As Drought Deepens, Bad Actors Emerge (San Diego, pay attention!)

Hello Friends of the Colorado River!

San Diego — bad actor of the week!  We are working with conservation groups throughout the Southwest U.S. to protect and restore the Colorado River for future generations of people and for the river and its mayor-falconer1wildlife.  In that capacity, we focus on highlighting good and bad actors who are impacting the health of the Colorado River. Unfortunately the bad actor this week is the City of San Diego which gets about 1/2 of its water from the Colorado River. At the same time that California Governor Brown encouraged all Californians to reduce their water use by 20%, San Diego actually contributed to an increase in water usage by 8% — in other words, they wasted more water this year than last year, even in this extreme drought! Even worse, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer has refused to elevate the City’s drought response program to a higher level of conservation and awareness. So, working with the local conservation group, San Diego Coastkeeper, we are highlighting San Diego and Mayor Faulconer as the ‘bad actor’ of the week — please click through here to our Facebook page to let Mayor Faulconer know your thoughts on his decision to continue wasting water in San Diego. You can read more about this on EcoWatch here.

Lake Mead’s decline continues to be the big story of the week!  As the Lake level falls to its lowest point in history, the political escalation is rising.  Two conservation groups — Lake-mead1234American Rivers and Western Resource Advocates — came out with a report last week on solutions to restoring the balance of water in the Colorado River system.  You can read this report here. It adds to the growing concern of how to address the long-term decline of Lake Mead as well as the entire Colorado River.  The states in the Southwest U.S. have also come up with their own plan, discussed in this Arizona Daily Star article here.  And, political leaders like Nevada State Senator Tick Segerblom have entered the fray with this editorial here in the Las Vegas Review Journal — Senator Segerblom says, “Like us, rivers live and rivers breathe.” The big question is if the federal government or the states can act quickly enough to address the problem, and then a host of questions arise about the details of the actions that might be taken. As the lake and river continues to decline, we are focusing on the health of the river itself — our goal is to keep it flowing and keep the critters it supports (including us human critters!) alive and healthy.

Tomorrow, Friday July 25th, is Colorado River Day!  Woop!  Yes, for the third year in a row we are celebrating Colorado River Day, the day on which in 1921 the U.S. colorado-river-day-final-colored-logoCongress named it the Colorado River. You can read more about Colorado River Day on its website here.  Events will take place in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada highlighting the role of the river in the lives of local people and decision-makers.  The events focus on raising awareness about the problems with the river, and how local governments and local leaders can push forward water conservation programs that help protect and restore the river’s ecosystem.

For your own part, see if you can get outside this weekend and enjoy your local watershed. Rivers are the lifeblood of our ecosystems across the American West — they deserve special protection and appreciation. Check out the photo below — get out there and start paddling!paddle-coriver12


Thank you for your support!

BREAKING NEWS: Lake Mead Water Level Lowest In History!

Hello Friends of the Colorado River!

The big and bad news of this week is that drought, human overuse, and climate change have finally taken their toll on Lake Mead which has dropped to its lowest water level in lakemeaddrought-smallhistory. Lake Mead, which is a man-made reservoir behind Hoover Dam that supplies water to Las Vegas, much of Arizona, and all of Southern California, is now just 39% full. The ongoing social and political drama around the falling lake level continues to reverberate throughout the Southwest U.S. and California in newspaper articles, water agencies, and statements by public officials (see here in the Denver Post). This morning, I authored this exclusive column in EcoWatch titled, “Drought Drains Lake Mead to Lowest Level as Nevada Senator Calls for Government Audit.” To the point, folks in Las Vegas are getting mighty concerned about the falling lake which is their sole source of water.  What’s equally interesting though is that this Nevada State Senator, Tick Segerblom, is very concerned about the health of the Colorado River. Senator Segerblom states in his press release: “Healthy rivers signal healthy societies, yet Reclamation failed to mention ecological issues in its recent analysis. The Colorado River is a river of national parks, but the river running through them is struggling.”  (Please click through here to EcoWatch and read the column.)  Stay tuned, and we will keep you apprised of this deteriorating situation.

The extreme drought in California is just plain getting worse every week! And, Californians do not seem to be rising to the occasion to ramp up their water Screenshot (76)conservation efforts. Check out this video made by the New York Times which discusses how California citizens are not meeting the request of their Governor, Jerry Brown, to decrease their water use by 20%. The Times video states that conservation in California cities has only hit 5% despite the extreme drought and the mandate of Governor Brown.

