Report highlights need for decisive action on Colorado River supplies
Matt York, Associated Press
SALT LAKE CITY — A new report probing the challenges to future water supplies of the Colorado River concludes that the time for study is long past, and some simple and effective solutions can be embraced immediately.
"Most of us know that the river is in trouble, but what a lot of people don't know is that there are solutions that are in reach that are not rocket science," said Kimery Wiltshire, executive director of Carpe Diem West.
"And we don't have a lot of time. People are done with studying. They are tired of studies. Like now, that is the time to do things," Wiltshire added.
The nonprofit organization Thursday released "Mapping the River Ahead," detailing a list of recommendations on what can be done in the face of a challenged Colorado River water supply due to climate change and over-appropriation along its 1,400-mile stretch.
Such actions include boosting public education about water, instituting more aggressive conservation campaigns, and invoking greater flexibility when it comes to water transfers.
Interviews were conducted with more than 30 leaders of local, state, federal and tribal entities, as well as the senior staff of water supply districts, non-governmental organizations, conservation groups and public policy organizations, to draw on a list of "first steps" for safeguarding Colorado River supplies.
"All of our interviewees agreed that time is short, the need for action is urgent, and the innovative solutions emerging throughout the basin should be shared through more deliberate cooperation and partnerships," the report said.
Individually, the movers and shakers in the water world are keenly in tune with the need to break down bureaucratic obstacles to reach solutions to Colorado River problems, Wiltshire said, but there remains a collective malaise when the "group" is asked to act.
"They know what needs to be done, one on one," she said, "and they have good ideas. But once you get them in formal forums, they will not push forward."
The organization's list of actions is an outgrowth of the expansive U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's supply and demand study released in 2012.
The report, the most extensive of its kind, detailed droughts lasting five years or longer occurring half the time over the next 50 years. It also predicted a shortfall of 3.2 million acre-feet by 2060 along the Colorado River system. The report, however, did not include recommendations, but rather was intended to serve as a guide for those who shape water management in the basin.
Carpe Diem West notes it heard some simple recommendations about shifts going forward, breaking them into "options for actions" that include:
• Voluntary and temporary water sharing transactions.
• Broad water transfer mechanisms engaging water users over larger areas.
• Urban water conservation and reuse. The report noted that many felt urban areas should get their "own house in order" on conservation before trying to get water from elsewhere. Wiltshire said it would be appropriate to aim for a more standard basin-wide per capita rate for cities and implement tiered water pricing. More aggressive campaigns could outlaw front yard turf in new developments and pursue the adoption of programs that compare consumers' water use to that of their neighbors.
• Physical approaches to augmenting and managing water supplies such as desalination projects of brackish water supplies in places like Yuma, Ariz., or Imperial, Calif.
• Dialogue, coordination and education.
Wiltshire said some suggested there be a basin-wide "entity" to pursue policies and solutions that are region-specific, much like the Great Lakes Commission to overcome individual state-based obstacles and provide more collective political clout.
Another dominant theme that emerged among the water experts over the course of several interviews was the acknowledgement of the value of public education, Wiltshire said.
"We heard a stronger message about the need for public water education in this round of interviews than in our past reports," authors noted. "Moreover, as several people pointed out, elected officials are unlikely to support investments or bold actions without a public constituency demanding it. The general voting public just isn’t that familiar with water. Until the average voter cares about water, the average politician isn’t going to either."
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