer Hall on campus, presented two skilled professionals:
- Bidtah Becker, a member of the Navajo Nation and an attorney who works for the Water Rights Unit of the Navajo Nation Department of Justice, where she focuses on legal protection of the Nation’s water rights; and
- Dr. Osvel Hinojosa-Huerta, Director of the Pronatura Noroeste’s Water and Wetlands Program and the Associated Director of the Birds Program of Pronatura Noroeste, based in San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora, Mexico.
Despite having century-old legal backing for water rights, the Navajo Nation, whose reservation lies almost entirely within the Colorado River Basin, is still fighting to quantify its water rights and get safe drinking water delivered to its 180,000 residents, Becker said.
It’s estimated that Navajos have the highest rate of water-borne illnesses of any Native American nation in the United States, she said. Reservation residents truck in their water in tanks and use anywhere from 10 to 100 gallons per person per day, compared with the average U.S. consumption of 160 gallons per person per day, according to Becker.
But a project she has been working on, the $1 billion Navajo Gallup Water Supply Project, is underway to help accomplish the goal of improving the health of the Navajo Nation by delivering clean drinking water, and fostering economic development on the reservation, which stretches across New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.
“It’s so exciting,” Becker said. “This project was unspeakable for decades, but when you talk about a resource like water, over time, people start doing the right thing. We all need access to water.”
Hinojosa-Huerta, whose contributions to environmentalism include efforts to restore the Colorado River delta, also provided evidence that progress is being made. Since 1997, his conservation organization, Pro Natura, has been working on creating international relationships for water policy and restoration of the delta.
Water rights for the Colorado River currently are over-allocated by 16 percent, he said. The river, one of the most regulated in the world, has 10 major dams and 80 major diversions, which he said have led to the loss of 80 percent of wetlands, significantly reduce river flows and decreased the population of Riparian-related birds. Drought conditions in the past few years haven’t helped, either.
But an initiative to restore the delta and improve environmental conditions at priority sites in the U.S. and Mexico recently has made strides, he said. Negotiations and collaborations between the two countries on how to manage the basin have resulted in new strategies and tools, Hinojosa-Huerta said.
For example, 30 percent of the effluent from a wastewater treatment plant is being used for wetlands use, and agricultural drainage in the largest wetland in the delta is being desalted by the Yuma Desalting Plant in Arizona, to protect the area, called Cienega de Santa Clara.
“What we learned is that bi-national cooperation is possible and essential – 10 years ago it wasn’t possible to talk about an agreement for restoration. Now that’s exactly what’s happened,” Hinojosa-Huerta said. “We have a good regulatory framework, and we know that with the right policies and support from different stakeholders, we can make it work. Water allocation is feasible. Protection of wetlands is feasible.”
Asked by an attendee during the question-and-answer period whether any mechanical methods can be utilized to increase water supply – such as covering reservoirs to reduce evaporation — Hinojosa-Huerta said conservation and efficiency appear to be the current mode of thinking.
When another audience member asked whether water supply can be protected from “enemies like fracking,” an oil and natural gas drilling process that uses copious amounts of water, Hinojosa-Huerta said that legal allocation of water will be necessary to secure adequate supplies for human consumption and environmental protection.
The final speaker event will be held Monday, Feb. 6, from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Gates Common Room in Palmer Hall. Harris D. Sherman, a CC alum and the Under Secretary for Natural Resources for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will present “Healthy Forests for the Colorado River Basin.”
He oversees the U.S. Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service and previously served as Executive Director of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources, under Gov. Bill Ritter.
The monthly Speaker Series culminates with the State of the Rockies Project annual conference, April 9-10, on the CC campus. A stellar lineup of officials working on the future management of the Colorado River Basin will give presentations.
Check the Rockies website, http://www2.coloradocollege.edu/stateoftherockies/speakerseries.html, for more information regarding upcoming events.
The next State of the Rockies Speakers Series event is next Monday, January 30th, 2012 at 7pm in the Gates Common Room of Palmer Hall on the CC campus. Join us for the talk, titled, Unheard Voices of the Colorado River Basin: Bringing Mexico and Native American Tribes to the Table.
Two new videos from the Rockies Project Source to Sea Journey are up on the Rockies YouTube channel!
We’ve just posted two new videos from Will and Zak up on the Rockies YouTube channel. The first details their journey from Flaming Gorge to Lodore Canyon, the second from Desolation Canyon to the Grand. Here’s the first video.
For the second video and the other Source to Sea videos visit the Rockies Project YouTube channel.