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Playing to Win – Talking Long Term Solutions for the Colorado River – An Interview with Taylor Hawes and John Entsminger

John Entsminger web HSOur task is to change the way we manage the River in a time of changing climate, to meet the needs of both people and nature. That’s a hard task, and it’s worth taking the time to do it right.

As we focus on the Colorado River and a new study by Dr. Doug Kenney of the Colorado River Governance Initiative (CRGI) at the University of Colorado at Boulder. The study examines current climate forecasts for the Colorado River basin and analyzes what effect those conditions would have on water supplies if the river is managed under the current laws and policies that distribute its water. The resulting picture he paints is an eye-opener.

We asked Taylor Hawes, Director of the Nature Conservancy’s Colorado River Program and John Entsminger, Assistant General Manager at the Southern Nevada Water Authority for additional thoughts.

At the CRWUA panel, you argued that creating truly sustainable solutions would require expanding the negotiating table beyond just the seven basin states and the federal government. Wouldn’t adding more parties make any future negotiation process even more difficult, at a time when the need for action is urgent?

TH: I see two main reasons to expand the negotiating table. First, while I agree the situation is urgent, we probably have a few years and maybe even a decade before things really get dire. Our task is to change the way we manage the River in a time of changing climate, to meet the needs of both people and nature. That’s a hard task, and it’s worth taking the time to do it right. The 2007 Accord was negotiated in 3-4 years, which demonstrates that when the states are motivated by a common interest, they can come together in a relatively short time frame. Adding a few key interest groups may add a little more time, but it will be worth it in the long run.

Second, while I agree that more parties can make negotiations more difficult, consensus-based decisions tend to be more durable in the long run. If we continue to focus only on each state’s Compact entitlement, we run the risk of creating an environmental disaster for future generations. The states are mainly concerned with getting every drop of consumptive use possible out of the River. Yet increasing demands, coupled with decreasing flows, will disproportionately impact environmental and recreational uses unless we carve out flows for those critical needs. In addition, bringing in a broader set of interests is more likely to lead to truly comprehensive solutions. If we include only some perspectives, and ignore others, the solutions may simply create another set of problems – like whack a mole.

As you look back to Doug Kenney’s presentation to CRWUA, and his report, are there any key points that jump out at you?

JE: I’ll give you a point of strong agreement and a point of disagreement. On the one hand, where Doug says in his report that any changes in the Law of the River should be designed by the states and enacted only by unanimous agreement, and not imposed by other levels of government or academics or NGOs, I think that is spot on. I’m not saying that academics and NGO’s don’t have a role in the process. They do – we saw that in the case of the 2007 ROD, where the principle of conservation before shortage was incorporated into the final decision, and that came from the NGOs. But as for trying to impose solutions on the states other than within the framework of the Compact, I think anything resulting from that approach would be dead on arrival.

On the other hand, where Doug characterizes the 2007 Interim Guidelines as merely clarifying and enforcing existing rules, I just think he’s wrong about that. I think at least two-thirds of the Interim Guidelines consist of new institutional arrangements. I would cite the new rules allowing Intentionally Created Surplus being a leading example. Those are new, and represent a significant step toward dealing with shortages.

Taylor Hawes is the Director of The Nature Conservancy’s Colorado River Program, and John Entsminger, the Assistant General Manager at the Southern Nevada Water Authority. 

1/27/11

Image – sumikophoto / Shutterstock.com

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