Day: August 30, 2022
As #ColoradoRiver Dries, the U.S. Teeters on the Brink of Larger #Water Crisis — ProPublica #COriver #aridification
by Abrahm Lustgarten
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Series: Killing the Colorado
The western United States is, famously, in the grips of its worst megadrought in a millennium. The Colorado River, which supplies water to more than 40 million Americans and supports food production for the rest of the country, is in imminent peril. The levels in the nation’s largest freshwater reservoir, Lake Mead, behind the Hoover Dam and a fulcrum of the Colorado River basin, have dropped to around 25% of capacity. The Bureau of Reclamation, which governs lakes Mead and Powell and water distribution for the southern end of the river, has issued an ultimatum: The seven states that draw from the Colorado must find ways to cut their consumption — by as much as 40% — or the federal government will do it for them. Last week those states failed to agree on new conservation measures by deadline. Meanwhile, next door, California, which draws from the Colorado, faces its own additional crises, with snowpack and water levels in both its reservoirs and aquifers all experiencing a steady, historic and climate-driven decline. It’s a national emergency, but not a surprise, as scientists and leaders have been warning for a generation that warming plus overuse of water in a fast-growing West would lead those states to run out.
I recently sat down with Jay Famiglietti, the executive director of the Global Institute for Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan, to talk about what comes next and what the public still doesn’t understand about water scarcity in the United States. Before moving to Canada, Famiglietti was a lead researcher at NASA’s water science program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and a member of the faculty at the University of California, Irvine. He pioneered the use of the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellites to peer into the earth’s mass and measure changes in its underground water supplies. The Colorado River crisis is urgent, Famiglietti said, but the hidden, underground water crisis is even worse. We talked about what U.S. leaders either won’t acknowledge or don’t understand and about how bad things are about to get.
Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Let’s start with the Colorado River because it’s in the news. The federal government has put some extraordinary numbers out there, suggesting water users cut between 2 and 4 million acre-feet of water usage starting this year — roughly 40% of the entire river’s recent flow. How could that possibly happen?
It’s going to be really hard. We’re looking at drastically reduced food production and the migration of agriculture to other parts of the country and real limits on growth, especially in desert cities like Phoenix. My fear is that groundwater will, as usual, be left out of the discussion — groundwater is mostly unprotected, and it’s going to be a real shit show.
Remind us how that happens. States and farmers cut back on the Colorado River, and California and Arizona just start pumping all the water out of their aquifers?
Yeah. This started with the drought contingency plan [the 2018 legal agreement among the states on the Colorado River]. Arizona had to cut nearly 20% of its Colorado River water. To placate the farmers, the deal was that they would have free access to the groundwater. In fact, something like $20 million was allocated to help them dig more wells. So, it was just a direct transfer from surface water to groundwater. Right away, you could see that the groundwater depletion was accelerating. With this latest round, I’m afraid we’re just going to see more of that.
Some of that groundwater actually gets used to grow feed for cattle in the Middle East or China, right? There’s Saudi-owned agriculture firms planting alfalfa, which uses more water than just about anything, and it’s not for American food supply. Do I have that right?
There’s been other buyers from other countries coming in, buying up that land, land grabbing and grabbing the water rights. That’s happening in Arizona.
What about in California? Groundwater depletion has caused the earth to sink in on itself. Parts of the Central Valley are 28 feet lower today than they were a century ago.
California passed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act in 2014, which mandated an extraordinarily long time horizon: two years to form the Groundwater Sustainability Agencies and then five years for each GSA to come up with its sustainability plan. So that’s now: 2022. And then 20 years to come into sustainability. My fear is that the slow implementation will allow for too much groundwater depletion to happen. It’s sort of the same old, same old.
But could it work?
I don’t think we’re talking about sustainability. I think we’re talking about managed depletion. Because it’s impossible to keep growing the food that we grow in California. It’s agriculture that uses most of the groundwater. The math just isn’t there to have sustainable groundwater management. If you think of sustainability as input equals output — don’t withdraw more than is being replenished on an annual basis — that’s impossible in most of California.
Will we run out of water? Are we talking about 10 years or 100 years?
