Clear Thinking in the Colorado Basin
Working to better understand the problems and potential solutions on the Colorado River is a stimulating occupation that has connected me to dozens of skilled researchers, resource managers, and other collaborators. But for those of us based at an academic institution, it can also be a somewhat frustrating and lonely endeavor; the meaningful policy discussions in the basin are normally the realm of a very limited group of basin state “principals,” Interior Department officials, and representatives of the water using cities and water districts. I’ve always felt the academic community had something to offer these discussions, not just in technical knowledge, but in the perspective that comes from not being tied to a particular state or water-using sector. An independent, basin-wide, science-based point of view is often woefully absent in these deliberations, and in the limited media attention that such exercises attract. But that’s a fixable problem.
This week the Colorado River Research Group officially came into existence. As the name suggests, it is a partnership among ten prominent academics with a long history of leading Colorado River research:
Robert Adler, University of Utah (Professor of Law and Dean)
Bonnie Colby, University of Arizona (Professor of Ag. and Resource Economics)
Karl Flessa, University of Arizona (Professor of Geosciences)
Doug Kenney, University of Colorado (Director, Western Water Policy Program)
Dennis Lettenmaier, UCLA (Professor of Geography)
Larry MacDonnell, University of Colorado (Adjunct Professor of Law)
Jonathan Overpeck, University of Arizona (Professor of Geosciences)
Jack Schmidt, Utah State University (Professor of Stream Geomorphology)
Brad Udall, Colorado State University (Senior Water and Climate Research Scientist)
Reagan Waskom, Colorado State University (Director, Colorado Water Institute)
The group was formed to offer its insights into the problems and solutions on the river through a series of concise reports that speak the hard truths about the Colorado, beginning with a first report that observes it will never be possible to balance the water supply/demand imbalance in the region until water users stop pursuing additional consumptive use projects. It is, admittedly, a simple and easily defended premise, but it is exactly the sort of message that only emerges from a group operating with a basin-wide perspective, as each basin state clings to its own plans for additional consumption, presumably figuring that any belt-tightening can or should occur elsewhere. Future reports will highlight other hard truths and promising solutions. Will it change the dialogue? I don’t know. But with over 1,500 website visits in the first 4 days, it appears to have at least struck a nerve.