This California drought is also reverberating throughout the Colorado River basin from the top to the bottom. Check out this TV news video from Utah featuring Zach Frankel from the environmental group, Utah Rivers Council.  At the same time that Lake Mead and the Colorado River are stretched beyond the breaking point, State officials in Utah still want to move forward with a massive new diversion out of the river to fuel and subsidize growth in Southwest Utah. Frankel states, “Drought in California means that there will be major scrutiny over new water diversions in states like Utah.”  As the drought continues, the tension is rising throughout the Southwest U.S.     

And finally a chance for you to take some action to address this ongoing chaos! At the same time that drought has stricken the Colorado River basin, the State of Wyoming is UpperGreenRiver-WY_commentproposing to build more dams and reservoirs on the Green River which flows into the Colorado. Our friends at American Rivers have created this action alert to Wyoming’s Governor, Matt Mead:  ”As part of Wyoming’s new statewide water strategy, Gov. Matt Mead is considering whether to recommend building two large dams near the headwaters of the Green River at the foot of the Wind River Range. The two dams — one of which would impound 150,000 acre-feet of water on BLM land at Warren Bridge, and the other that would impound 200,000 acre-feet of water further upstream on national forest land — would flood one of Wyoming’s most iconic wild rivers and irreparably harm one of the richest fish and wildlife habitats in the lower 48 states.” Please click through here and tell Governor Mead to stop this nonsense!

Stay tuned for more updates and opportunities for action!  Thank you for your support!


From L.A. to Denver: Water Wars Escalate!

Hello Friends of the Colorado River!

The water wars are escalating across the Southwest U.S.!  First and foremost, the drought in California is intensifying (read the story in the LA Times here) which is putting an increased strain on the la-me-ln-drought-report-20140619Colorado River.  Recall, Southern California gets about 1/2 of its water from the Colorado River and as the rest of the state suffers from drought, more pressure is put on importing water from elsewhere.  This pressure has led to several newspaper stories over the past couple weeks that focus on the declining water levels in Lake Mead — which stores water for Southern California — and how the state is addressing the threat.

This excellent article in the Palm Springs Desert Sun titled “Vanishing Water” focuses on climate change, Lake Mead water levels, and the implications for California.  Taking it one step further, this long editorial in the L.A. Times ratchets up the rhetoric, calling it a “Water War” over Colorado River water between California and Arizona.  At the same time, an in depth article appeared in the Arizona Daily Star about how this water war will likely hit Arizona first, threatening water supplies for Tucson first and foremost.

Are Colorado and Wyoming fueling the water war?  At the same time that the “lower basin states” — Arizona and California — grapple with their war, the “upper basin states” — Colorado and Wyoming — are throwing gasoline on hijackthe fire by proposing to take even more water out of the river before it ever reaches Lakes Powell and Mead.  As I’ve noted in this blog several times, the State of Colorado is creating a “Colorado Water Plan” that proposes to dam, drain, and divert even more water out of the Colorado River.

On that note, last week I published this editorial in the Denver Post titled, “Colorado’s Water Plan Is Being Hijacked.” (it’s great, of course! :-) )  In addition, Denver Water and other Northern Colorado water agencies are planning even more dams and diversions out of the Colorado River.  One proposal called the “Moffat Project” recently released its Final Environmental Impact Statement which was assailed by Boulder County, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and our organization, Save the Colorado, for its negative impacts on the Colorado River (read the story in the Boulder Daily Camera here and the Summit County Voice here) .  If Colorado isn’t bad enough, the State of Wyoming is proposing its own “Wyoming Water Strategy” to get even more water out of the Colorado River ecosystem.  Governor Mead’s statements in this newspaper article suggest he’s planning a large network of new dams and diversions, all of which would further dam, drain, and destroy the Green and Colorado Rivers.

And now you’re asking: Do ya have any good news, Gary??  I know, it’s all bad news this week!  Here’s one small bit of good news.  Save The Colorado’s Facebook page just hit 20,000 fans!  Thank you for following us and staying up on these very important issues.  Keep up the Faith and the Fight!Screenshot (61)

Will Utah Tar Sands Destroy the Colorado River?

Hello Friends of the Colorado River!

Happy Summer!  The weather is warm and many of the rivers and the creeks in the Colorado River basin are flowing high and beautiful — get out there and enjoy it!

