We will never see men like Goldwater and Brower again. Nor will we see people like their cohorts, such as Floyd Dominy of the Bureau of Reclamation and the writer Edward Abbey; they were men of a certain time in America that no longer exists.
We can’t go back to that America any more than we can return to the days before the Civil War, or to the Indian Wars, and fix things. We’re stuck with the aftermath of those decisions, many of them poorly informed, unwise or downright bad. And, sadly, as the Hoover Commission warned 63 years ago, the consequences will be with us for generations to come.
The Colorado River, though, is a special case. It has always been a special case; now, more than ever. The drought that grips the Southwest today is the worst in 1,250 years, say some experts, and it shows no sign of releasing its grip. No doubt, the region’s leaders despair over vanishing options. The Bureau of Reclamation has announced it may start rationing water from Lake Mead to downstream states by 2015. And no climate model is predicting rain.
The first state in line to lose water from diminishing reserves is Arizona. Suddenly, those 280 golf courses in the greater Phoenix area — not to mention the tens of thousands of swimming pools — look kind of ridiculous. What in the world were we thinking?
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
Officials from United Water and Sanitation District joined state and local government dignitaries and leaders of area water districts on October 18 to dedicate Arapahoe County Water and Wastewater Authority’s (ACWWA) Chambers Reservoir and celebrate ACWWA taking initial renewable water deliveries from its ACWWA Flow Project.
United played a key role in development of both the Chambers Reservoir and the ACWWA Flow Project, building the reservoir for ACWWA and acquiring the 4,400 acre-feet of renewable water that is the keystone of the ACWWA Flow Project.
We’re less than a month in, but 2014 is already shaping up to be a tough year for rivers. Across the nation, from West Virginia to California, the headlines have been bleak. In the Rocky Mountain region, we’re gearing up for a long year defending the Colorado and San Pedro rivers.
Following recognition as America’s most endangered river in 2013, the Colorado River has become known nationwide for the unsustainable balance that exists between increasing diversions and declining flows. Much of the West has been built on a foundation of Colorado River water and millions of people in communities throughout the region depend on it on a daily basis. On-going regional drought and continued growth are now finally forcing water supply managers to accept that business as usual is no longer tenable and changes are coming to the basin.
This year will see the first mandated reduction in flows from Lake Powell (upper basin) downstream to Lake Mead (lower basin). The Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that oversees the Colorado River “system,” now reports that there are even odds that water from Lake Mead will be rationed by 2015—an outcome that may be predicated on this year’s snowfall.
Under the byzantine mechanism that is the Colorado River water supply system, water providers have grown accustomed to taking what they want, when they want. And even though the agreement that underlies the system, the Colorado River Compact, is based on a fundamental mistake—it allocated far more water than is actually available, even before considering what climate change will do to the river’s flows—making these minor changes has required historic and traumatic efforts.
In the face of the ongoing wrestling match over who gets what water from the Colorado River, Earthjustice and our conservation partners are working to keep water in the Colorado source-to-sea. It is imperative that we remember that the river is more than a sponge that can be wrung dry to meet our municipal, industrial and agricultural needs. The Colorado River is home to endangered species and the linchpin of a complex regional ecosystem supporting irreplaceable wildlife and natural communities. Arising in the mountains of Wyoming and Colorado and cutting across an arid region to the Gulf of California, this river is the lifeblood of its region like no other. The Colorado is also host to numerous recreational and economic opportunities, a vital element of our region, but only as long as it flows.
Pueblo City Councilwoman Eva Montoya was elected to chair the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District board last week. Colorado Springs Councilman Val Snider will serve as vice chairman. The board’s top job rotates between elected officials in El Paso and Pueblo counties annually. The board has nine members — four from each county and one from the citizens advisory group.
Other Pueblo County members are Commissioner Terry Hart; Melissa Esquibel of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board; and Jane Rhodes, who owns land on Fountain Creek.
Other El Paso County members are Commissioner Dennis Hisey, Palmer Lake Trustee Michael Maddox, and Fountain Mayor Gabe Ortega.
Richard Skorman, of Colorado Springs, represents the CAG, which is made up of members from both counties. On Friday, the board also approved 14 appointments each to the CAG and its Technical Advisory Committee.
The board also renewed Executive Director Larry Small’s contract at $30,000 per year.
Meanwhile the district is keeping an eye out for project dough from Colorado Springs. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:
Will the City for Champions drive to boost tourism in Colorado Springs detract from funds for flood control? The question was raised Friday by Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart at the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, who heard the comment in a recent television report.
El Paso County members of the district immediately assured him the funding streams are separate and would not impair a drive to get some sort of stormwater fee or tax on this November’s ballot.
“If we see another major project competing, we sit up and take notice,” Hart said. “We’re looking for a dedicated revenue source for stormwater.”
The question of Colorado Springs stormwater funding has vexed Pueblo County officials since 2009, when City Council abolished a stormwater enterprise created four years earlier and funded for just three years. As part of conditions for a 1041 land use permit for Southern Delivery System, Colorado Springs pledged to keep its stormwater utility in place. The permit even requires other communities that tie onto SDS to have an enterprise like Colorado Springs had in place.
A regional task force began meeting in 2012, when Colorado Springs leadership admitted it should be funding $13 million-$15 million in stormwater projects annually. Two of the largest, most destructive fires in the state’s history have compounded the potential damage from flooding. Richard Skorman, a former Colorado Springs councilman who has worked with the stormwater task force, said it is moving toward a way to fund stormwater improvements on a more permanent basis and place a measure on the November ballot.
El Paso County Commissioner Dennis Hisey and Fountain Creek district Executive Director Larry Small, another former Springs councilman, said Mayor Steve Bach’s City for Champions proposal uses a sales tax incremental financing plan, rather than a direct tax or fee. City for Champions is a $250 million package to fund an Olympic museum, stadium, arena and other improvements designed to draw tourists to the Pikes Peak region. Meanwhile, El Paso County is faced with a backlog of about $750 million in stormwater projects. The city also has shortfalls in transportation and parks funding, Small said.
The Fountain Creek district has the ability to assess a 5-mill tax on property owners in El Paso and Pueblo County under the 2009 law that created it. Last year, the Fountain Creek board agreed to hold off on asking for any tax increase until Colorado Springs and El Paso County dealt with the stormwater issue.