Yes. We are on target to. Parts of the Central Valley have already run out of water. Before SGMA, there were places in the southern part of the valley where I would say within 40 to 50 years we would run out or the water is so saline or so deep that it’s just too expensive to extract. SGMA may slow that down — or it may not. I don’t think the outlook is really good. Our own research is showing that groundwater depletion there has accelerated in the last three years.
Then what happens? What does California or Arizona look like after that?
It looks pretty dry. Even among water users, there’s an element that doesn’t understand that this is going to be the end for a lot of farming. Farmers are trying to be really efficient but also magically want the supply of water to be sustained.
We focus on the big cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas, but it’s farms that use 80% of water. They grow crops that provide huge amounts of the winter fruits and vegetables and nuts for the entire country. Is there any way that farming in California and Arizona can continue even remotely close to how it is today?
I don’t think so. It has to drastically change. We’ll need wholesale conversion to efficient irrigation and different pricing structures so that water is better valued. We’ll need different crops that are bred to be more drought tolerant and more saline-water tolerant. And we’ll probably have a lot less production.
What does that mean for the country’s food supply?
This is the big question. I don’t want to be flippant, but people don’t understand the food-water nexus. Do we try to bring more water to the southern high plains, to Arizona, to California, because if the food system’s optimized, maybe that’s the cheapest thing to do? Or does agriculture move to where the water is? Does it migrate north and east? It’s not just food production. What about the workers? Transportation? If we were to move all of our agriculture to northern California, into Idaho, into North Dakota over the next decade, that’s a major upheaval for millions and millions of people who work in the ag industry.
It’s really interconnected, isn’t it? The nation essentially expanded West beginning in the 19th century in order to build a food system that could support East Coast growth. The Homestead Act, the expansion of the railroads, was partially to put a system in place to bring stock back to the meat houses in Chicago and to expand farming to supply the urban growth in the East.
I don’t think a lot of people really realize that, right? When I go to the grocery store in Saskatoon, my berries are coming from Watsonville, California. The lettuce is coming from Salinas, California.
Farmers in the West are fiercely independent. So, in California, Arizona, do they lose the ability to choose what to plant?
Right now, there’s freedom to plant whatever you want. But when we look out a few decades, if the water cannot be managed sustainably, I don’t actually know. At some point we will need discussions and interventions about what are the needs of the country? What kind of food? What do we need for our food security?
Let’s discuss California. Its governor, Gavin Newsom, has advanced a lot of progressive climate policies, but he replaced the water board leader, who pushed for groundwater management across the state, and last month the agency’s long-serving climate change manager resigned in protest of the state’s lax water conservation efforts. What does it mean if a liberal, climate-active governor can’t make the hard decisions? What does that say about the bigger picture?
There has been a drop off from the Jerry Brown administration to the Newsom administration. Water has taken a step lower in priority.
Is that a sign that these problems are intractable?
No. It’s a sign that it’s just not as high a priority. There are tough decisions to be made in California, and some of them won’t be popular. You can see the difference between someone like Brown, who was sort of end-of-career and just like, “Screw it, man, I’m just going to do this because it needs to be done,” and someone like Newsom, who clearly has aspirations for higher office and is making more of a political play. We’re not going to solve California’s water problem, but we could make it a lot more manageable for decades and decades and decades. (Newsom’s office has rejected the criticism and has said the governor is doing more than any other state to adapt to climate change. On Aug. 11 his administration announced new water recycling, storage and conservation measures.)
Water wars. It’s an idea that gets batted around a whole bunch. Once, negotiating water use more than a century ago, California and Arizona amassed armed state guard troops on opposite banks of the Colorado River. Is this hyperbole or reality for the future?
Well, it’s already happening. Florida and Georgia were in court as was Tennessee. There’s the dispute between Texas and New Mexico. Even within California they’re still arguing environment versus agriculture, farmers versus fish, north versus south. Sadly, we’re at a point in our history where people are not afraid to express their extreme points of view in ways that are violent. That’s the trajectory that we’re on. When you put those things together, especially in the southern half or the southwestern United States, I think it’s more of a tinderbox than it ever has been.
