Now, many of the scientists’ dire predictions are coming to pass, with Lake Mead and Lake Powell nearly three-fourths empty and their water levels continuing to fall. Some researchers say the seven states that depend on the river would have been better prepared had they acted years ago.
“If I’ve learned anything recently, it’s that humans are really reluctant to give things up to prevent a catastrophe,” said Brad Udall, a water and climate scientist at Colorado State University. “They’re willing to hang on to the very end and risk a calamity.”
He said it’s just like humanity’s lack of progress in addressing climate change despite decades of warnings by scientists. If larger cuts in water use were made sooner, Udall said, the necessary reductions could have been phased in and would have been much easier.
Peter Gleick, a water and climate scientist and co-founder of the Pacific Institute, said the collective failure to heed scientists’ repeated warnings is “directly responsible for how bad conditions are today.”
“If we had cut water use in the Colorado River over the last two decades to what we now understand to be the actual levels of water availability, there would be more water in the reservoirs today,” Gleick said. “The crisis wouldn’t be nearly as bad.”
Several key pieces of the rules that govern the Colorado River Basin are set to expire in 2026, including guidelines for dealing with drought and water shortage. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has asked for the public’s input on what should come next. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny spoke about the opportunity to shape the Southwest’s future with University of New Mexico water policy expert John Fleck.
Who is at the table for these negotiations?
That’s actually such a great question, because it’s not entirely clear. The states—the appointed representatives that each governor appoints on behalf of each of the seven Colorado River Basin states—and then representations of the federal government …. But, there is a strong desire, on the part of a lot of people, and I count myself among those groups, to recognize the fact that tribal communities are sovereign nations [within] the basin that have been traditionally excluded from these processes…and then as a practical matter, major water users within the states also participate either formally at the negotiating table, or if you can imagine a metaphorical meeting room, standing round the back whispering in the ears of the people sitting at the table.
What questions should we be asking about what comes next?
Someone, somewhere is going to be using less water than they are now, a lot less water…But the question is, how do we apportion those cutbacks? Do the states in the Lowe Basin which have been using by far the most water, and arguably overusing, like folks in Arizona, do they have to cutback more deeply?…Do the states in the Upper Basin agree, we need to share the pain and cut back as well?…So there’s really a lot of tension. And then the most interesting tension is broad and spans the entire basin, which is, to what extent are the cutbacks going to be felt in agricultural irrigation communities?…There’s no way around there’s going to be less irrigated agriculture going forward as a result of climate change and drought and the reality that we’ve pretty much drained the reservoirs as far as we can, but the question of how you apportion those cuts and who takes bigger cuts, and who gets compensated for giving up water, perhaps, those are the kinds of questions that are going to be on the table…
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Wheat production in northeast Colorado is down by half or more, according to reports from area grain elevators, and experts put the blame on .an exceptionally dry year and an infestation of wheat stem sawfly. Although no hard numbers are yet available – the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s field workers are gathering that information now – reports from elevators in Sterling, Julesburg, Peetz and Haxtun are estimating between 20 and 30 bushels per acre and, in some hard-hit areas, as little as three bushels per acre…
Nationwide, the USDA has projected harvests of around 47 bushels per acre, or about 8 percent less than normal. But here in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, an almost complete absence of moisture has driven that number down even further…
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor released Thursday, northeast Colorado remains in the grip of a severe to extreme drought, wile moderate to severe drought conditions cover most of the rest of the state. The best drought conditions in the state are along the Front Range, where upslope conditions wring water out of moist air moving over the Rockies, although even there it is mostly abnormally dry…
As if the drought wasn’t bad enough, wheat farmers face an old bug with a new appetite. Meyer said wheat stem sawfly has actually been around eastern Colorado since the late 1800s, but kept mostly to hollow-stemmed prairie grasses. The fly lays eggs on grass stems and when the larva hatch, they burrow into the stem and work their way down until the cut the stem off near the ground. Over the past five years, Meyer said, the flies have discovered wheat and increasingly migrated into wheat fields. A tour of area wheat fields by this reporter over the past two weeks showed that some fields showed as much as 50 percent sawfly destruction.