By Jim Pokrandt
The Colorado River District’s Annual Water Seminar in September 2015 attracted more than 200 people to Grand Junction, Colorado, to hear discussions on the topic: “Will What’s Happening in California Stay in California?”
Pat Mulroy, former head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, told the audience the answer was absolutely not: California’s issues coping with dire drought conditions and water supply are everybody’s issues. She said that the Colorado River, as pressured as it already is, represents California’s firmest water supply, with the Sierra Nevadas providing so little snowmelt to the State Water Project for transport from northern to southern California this year.
“At the end of the day there are two major, major reasons that California matters,” she said. “One, the Colorado River and the Sacramento and San Joaquin Bay Delta are inextricably connected. And two, the story of California is the story of missed opportunities and the human inability to find solutions.”
“Everything is connected,” said Jennifer Gimbel, U.S. Interior Department principal deputy assistant secretary for water and science. “You have to keep track of what’s going on in California. California affects the Colorado River and vice versa.” Gimbel said drought and climate change have scrambled the jigsaw puzzle of water planning. She also noted that California has much less reservoir storage in the state than exists along the Colorado River system.
Eric Kuhn and Dan Birch, the general manager and deputy general manager of the Colorado River District, described a new paradigm in Colorado water planning that puts the focus on protecting existing water users under current hydrology. A new transmountain diversion is not the immediate threat, they said. Low reservoir levels at Lake Powell and Lake Mead, along with continuing drought, are the much greater threats to water users and operations of the system.
Author John Fleck told listeners that the notions of conflict and doom he saw in the watershed book Cadillac Desert, which he called “a great book,” is wrong. “Myth No. 1 is that we are going to run out of water,” Fleck said. He left an optimistic message that the West will figure out its water planning and future.
Other speakers included the Bureau of Reclamation’s Ken Nowak, who gave a picture of trends in agriculture productivity and water use learned in the 2015 Moving Forward report of the Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study process.
Climatologist Klaus Water briefed the audience on the big El Niño building for the winter but cautioned that Colorado might not see the hoped-for benefits of a big snowpack—or it might. That is the nature of long-term observations of how El Niño affects the state. It is in a middle zone of uncertainty.
You can see videos of each of these speakers and more at the Colorado River District’s website. Save the date for next year’s Annual Water Seminar scheduled to take place on September 16, 2016, in Grand Junction.
Also, check out CFWE’s newly released Fall 2015 issue of Headwaters magazine, which is focused on building resiliency on the Colorado River Basin, upstream and down. Find in-depth articles on the efforts of Colorado River water users, federal and state entities, NGOs, and scientists to face what many consider to be a defining moment on this “Great American River.” Hard copies will hit mailboxes next week.
Jim Pokrandt is the Community Affairs Director for the Colorado River District.