You’re not going to get any hope out of me. The best you’re going to get out of me is we can manage our way through. I don’t think we’re going to really slow global change. We have to do what we’re doing because we’re talking about the future. But a certain number of degrees warming and a certain amount of sea level rise is already locked in, and all that’s happening in our lifetimes. The best you’re going to hear from me is that we need to do the best we can now to slow down the rates of warming that directly impacts the availability of water. We’re talking about the future of humanity. I think people don’t realize that we’re making those decisions now by our water policies and by our climate change policy.
When people think about water, they think of it as a Western problem, but there’s water shortages across the High Plains and into the South, too.
I don’t think most people understand that scarcity in many places is getting more pronounced. Nationally, let’s look at the positives: It’s a big country, and within its boundaries, we have enough water to be water secure and to be food secure and to do it in an environmentally sustainable way. A lot of countries don’t have that. That’s a positive, though we still have the same problems that everyone else has with increasing flooding and drought. What I really think we need is more attention to a national water policy and more attention to the food, water and energy nexus. Because those are things that are going to define how well we do as a country.
What would a national water policy look like?
It recognizes where people live, and it recognizes where we have water, and then it decides how we want to deal with that. Maybe it’s more like a national water/food policy. Moving water over long distances is not really feasible right now — it’s incredibly expensive. Does the government want to subsidize that? These are the kind of things that need to be discussed, because we’re on a collision course with reality — and the reality is those places where we grow food, where a lot of people live, are running out of water, and there are other parts of the country that have a lot of water. So that’s a national-level discussion that has to happen, because when you think about it, the food problem is a national problem. It’s not a California problem. It’s not a Southern, High Plains, Ogallala, Texas Panhandle problem. It’s a national problem. It needs a national solution.
Is this a climate czar? A new agency?
Something like that. We’re failing right now. We’re failing to have any vision for how that would happen. In Canada, we’re talking about a Canadian water agency and a national water policy. That could be something that we need in the United States — a national water agency to deal with these problems.
In the Inflation Reduction Act we finally have some legislation that will help cut emissions. There’s plenty of other talk about infrastructure and adaptation — seawalls and strengthening housing and building codes and all of those sorts of things. Where would you rank the priority of a national water policy?
It’s an absolute top priority. I like to say that water’s next, right after carbon. Water is the messenger that’s delivering the bad news about climate change to your city, to your front door.
We don’t usually mix concern over drought with concern over contamination, but there was a recent study about the presence of “forever” chemicals in rainfall and salt washing off the roads in Washington, D.C., and contaminating drinking water. Can these remain separate challenges in a hotter future?
It doesn’t get discussed much, but we’re seeing more and more the links between water quality and climate change. We’ve got water treatment facilities and sewers close to coasts. During drought, discharge of contaminants is less diluted. The water quality community and the water climate communities don’t really overlap. We’ve done a terrible job as stewards where water is concerned.
Globally, what do you want Americans to think about when they read this?
The United States is kind of a snapshot of what’s happening in the rest of the world. There’s no place we can run to. Things are happening really, really fast and in a very large scale. We as a society, as a country or as a global society are not responding with the urgency, with the pace and the scale that’s required. I am specifically talking about rapid changes that are happening with freshwater availability that most people don’t know about. The problems are often larger than one country. A lot of it is transboundary. And we’re just not moving fast enough.
Around the world the water levels have just continued to drop. In the Middle East or India. In fact, they’re getting faster. It’s actually a steeper slope.
So, the Colorado River is the least of our worries.
Globally? It’s not even as bad as the others. Arizona doesn’t really show up as much compared to some of these places.
How Colorado River Basin tribes are managing water amid historic drought — Grist
This story is published in collaboration with High Country News.
Amid historic drought in the Colorado River Basin, the Gila River Indian Community is taking a drastic step to protect their own water resources. In a statement last week, Governor Stephen Roe Lewis announced the tribe—located just south of Phoenix—would stop voluntarily contributing water to an important state reservoir. “We cannot continue to put the interests of all others above our own when no other parties seem committed to the common goal of a cooperative basin-wide agreement,” the statement reads.
Since 2021, Lake Mead, a crucial water supply for the region, has been boosted by voluntary water contributions from the Gila River Indian Community and the Colorado River Indian Tribes. The Colorado River is a crucial source of water in the West, supplying water to 40 million people across seven states and Mexico. For years, tribes and communities in those states have received river water based on a complex allocation system, but last week, the federal government announced historic water cuts that will force Arizona, the most impacted state, to reduce water withdrawals from the Lake Mead reservoir by 21 percent next year. Lake Mead’s levels are currently at a historic low of about 27 percent capacity.
