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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.
We’ve just posted new photos to the Rockies Project Flickr page here: http://www.flickr.com//photos/stateoftherockies/sets/72157628012069841/show/. Here are some of the best from their time in the Grand Canyon:
Will paddles through a side canyon of the Grand.
Zak tackles some rapids in the Grand.
In the last few weeks our Rockies Project Field Researchers left the Grand Canyon, crossed Lake Mead, traveled over Hoover Dam and down through Black Canyon and have just crossed Lake Mohave. Up next is Lake Havasu and Parker Dam before continuing south towards Mexico. Follow their progress through their SPOT GPS here: http://share.findmespot.com/shared/faces/viewspots.jsp?glId=03tlc4QaiXLxIl397nG6BRPCsFzK69usD.