‘The calamity we are facing is our potential inability to balance supply and demand in an orderly way’ — Hannah Holm #CORiver

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Here’s a recap of the Upper Colorado River Basin Water Conference hosted by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University Nov. 8-9, from Hannah Holm running in the Grand Junction Free Press. Here’s an excerpt:

The heavy train [heading towards a cliff] is our collective use of Colorado River water, and the calamity we are facing is our potential inability to balance supply and demand in an orderly way. According to a nearly complete study on Colorado River Basin water supply and demand coordinated by the US Bureau of Reclamation, we’ve passed the point where use of the basin’s water resources exceeds the quantity provided by Mother Nature. The fact that the train wreck isn’t here yet is because of big reservoirs that store water from year to year. Climate change shows no sign of helping: The mean of all the models used in the bureau study indicates higher variability from year to year and a decline in average natural flows at Lee Ferry of 9% by 2060…

Top water officials from Colorado, Utah and New Mexico who spoke at the conference said that while we need to help the Lower Basin states solve their water problems, the solutions most definitely do not include eating into the Upper Basin’s share of the river. On that score, the Upper Basin officials were united. The Lower Basin train can wreck without us.

However, under the terms of the 1922 compact, if hydrology and increased use in the Upper Basin conspire to drop flows past Lee Ferry below 7.5 million acre feet in any 10-year period, we could be required to curtail uses until those flows are restored. This, a “compact call,” is the Upper Basin’s own train wreck scenario. It appears to be farther off than the Lower Basin’s train wreck, but it’s likely enough and close enough to be taken seriously…

Fortunately, the [Bureau of Reclamation's] study, recent history and presentations by other conference participants do show encouraging signs that the principal players can work together to identify options. The bureau study itself is an example of cooperation among numerous stakeholders. It is subjecting numerous options for adding to supply and curtailing demand to rigorous analysis on their reliability, financial cost and environmental cost. The options include desalination, re-use, and importation of water from elsewhere. The seven basin states have also cooperated recently to coordinate reservoir operations between Lake Powell and Lake Mead, and a new proposed agreement with Mexico would allow for releases to recharge wetlands in Mexico. Work is also underway to figure out how to temporarily transfer water from farms to cities in times of drought, rather than permanently dry up farmland.

As the parties continue to work together, with input from the public, we may be able to curve the tracks so our various train cars skirt the edge of the cliff, instead of going over it. Or something like that. To find out more about the study, go to http://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/programs/crbstudy.html.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

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