By contributing their water to Lake Mead at affordable rates, the Gila River Indian Community was essentially subsidizing Arizona’s water supply while sacrificing an opportunity to sell that water at higher rates or put it to use on the reservation for agriculture or other industry. Now, facing cuts and other communities not willing to make sacrifices for the collective good, Gila River is putting its foot down. According to the statement, the lack of progress toward a sustainable water management plan left the tribe with no choice but to store the water independently rather than supporting the state water supply. “We are aware that this approach will have a very significant impact on the ability of the State of Arizona to make any meaningful commitment to water reductions in the basin state discussions,” Lewis said in the statement.
Meanwhile, the Colorado River Indian Tribes, which has also been contributing some of its water to help keep Lake Mead’s levels up, has opted to continue storing water in the reservoir. In a press release, chairwoman Amelia Flores reiterated her tribe’s commitment to an ongoing fallow and farming plan for their water allotments in response to the cuts. In other words, Colorado River Indian Tribes is sticking to a plan that forfeits the opportunity to maximize their agricultural and water revenues. “We recognize that the decades-long drought has reduced the water availability for all of us in the Basin,” Flores said. “We continue to conserve water and develop ways to use less water as we adjust to higher temperatures, more wind and less precipitation.”
These two decisions illustrate the difficult choices facing the thirty federally recognized tribes in the Colorado River Basin. Because tribes are sovereign governments, their water rights are determined with the federal government, rather than via the state, like cities and towns. Water rights allow tribes to maintain agricultural self-sufficiency, restore and steward the land, and support their communities. But to actually use their water, tribes face a unique set of challenges including inadequate infrastructure that limits some from accessing their water allocations. And for tribes still fighting to have their rights recognized, the ongoing shortage may make their battle even harder. As the region prepares for the cuts, tribes are working to ensure they have a voice during ongoing water management negotiations.
A 1908 Supreme Court decision established that tribes have the right to draw from the rivers that pass through their reservations in order to enable their self-sufficiency. But in its ongoing colonization of the West, the federal government filled the needs of white settlers before those of Indigenous nations. Through the Bureau of Reclamation, founded in 1902, hundreds of dams and reservoirs were constructed to divert millions of gallons of water from the Colorado River and other waterways to serve the growing settler populations of the West. Between 1980 and 2000, the basin was thriving, with water levels at its reservoirs nearly at full capacity. But even after two decades of drought, the unprecedented 27 percent reservoir capacity took officials by surprise. The Lower Colorado River Basin, one of the Bureau’s 6 water regions, consists of the Mountain and Southwest states as well as much of Southern California and is where tensions between individual states and tribes around water conservation policies are coming to a head.
Twenty-two tribes in the basin have secured recognized water rights and allocations, which they reclaimed through a mix of legislation, settlement, and court decisions. These allocations total around 3.2 million acre-feet per year, which represents roughly a quarter of the river’s annual supply. Arizona’s total allocation is less than 3 million acre-feet per year. The Department of the Interior tasked Basin States and Tribes to come up with a voluntary water conservation plan to add 2 to 4 million more acre-feet of water to stabilize the Colorado River and its two largest reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell.
But according to a July 22 letter to Tanya Trujillo, Assistant Secretary for Water and Science at the Department of the Interior, leaders from fourteen tribes in the Colorado River Basin argued that they were not being adequately consulted by either states or the Department of the Interior on a viable conservation plan.
The letter cites the federal government’s legal obligations to tribes, notably an executive order issued by President Clinton in 2000 that requires federal departments and agencies to consult with tribal governments when planning policies that impact their communities. “We should not have to remind you – but we will again – that as our trustee, you must protect our rights, our assets, and people in addition to any action you take on behalf of the system,” the letter said.
Nora McDowell is the former chairwoman of the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe and member of the Water and Tribes Initiative. She says that tribes have been forced to follow state and federal decisions about water use, even though tribes have successfully managed the river since time immemorial. She believes it is time for tribes to have a greater voice in conservation plans. “We always have been marginalized or not even consulted,” McDowell said of the ongoing conservation planning. “But the difference here is that we have the rights to that water.”
