2013 State of the Rockies Conference- Day 2, April 9th, 2013

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.

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