Greetings from Kathleen Curry, Gunnison Basin Round Table Chair
First, on behalf of the Gunnison River Basin Roundtable (GRBT) I want to thank everyone involved in putting this monthly newsletter out! This is the inaugural greeting from the Chair of the GBRT and we hope to make this a monthly feature of the Gunnison Basin Newsletter.
I think, now more than ever, that it is critical to expand communications from the water community. The threats we face are growing, especially now as we are in the throes of Covid-19 response measures.
Where does the water community fit in as we all wrestle with the uncertainty, fear, frustration, and the economic devastation associated with the Covid-19 pandemic?
Water supply and water management clearly fall into the “Essential Services” category. Drinking water still needs to be delivered, even if some customers can’t afford to pay their bills. Wastewater still needs to be treated, regardless of the financial crunch. The world needs to be fed. Crops need to be planted, water needs to be diverted, infrastructure needs to be maintained, the work goes on.
From a Gunnison basin perspective, I am thankful that the runoff should be near average (can you imagine if we had a severe drought on top of all that is currently happening?!) the creeks are starting to run, the Gunnison Tunnel is diverting, irrigators are hard at work getting their water into the fields, crops are emerging, calves are being born, and the agricultural sector remains the backbone of our economy, paying its employees, supporting local hardware stores, implement dealers, coops and more.
On the municipal side, clean, safe drinking water is being treated and delivered to thirsty customers. Wastewater operators are keeping our rivers clean. And we are all banking on a future that looks like some kind of return to normalcy. One that is marked by selling annual crops and cattle at a decent market price, providing our citizens with high quality meat and produce and enabling folks to enjoy the way of life we have come to appreciate, and love, in our basin.
But anxiety persists. “What if the commodity markets collapse?” “What if our customers can’t pay their bills?”
The situation is worsened because we have little or no control over worldwide market forces that could cause a major, market collapse.
Fortunately, there is something that we can do individually and collectively – our actions can help limit the spread of the disease. Work from home and stay at home when possible. Don’t stand close to anyone, wear a mask, wear gloves. Take special care with vulnerable populations, be patient.
I REALLY feel for all of the folks that are out of work, and the small businesses that may never re-open and the lost loved ones and the scariness of this disease.
As all of us in the Gunnison Basin do our best to move forward with our lives, let’s hope that we can keep the timeframe on this disruption to a minimum. – Kathleen Curry, Gunnison
Throughout the 2000s, grim reports of crumbling, pale corals multiplied, arriving from remote South Pacific atolls, the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea and, once again this year, from Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, where the overheated Pacific Ocean scalded corals for the third time in five years. The renewed bleaching of the world’s largest reef confirms that coral reefs globally are in big trouble, said scientists, many of whom reported that their dismay has been compounded by government failures to protect collapsing coral-based ecosystems despite decades of warnings.
In the Caribbean, global warming has already pushed some reef ecosystems over a climate cliff. Today’s underwater landscapes are nearly unrecognizable for scientists and divers who started visiting them 50 years ago, said University of Windsor coral reef ecologist Peter Sale.
“What we are doing to coral reefs is akin to eliminating all the rainforests on the planet,” he said. “Coral reefs are probably going to be the first globally distributed ecosystem wiped off the face of the Earth by humans.”
Corals bleach when the water they inhabit gets too warm, and they shed the pigmented algaes that provide them with food through photosynthesis. The affliction isn’t always fatal. Depending on the intensity of the event, reefs can partly recover in a decade, but lately, the waves of bleaching have come so fast that there’s no time for recovery, Sale said. Mass coral reef bleaching has become five times more common in the past 40 years, research shows.
Since the first global bleaching event in 1998 shocked coral scientists with its reach and intensity, subsequent die-offs affected reefs in regions with no known history of bleaching, including some in Hawaii. Sale said that, even if global warming is capped at the limit set by the Paris climate agreement, 90 percent of the planet’s reefs will disappear.
“Reefs are toast if we let warming get much above 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit),” he said. “I am surprised at the fact that the bleaching of coral reefs has not evoked the response from society that I would have thought. Since 1998, scientists all assumed it would be a huge wakeup call to do something. We’ve been surprised and disappointed.”
It’s not for lack of trying. The most recent key reports from the International Panel on Climate Change included stark warnings about the reef death spiral and urged immediate, significant cuts of greenhouse gas pollution to avert their annihilation.
The world’s failure to act decisively to avoid mass global coral extinctions is anguishing for Australian coral reef scientist Terry Hughes. His annual surveys of the decline of the Great Barrier Reef have led him to publicly spar with his own government and with Rupert Murdoch-owned Australian media when they downplay the damage caused by global warming or promote reef-threatening projects like the expansion of a coal-shipping terminal in North Queensland, where dredging would harm corals.