Here’s an update of what’s important and happening across the world of the Colorado River this week:

Will Utah Tar Sands Help Destroy The Colorado River?  We often think of the Keystone XL us-tarsandsPipeline in Alberta, Canada, when we think of tar sands, but there’s another huge tar sands deposit in Utah that may soon be exploited.  Check out this story in Calgary Herald about the proposal.

Tar sands mining is a very dangerous threat to water quality and quantity in the Colorado River in Utah and downstream all the way to Los Angeles.  We are staying on top of it by communicating with our colleagues in Utah who are fighting this bad project — we will keep you informed about how you can take action to address this threat.

The Very Best Story On The Colorado River Delta Restoration!  As you know, over delta-supthe last few months the story of the restoration of the Colorado River Delta has been playing out.  Hundreds of stories have appeared in publications across the U.S. and beyond, but this one just published in Outside Magazine is one of the best. Click here to read the story.  Written by Rowan Jacobsen with photos and video by Pete McBride, the story covers their epic and history-making standup paddleboard trip down the Colorado River Delta after the pulse flow release.  Especially take a look at the video — if you only read one Delta story, make this it.

Will The Snowpack Save Lakes Powell and Mead This Year?  Answer = No.  There mead123was a high amount of snow in some parts of the Colorado River basin this year — especially in Wyoming and Northern Colorado — but it’s not enough to address the problem of the long-term drought and overuse of the Colorado River.  The inflow into Lake Powell is only “average” and Lake Mead is expected to continue to drop.  This story from Popular Science, “Last Straw: The Fortunes of Las Vegas Will Rise or Fall With Lake Mead,” tells part of the story, and this story from the Steamboat Today fills in some more details.  A Colorado River water manager sums it up: “Currently, Lake Mead and Lake Powell are 42 percent full,” Kuhn said. “Does that make us nervous? Yeah that makes us very nervous.”

Is This Dam Gross Enough Already?  One of the projects that is winding its way grossthrough the federal permitting process is a massive enlargement of this dam/reservoir in Boulder County, Colorado.  Yes, it is actually named “Gross Reservoir.”  The project — proposed by Denver Water — would drain more water out of the Colorado River and pipe it to the sprawling suburbs.  But, the Boulder County government says ‘Not So Fast!’  Last week, Boulder County sent a scathing comment letter into the Army Corps of Engineers assailing the project, its timeline, and its impact on Boulder county residents.  Take a look at this story in the Boulder Daily Camera here titled, “Boulder County Assails Gross Reservoir Expansion Analysis.

And One Action Item This Week!  Colorado’s Governor, John Hickenlooper, continues n-JOHN-HICKENLOOPER-large5701to be assailed by environmentalists for his policies against water conservation, in support of fracking, and his so-far lack of leadership in the Colorado Water Plan process.  This past week Hickenlooper vetoed a bill that would have increased water conservation across the state and increased flows in rivers.  One environmental group, Clean Water Fund, created a banner about Hickenlooper’s “Failure To Lead” and pulled it behind an airplane over Coors Field in Denver during a Rockies baseball game — the item generated this story in the Denver Post.  Clean Water Fund also created this call2action where you can click through and send an email to Gov. Hickenlooper.  Go for it!

Finally, the pic of the week, below!  Enjoy and thank you for your support!!




Will The Feds Let Colorado River Water Grow Marijuana??

Hello Friends of the Colorado River!

So we got you with that headline, right?  Hey, it’s real too!  The U.S. government issued a directive last week prohibiting the use of “federal water” for growing recreational and potmedicinal marijuana. States and cities up and down the Colorado River basin are trying to determine how this directive impacts marijuana agriculture in their state.  Colorado has completely legalized marijuana while other states including Nevada and California have legalized medicinal marijuana, and the Colorado River serves them all.  Further, nearly all of Colorado River water is administered by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation through its network of dams and reservoirs from the top of the basin to the bottom.  However, as the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports, cities in the Colorado River basin apparently can sell their water to grow marijuana.  So, it’s complicated…  Read more in this Vegas news article here.  The legalization of marijuana raises a lot of questions about agriculture in Colorado River states, such as: Will this crop replace other crops? Is marijuana “water intensive?”  Can you make more money growing marijuana than alfalfa in the Imperial Irrigation District of California?  All interesting questions — we’ll see how it plays out over the next few years.

