Unnatural Disaster Gripping the Colorado River Basin

This interactive image on the_ National Geographic_ website lets you compare water levels on the Colarado River from 1999 (left) to 2013 (right)._

If you’re a sportsmen living in the Colorado River drainage, there are three things you need to know in a very big hurry:

• The water you depend on for living as well as hunting and fishing is going away, fast.
• If you don’t get involved quickly, the future of hunting and fishing as you know it looks grim for your children.
• Despite what the politicians and civic leaders are screaming, there is nothing natural about this disaster.

Let’s start at the top.

First — with the Colorado drainage now in the 14th year of the worst drought in 100 years, the Bureau of Reclamation recently announced it was reducing the amount of water released from Lake Powell into Lake Mead to record lows. The move, which sent shock waves through the entire Southwest, was mandated by an agreement signed in 2007 by the seven states in the Colorado River basin.

That brings us to No. 2.

Numerous industries depend on the river for life, including giants such as agriculture, power and housing developers. But so does another giant industry – outdoors recreation.

A __Deseret News story explained:
_Conservation groups warned that the federal action dramatically increases the chance for an unprecedented water crisis in the West, where 30 million people depend on the Colorado River for its water supply. The river also is the lifeblood of agriculture in much of the basin states, where more than 90 percent of pasture and cropland requires irrigation. The river also supports a $26 billion recreation economy that employs a quarter-million Americans.

“On the west slope, outdoor recreation is a major part of the economy and depends on healthy habitat in the Colorado River. Agriculture also depends on healthy river flows. We’re all in this boat together’, said Drew Peternell, director of Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Water Project. “We have to implement cooperative solutions that work for everyone.”_

This is where sportsmen need to come in, and quickly.

While the decision on the water release from Lake Powell is grabbing immediate headlines, it also will influence discussions currently underway about how to manage the entire watershed in the age of declining water due to climate change and increasing growth. And as in almost all “stakeholder” gatherings to discuss how to manage publicly owned resources fish, wildlife and sportsmen are not sitting at or even near the head of the table – yet.

Jimmy Hague, director of the Theodore Roosevelt Center for Water Resources, knows what’s at stake.

“This is an unmistakable signal that we’re entering a new paradigm on the Colorado River, and unless sportsmen get involved in decisions influencing this new paradigm, we will be left out in the cold when it comes to water use.”

Sportsmen should contact their local conservation groups to volunteer for action, send emails to their congressional delegations (find out how at www.contactingthecongress.org) and go to the TRCP web site to contact Hague for more information.

Finally, any time you hear a politician or business group calling this a “natural disaster” take the time to set them straight.

There are no disasters in nature, only events. Drought has long been a naturally occurring event in the arid southwest, one that the flora and fauna we found there had adapted to – or they wouldn’t have been there.

“Natural disaster” in the human lexicon describes what happens to us when we are damaged by a natural event – as when we allow communities to expand beyond the capacity of the local environmental infrastructure to support it. The Colorado River drainage has long been Exhibit A of this folly.

There are now more than 29 major dams on this river, and thousands of miles of canals, all built to help more than 30 million people live in areas that did not have enough natural water to support them all. It was always a zero-sum game, but the profits that come from ever-expanding communities made people ignore the math.

This is a disaster, all right, but there’s nothing natural about it.