But twelve tribes are still fighting to get all of their water rights recognized. And as competition for water grows even fiercer, these tribes are left in an even more precarious position.
“The problems have existed for a long time on the river and the current situation is just exacerbating them and making it that much more fraught to try to negotiate water settlements,” Jay Weiner, water counsel for the Tonto Apache Tribe, which currently is in settlement negotiations, said. “There are political incentives for non-Indian water users essentially to try to put obstacles in the way of tribal development because otherwise that water is coming out of someone’s bucket.”
At least six cities in Arizona have declared water shortages because of the drought. And with water at dangerously low levels in both Lake Mead and Lake Powell, tribal water—whether in the form of voluntary contributions like the Colorado River Indian Tribes continues to make, or in the form of undeveloped tribal water rights—will play an important role in the region’s water supply. Because all water users have to cut back in response to the drought, tribes attempting to reclaim their water rights face negotiators reluctant to part with any water at all. Weiner, who also serves as water counsel for the Quechan Indian Tribe, says that the ongoing shortage has only further complicated ongoing settlements, “because as a practical matter right now, water rights users in the basin rely on those unquantified or undeveloped tribal water rights.”
Meanwhile, even tribes with recognized water rights face an uphill battle to fully take advantage of their water allocations. Some tribes simply lack the necessary piping infrastructure for either farming or drinking water, are too geographically spread out, or have had their water resources contaminated by extractive industry.
On May 27, 18 years of negotiations came to a close when Congress passed a bill granting the Navajo Nation 81,500 acre-feet of water annually from Colorado River Basin sources within Utah. Yet it is estimated that between 30 percent and 40 percent of households on the Navajo Nation, spanning territory in Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado, do not have running water. It is unclear how much these new water cutbacks will impact development of critical infrastructure for the Navajo, which will take years.
Nora McDowell of the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe believes it will take a collective effort to ensure a sustainable future for the Colorado River and water access in the region. That effort will require major changes to water management and tribes’ role in it. “It’s a critical time right now and people need to wake up and see what we’re dealing with,” she said. “We can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing for the last 100 years.”
#Drought threatens #coal plant operations — and electricity — across the West — National Public Radio
Click the link to read the article on the National Public Radio website (Julia Simon). Here’s an excerpt:
But there’s a problem that looms for the [Jim Bridger] coal plant operator and the customers that rely on it for electricity. This water is piped here from the Green River, a tributary of the rapidly shrinking Colorado River. Now, amidst a decades-long drought and a shortage of water downstream across the Southwest, future conservation in the basin could mean industrial users like Jim Bridger see their water shut off, says Wyoming State Engineer Brandon Gebhart.
“They would be likely the first one shut off. Unless they were able to find a different source of water, we would have to just shut off their water and not allow them to divert,” Gebhart says.
The western U.S. hasn’t been this dry for more than 1,200 years, but 30 western coal plants continue to suck up 156 million gallons a day of the region’s scarce water, according to the Energy Information Administration. Now the very plants whose emissions help drive climate change are at risk of shutdowns, because the water they need to operate has fallen to unprecedented levels. Some utilities are already sending warnings, telling federal regulators that the drought could threaten coal plant operations. But there’s uncertainty at the state level over which officials are responsible for managing drought risk to power plants and the threat of brownouts and blackouts.
Old coal plants like Jim Bridger have for decades been critical to the grid, says David Eskelsen, spokesman for Rocky Mountain Power, a division of PacifiCorp, which operates the Wyoming plant. “With all the concerns about the use of fossil fuels, climate change, and the use of water in this way,” Eskelsen says, “that has to be balanced against the role that these particular power plants play in the stability of the regional transmission system.” But rising water scarcity in the West means the stability of coal plants like Jim Bridger is no longer a sure thing, says Joe Smyth, research manager at the Energy and Policy Institute, a utility watchdog group.
“If you don’t have water to cool it, you can’t run it, right? Like it’s not a minor risk. It is a very disruptive event,” he says, “If you’re not aware of those risks, then you are not really operating your power plants responsibly.”
