A climate conversation for the Colorado River basin
As a professional conservationist, I work with a number of groups tackling some of the difficult climate-related challenges we face in the West. One of these groups is Carpe Diem West, an organization that brings together diverse interests to collaboratively address the profound impacts that climate change is having on western water. Carpe Diem West recently released a report on the Colorado River basin, “Mapping the River Ahead,” which lays out some of the most promising, least expensive, and most easily scaled solutions for a river basin at the “frontline” of climate change.
While I don’t typically blog about work I am directly involved in, I think touching on this report is important as part of the broader “climate conversation.” That’s because this report’s tone and substance are so different from what one typically hears or reads about the Colorado River these days; namely, that the river is in trouble. That is undoubtedly true, but after underscoring the urgency and severity of the problem the conversation really deteriorates. Denial, finger-pointing, or serious conversation-stoppers abound (most of us cannot move out of the River basin, the region cannot stop growing altogether, and piping water from the Mississippi, well, is not really likely). Absent, for the most part, are steps we can take to constructively tackle the challenge facing those of us in the basin.
Here is what I know. There are no “magic bullets.” We are going to face some difficult choices and tradeoffs, and everyone is going to have share in the pain. Challenges are also opportunities, and the urgency of the situation dictates experimentation and innovation.
This report helps carry this message. Based on interviews with leaders around the basin, it looks to find a pathway from vulnerability to greater water security over the long term. It advocates for ways to more efficiently use our existing supplies while planning ahead for drier days. It assumes that there may be enough water for us to thrive if we’re willing to look at water with this new perspective and act accordingly. This report is useful because it outlines real solutions – like water banking, urban and rural conservation programs, and city/farm water sharing agreements – that are working on the ground now.
While innovative solutions are at hand, we don’t have a lot of time to scale them up. We are facing an increasingly urgent crisis up and down the river – for communities, for natural systems, and for farms. A big part of that scaling up process is broadening out the conversation about the river and the people and natural systems that depend on it. With an informed, engaged public, we can find our way to a sustainable future in the Colorado River basin. This report is a great next step in the conversation.
John Shepard is the Senior Advisor for the Sonoran Institute, a non-profit organization that inspires and enables community decisions and public policies that respect the land and people of western North America.
Originally published by the Rocky Mountain Post on March 19, 2014.