From The Arizona Republic (Ian James):
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said he asked the Bureau of Reclamation to start the review at the beginning of 2020, rather than by the end of 2020, which is the deadline under the existing agreement.
The bureau’s officials will examine how the 2007 guidelines have worked as the agency prepares for negotiations among the seven states on a new set of rules that will take effect after 2026.
“It makes sense to review how well something worked before determining its replacement,” Bernhardt said Friday during a speech at a Colorado River conference in Las Vegas. “We think that starting now and not waiting until the deadline a year from now makes sense.”
Climate change, energy development
He didn’t mention the words climate change during his speech at the conference. But during a press conference afterward, reporters asked Bernhardt about the role of climate change.
“I certainly believe the climate is changing,” Bernhardt said. “I spend a lot of time with our scientists, and I spend a lot of time with our models. And you know, what the scientists tell me is that the best thing we can do is make sure that if we’re using a model, we use multiple models and multiple ranges within each model. And so that’s what I’ve insisted on when we’re looking forward to the future.”
In projecting the river’s flows into the future, he said, “we absolutely follow best practices all the time.”
President Donald Trump’s administration has begun pulling out of the landmark Paris climate agreement, and has promoted oil and gas drilling.
In California, the Trump administration is moving forward with a plan that could open up about 1.2 million acres to new oil and gas drilling. When asked about environmental groups’ opposition to the plan, Bernhardt said: “We have really strong policy guidance and laws that say that we’re supposed to develop energy, and we will develop energy responsibly.”
Before joining the Trump administration, Bernhardt worked as a lobbyist for the oil and gas industry in the West.
“The president was very clear when he ran for office on his position on energy. He’s for an all-of-the-above approach,” Bernhardt said. He pointed out that oil development on federal lands has generated revenues in New Mexico for schools and other state programs.
“And so, when people tell me that they want to stop oil and gas development on federal lands, I say call the governor of New Mexico,” Bernhardt said.
A ‘disconnect’ in Trump policies
John Fleck, director of the University of New Mexico’s Water Resources Program, said Bernhardt’s comments reflect a dichotomy within the federal government in which officials are taking steps on climate adaptation but not on combating planet-warming emissions.
On the one hand, water managers at the Bureau of Reclamation are working with scientists and using climate models to assess risks and project the river flows into the future, Fleck said.
“They’re absolutely taking climate change seriously. It’s built into the modeling work they’re doing,” Fleck said. “You don’t find water managers doubting the reality of human-caused climate change and its effects. They’re seeing it in the flow in their systems, and they’re dealing with it.”
On the other hand, he said, there is a “disconnect” in that the Trump administration isn’t taking steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“So that increases our risk,” Fleck said. “That’s a problem because we need to reduce greenhouse gases to mitigate the effects on the Colorado River.”
Bernhardt said the government’s review will focus on “what’s worked, what’s not worked.” He said that will include looking at lessons as the water cutbacks kick in next year under the drought deal.
Bernhardt said while the Colorado River Basin faces growing challenges, he is optimistic that parties across the region will continue working together to solve problems.
“We have a legacy here of states cooperating in a way that is absolutely incredible,” he said.