Equilibrium in the #ColoradoRiver Basin — John Fleck #resilience

Lake Mead water levels via NOAA
Lake Mead water levels via NOAA

Here’s a look at a system’s ability to recover from a shock and what a low Lake Mead says about the Colorado River Basin, so far, in the 21st century. Click through and read the whole thing and for John’s optimism. Here’s an excerpt:

Melinda Harm Benson, part of my University of New Mexico water policy posse, has been teaching me about “resilience”, which as she carefully defines it means the ability of a system to absorb a shock and retain its basic functional characteristics. In a very helpful paper applying this line of thinking to the Rio Grande, Benson borrows this definitional language from Brian Walker and David Salt: “the capacity of a system to absorb a spectrum disturbance and reorganize so as to retain essentially the same function, structure, and feedbacks—to have the same identity.”

What we are seeing in the great emptiness of Lake Mead is a disturbance – substantially less water than we’ve every had before in the system, with demands that are simultaneously as large as, if not larger than, anything seen before in the system.

But the definition of resilience I’m using here begs an important question: who gets to decide what functions are to be retained? What is in, and what is out?

When I say “the system,” I intend something that requires some care in definition. It includes not only the river, but the infrastructure we have built on top of it over the last century to move its water for uses elsewhere, and the society that we have built based on the availability of that water.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

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