Floaters respecting Great Blue Heron rookery site — The #CrestedButte News
Click the link to read the article on the Crested Butte News website (Mark Reaman). Here’s an excerpt:
It appears that not all, but most people have avoided floating the Upper Slate River during the time the Great Blue Herons were hatching and raising their young this spring and summer. According to Western Colorado University associate professor of wildlife and conservation biology Pat Magee, the voluntary avoidance of the heron rookery through July 15 was successful and as a result, 38 chicks were counted this summer. The number of floaters, especially stand up paddleboarders (SUPs), using the Upper Slate in the early summer appears to have decreased over the last three years as a result of education and awareness.
While as of this week there was still one active nest with three large and nearly flight-ready chicks, the Great Blue Heron colony is now largely gone for the summer and the voluntary period to avoid that stretch of the Slate ended in mid-July. As of early August, two nests remained active in the “lower colony” area and one of those contained three chicks. Three chicks were also counted in one nest located in the “middle colony” area and all four nests observed in the “upper colony” were done for the season by August 6.
Magee said it appears that two new nests were added to the overall colony in 2022…
Crested Butte Land Trust stewardship manager Peter Horgan said that that the community in general definitely seems to understand the situation and is respecting the no-float period. “The recommendation and request to voluntarily avoid floating the upper stretch of the Slate River past the Great Blue Heron rookery was largely honored during the 2022 floating season,” he said. “We want to express our appreciation to river users for respecting wildlife by waiting until after July 15 to float.”
Wildfire Recovery Efforts Continue with Additional Federal Help — Northern Water #EastTroubleSomeFire
Since fire crews were able to contain and control the East Troublesome Fire in late 2020, land managers have recognized the challenges that will confront the region for years to come: debris flows and limited forest regrowth.
On Aug. 23, Sen. John Hickenlooper joined several representatives from Northern Water, as well as officials from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, Colorado State Forest Service and Grand County. The group of 20-plus held discussions at C Lazy U Ranch, from an overlook that offered a vantage point of Willow Creek Reservoir and the surrounding area, which is one of the most impacted portions within the burn scar.
Properties northwest of Willow Creek Reservoir on Colo. Highway 125 have seen numerous instances of debris flows following monsoon rains in 2021 and 2022, which have frequently led to road closure.
Sen. Hickenlooper toured the area in the wake of the passage of the Inflation Recovery Act, which earmarks funds for projects that will enhance climate-resilience of forests and watersheds. Stakeholders had an opportunity to showcase examples of collaborative initiatives that align with the intent of the Act such as the C-BT Headwaters Partnership and the Kawuneeche Valley Ecosystem Restoration Collaborative. Funding for projects in the area will benefit the ecosystem, as well as downstream properties, infrastructure and water users downstream of the affected lands.
Hickenlooper’s staff produced this video following last week’s stop in the East Troublesome burn area, featuring an interview with the senator from the C Lazy U Ranch site, in which he talks about how some of this funding will be put to use.
With the feds ‘light’ on steps, Colorado’s water experts explore challenges and opportunities — The #ColoradoSprings Gazette
Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Springs Gazette website (Marianne Goodland). Here’s an excerpt:
Several of Colorado’s water experts on [August 18, 2022] noted that the federal government’s plan for tackling dwindling Colorado River reservoirs is “light” on the next steps but that the river’s condition also offers opportunities to boost resiliency among Western states.
“It’s a dismaying time, but one full of opportunity,” said attorney James Eklund of Sherman & Howard, formerly the director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Colorado’s representative on the Upper Colorado River Commission. The federal government relied on the states to come up with a plan, a strategy that didn’t work, he said, but he quickly added that the Inflation Reduction Act signed earlier this week by President Joe Biden includes $4 billion to combat drought in the West.
Eklund took part in a panel on “The Future of Colorado Water: Scarcity and Opportunity” hosted by Colorado Politics and The Denver Gazette. The other panelists were Troy Eid, an attorney with Greenberg Traurig and one of the West’s leading expert on tribal laws, including water; Jennifer Gimbel, a Terry J. Stevinson Fellow with the Common Sense Institute and formerly principal deputy assistant secretary for water and science at the Department of the Interior; Jennifer Pitt, director of the Colorado River Program at the National Audubon Society; and, Don Brown, former commissioner of agriculture for Colorado.