The proposed pipeline is still undergoing a one-year review process overseen by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which has said that Kane County’s exit has not affected the timeline for the draft environmental impact statement it expects to release this summer…
The revised design has removed a 10-mile spur that would have carried water from the pipeline northward to Johnson Canyon in Kane County. However, a “T-joint” will likely be included where the junction would have been built, giving the county the option to tap into the resource at a later date…
Kane County’s departure marks the second time a Southwest Utah county has walked away from the project.
Iron County officials backed out in 2012, citing concerns over raised impact fees, taxes and rates.
But Washington County’s need for the water has never been clearer, said Zach Renstrom, the executive director of the Washington County Water Conservancy District.
“The same process that came back and said that Kane County won’t need this project in the foreseeable future is actually confirming that Washington County does need the water,” he said.
Washington County’s population is projected to triple to over 500,000 people by 2065, according to demographic research from the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.
The county was already slated to receive 95% of the water carried by the pipeline prior to Kane County’s withdrawal, Renstrom added.
There has been passionate – and honest – argument about how many people are likely to get sick and die under different circumstances and sets of official rules. It’s not clear how uncertain and evolving scientific findings should affect extraordinary government measures that restrict citizens’ basic freedoms.
Dissent – and the freedom to do it – is a crucial element of democracy. Political leaders are rightly influenced by public opinion. But it’s important to know when protests are sparked by special-interest groups seeking to manipulate officials’ perception of public sentiment.
As a journalist who has covered politics for 20 years and now studies how people process uncertainty, I note that the questions about the current protests raise echoes of the Tea Party movement a decade ago.
In February 2009, the Obama administration was grappling with a severe economic crisis caused by a collapse in the mortgage market. A reporter on CNBC, Rick Santelli, began to complain that one part of the federal bailout plan, the Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan, might let people out of their mortgage obligations even if they should have anticipated they wouldn’t be able to afford them and would face foreclosure.
Santelli made this point on TV while standing on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, surrounded by very wealthy traders who egged him on. It was compelling entertainment, and the speech spread rapidly through conservative media. Radio host Rush Limbaugh replayed it on his show; conservative strategists admired it, and millions of conservatives heard it.
Santelli called for a modern-day “tea party” to object to unfair government rules.
Within months, a coalition of anti-immigration reform activists, fiscal hawks, regulation opponents and social conservatives pulled together behind a common set of grievances: Barack Obama’s alleged profligate spending, his willingness to let certain groups get ahead in the economy over other groups – policies that many of them viewed as putting racial minorities at a perceived advantage to white people.
Social scientists who study new movements in politics find that the underlying sentiments are as old as civilization itself: Who gets the stuff that the government gives out? What’s fair? Who’s jumped the line?
The movement needs a common enemy – in that case, Obama, his policies and a political structure that permitted them – and the potential for real change, not just politically but socially as well. For those joining the Tea Party, the goal became clear: They could take over the Republican Party.
Fairly quickly, the Tea Party was co-opted by wealthier interests hoping to channel its energy toward slightly different ends – although much of the movement resisted the corporate takeover of its message. Public opinion surveys backed up the intuition that the movement had force.
A viral ideology
In mid-April 2020, it appeared, a new movement was rising to express frustration with the restrictions and uncertain endpoint to the pandemic, and the economic toll the lockdown has caused.
In the space of several days, there were protests in a dozen states, ranging from a crowd of more than 2,000 who gathered in Olympia, Washington, to several dozen in Annapolis, Maryland.
The available evidence suggests that the demonstrations were organized by paid political operatives using Facebook and new websites to encourage conservatives to protest in specific places against specific governors who had imposed strong public health restrictions on economic activity. This context indicates that one real intention of the protests was to create the illusion of an organic movement that had arisen to object to the restrictions. Evidence is to the contrary: Polling shows that just 12% of Americans think their local restrictions have gone too far – and 26% think they don’t go far enough.
Several others of the “reopen” websites were registered with addresses or phone numbers used by longstanding conservative enterprises like Freedom Works. A surprising number belonged to an activist who told Mother Jones that he registered the domains to keep conservatives from using them to counter the recommendation of public health officials.
The threat of fake grassroots
For the people who took part, the protests were no doubt real.
But that creates a sense that these protests grew quickly, spontaneously, and organically. The fact that protests happened in different places at different times doesn’t actually mean they’re spreading. When organized by the same small group of political operatives, sequential protests reflect the creators’ skill at mobilizing people – not a naturally rising level of frustration that ultimately pushes people to act.
Many political movements use these tactics. The problem comes from how the media presents the resulting events. On April 21, a labor union organized a protest by nurses at the White House – and media reports noted the event was created by a particular group with a specific purpose. That’s different from how the media treated the “reopen” gatherings.