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Black Swans on the western horizon – $3.2B is a good start (or we can spend billions more)

“As the recent DCP negotiation highlighted, two of the most problematic features of the current management framework—the inability of Pinal County, Arizona farmers to easily absorb CAP curtailments, and the environmental and public health challenges associated with limiting Salton Sea inflows—have influenced, and are influenced by, matters that were heretofore considered outside of basin water management planning.”
– Dr. Doug Kenney, UC Boulder & Colorado River Research Group

The just released report from the Colorado River Research Group presents a truly terrifying picture of the likelihood of ‘black swan’ events in the Colorado Basin, all courtesy a rapidly changing climate.

Dr. Kenney and his research group colleagues note the imperative of placing a premium on scenario planning exercises that challenge decision-makers to think more broadly than ever before about possible futures. Given that these Colorado River decision-makers will be meeting soon to consider a new iteration of the 2007 Interim Guidelines, the next step of the US-Mexico cooperative agreement 323, and the still fresh DCP (drought contingency plan), all of which expire in 2026, the subject is critical. As the report notes: After all, how does one better anticipate that which cannot be easily predicted, and how do we innovate our planning and decision-making efforts to be more dynamic and responsive to such threats?

The companion question not covered in this particular report, is how to take steps now to mitigate these extreme events we know will take place – next week or in the next decade.

Right in front of us is the most immediate answer – invest in the health of the forests in the Upper Basin. We know that the source of over 85% of the water flowing into the Colorado main stem comes from about 15% of the Basin’s land mass – almost exclusively national forest lands.

From catastrophic flooding to devastating wildfires, healthier forests will help mitigate extreme events will result in more even flows.

Taking Colorado’s west slope as an example, much of the region’s 3.2M acres need restoration. At an average of $1,000 in restoration costs per acre, that’s $3.2B – a scary number but one that we know is doable.

All over the West, downstream communities are working with National Forest land managers investing in the health of these forests – for water supply, mitigating catastrophic wildfires, protecting ecosystems and recreation lands. These investments total annually in the millions – not close to $3.2B (yet) but at amounts we never would have considered possible a few short years ago.

Healthy forests, healthy water, healthy people – Carpe Diem!

Kimery Wiltshire

Kimery Wiltshire
June 3, 2019

 

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