From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
California’s water-supply problem is by default the problem of the entire Colorado River Basin, and basin states ignore it at their own peril, two speakers warned Thursday.
“You have to keep track of what’s going on in California. California affects the Colorado River and vice versa,” Jennifer Gimbel, principal deputy secretary for water and science at the U.S. Department of Interior, said during the Colorado River District’s annual water seminar in Grand Junction.
Pat Mulroy, retired general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, warned that Lake Mead is dropping ever closer to a point at which it would no longer be capable of releasing water for downstream uses. That will lead to panic and irrational behavior, she predicted, and federalization of a river system under which water is now governed and allocated by interstate compact.
“We will have all-out chaos,” said Mulroy, now senior fellow for climate adaptation and environmental policy at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ law school.
California is coping with a severe drought, the effects of which have been amplified by the inability of varying interests there to build flexibility into water management, store water in wet years and otherwise prepare for dry times, Mulroy said.
“The story of California is the story of missed opportunities, and of the inability, the human inability, to find solutions,” she said.
Gimbel, former director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said part of California’s problem is a lack of sufficient in-state water storage capability to help it prepare for dry years, as opposed to the high-capacity storage provided by Lake Mead and Lake Powell on the Colorado.
“It’s quite honestly what’s saved our bacon over these last 15 years of the drought,” Gimbel said.
She said the heavy precipitation during what’s being called the “Miracle May” earlier this year helped stabilize water levels in Lake Powell. That has provided some breathing room for dealing with what’s an ongoing drought, and efforts to deal with it must continue, Gimbel said.
She said Lower Basin states have had “difficult discussions” in this regard, “and when things get bad people tend to go back to their positions.”
“… I think that we have to do better on this river. We cannot give up, and it means that when we get scared we cannot retreat to our corners and close the door. We can’t do it alone.”
She hopes that Colorado learns from California’s experience “about drawing lines in the sand, litigating and being unable to move forward.” She said as work began on Colorado’s state water plan, she worried about the rhetoric she was hearing, and about people falling back to their standard positions.
“You can protect what you want to protect, go after what you want to go after,” but everyone has to work together, said Gimbel, who praised the progress that since has been made on the plan.
Said Mulroy, “It is not easy to try to find a new balance point, it is not easy to try to understand your adversary’s position or your fellow stakeholder’s position.”
That is something that has yet to occur in California, she said.
Mulroy sees a need for people to view themselves as citizens of the Colorado River Basin. Everyone has to conserve water and participate in the management of the system, and water needs to be viewed not just as a right but a responsibility, she said.
“If we each take a little bit less in times when we can … and we set limits on how far we’re comfortable letting the system drop before we start recharging the system, then we won’t be sitting in front of dry reservoirs,” Mulroy said.
Asked about concern on the Front Range that conservation measures could mean fewer green lawns and reduced property values, she talked about the initial resistance in the Las Vegas area to efforts to have homeowners convert to more desert landscaping, before they realized it could be beautiful and also end the need to mow lawns.
“It is a real cultural shift, but people need to understand there is a need to conserve,” Mulroy said.
She said that in considering the challenges river basin states face in the years ahead, it’s important to keep in mind the “amazing transformation” that has occurred in connection with the Colorado River’s management over the last 20 years. Parties in Colorado and other states have overcome acrimony and finger-pointing to forge agreements that have drawn attention from people in other parts of the world who have river systems facing similar challenges.
“We need to look at the successes in order to keep the challenges that we face in perspective and not perceive them as insurmountable,” Mulroy said.
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Duffy Hayes):
Amid lots of previous discussion about a Front Range water grab, by way of a new transmountain diversion, speakers from the host group of Thursday’s water conference hoped to persuade attendees to focus their future attention on a more immediate need — water conservation and decreasing people’s usage.
Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District, host of the 2015 Annual Water Seminar, focused his talk on “demand management,” a different way of saying finding ways to use less of the water in the river.
“If we’re in a problem, we’ve got to reduce our demands,” Kuhn told the audience. “Utilities do it. Every utility has a contingency plan for demand management. We should look at the (Colorado River Basin) as a big utility, and we’re going to have to figure out — when those times are needed, when the conditions are right — how to manage our demand.”
“The need for demand management is matter of when, not if,” Kuhn said.
As water officials across the state continue to work toward a statewide water plan, too much focus thus far has been on defending West Slope water interests from a new transmountain diversion — or TMD — of Colorado River water, speakers said.
“Our message is, if you look at the future, TMD is always a significant issue, but there are other things, now including preserving existing uses, that in our view have reached a par with, or exceeded in significance, that need for a TMD,” Kuhn said.
“We really need to stop focusing on this notion of a new transmountain diversion,” said Dan Birch, deputy general manager of the Colorado River District, who spoke after Kuhn. “A new TMD is not a real clear and present danger that we have in front of us.”
Click here to go to the #CRDSeminar Twitter stream from yesterday’s seminar.