“I Hate Dams!” A couple years ago, Patagonia’s visionary founder, Yvon Chouinard, made that declaration in a speech in Salt Lake City, UT.  And now he’s made real good on yvonhis claim by being the executive producer of the new documentary film, DamNation, and issuing this editorial in the New York Times, titled “Tear Down Deadbeat Dams.”  The Save The Colorado River campaign has had the great pleasure of joining DamNation and Patagonia at the premiers of the film in Denver and Fort Collins.  The film continues to travel around the U.S., playing at local screenings and film festivals. As Yvon says in his editorial, “I’ve been working to take down dams for most of my life.  The idea, once considered crazy, is gaining momentum.  We should seize it and push for the removal of the many dams with high costs and low or zero value.  ….. After a river is restored and the fish have returned, you never hear a single person say, “Gee, I wish we had our dam back.”  Read it all here!  Thank you, Yvon!

And, yours truly got in the media action this past week!  I had an editorial in High Country News‘ Writers on the Range syndicated column service titled, “A franklyKiss That Brought Hope To River Lovers.”  The “kiss” refers to the meeting of the Colorado River with the Sea of Cortez, like two long lost lovers reunited after 20 years.  In addition though, at the very same time we are working to protect and restore the Colorado River Delta, cities and states up and down the Southwest U.S. are trying to get even more water out of the river, proposing new dams, reservoirs, and pipelines.

We river lovers are paying close attention!  And the water agencies like Denver Water and Northern Water in Colorado, and the folks in Utah that want to build the Lake Powell Pipeline and Green River Nuclear Plant, are put on notice.  You have money and power, we have passion — who will win?!?  Time will tell!  Take a read of the editorial here.

And Great News!  We (you!!) sent in over 900 emails to Colorado’s Governor, John Hickenlooper, asking him to create a “Colorado Water Plan” that protected and restored n-JOHN-HICKENLOOPER-large570the Colorado River.  Can we get to 1,000??  I know we can!  Please click through here and help us hit the cool 1,000 mark!

As we noted in our blog and eblast last week, the State of Colorado has started to create a “Colorado Water Plan” that is in danger of being hijacked by water developers who want to drain even more water out of all of Colorado’s rivers and pipe it to the Denver metropolitan area to fuel, subsidize, and slake the thirst of new growth. These developers and cities need to focus on water conservation, efficiency, and recycling instead of draining more water out of our rivers.  Your voice can make a difference now at a critical time.  Please click here to our Email Campaign to send an email to Governor John Hickenlooper Your email will be taken as “public comment” in the Colorado Water Plan process, and it needs to come as soon as possible.

Thank you for your support!!


Please take action now! The State of Colorado needs to hear your river-saving voice!

Hello Friends of the Colorado River!

We need your help!  Can you please reach out to Colorado’s Governor, John Hickenlooper, now?

Over one half of all the water that flows in the Colorado River — from Colorado to Los Angeles and Mexico — originates as snow in the mountains in the state of Colorado. n-JOHN-HICKENLOOPER-large570And so how Colorado manages its water is critical to the health of the river and to the entire Southwest U.S.

But we have a problem!  The State of Colorado has started to create a “Colorado Water Plan” that is in danger of being hijacked by water developers who want to drain even more water out of all of Colorado’s rivers and pipe it to the Denver metropolitan area to fuel, subsidize, and slake the thirst of new growth. These developers and cities need to focus on water conservation, efficiency, and recycling instead of draining more water out of our rivers.

Your voice can make a difference now at a critical time.  Please click here to our Email Campaign to send an email to Governor John Hickenlooper.  Your email will be taken as “public comment” in the Colorado Water Plan process, and it needs to come as soon as possible.

coriver-delta-jpgA lot is at stake.  As you know, the Southwest U.S. and California are in an extended drought.  Climate change is already here and further threatening the health of our rivers.  And, the human population of the Southwest continues to grow.  States and cities need to chart a new path forward — a major course correction — and focus on conservation as soon as possible.

Take a good long look at the photograph to the left!  We’ve been covering this story of the restored “pulse flow” to the Colorado River Delta for a couple of months.  By Thursday, the Colorado River is likely to meet the Sea of Cortez — you can see it almost there now, flowing downstream and edging closer to the tidal channel of sea water that flows upstream.  At the very moment in history when we are making great strides to restore the Colorado River IS NOT the moment to start diverting even more water out of it.  Enjoy the photo, and stay in touch with our facebook page to see updates.  And again, please click through here to send an email to Governor Hickenlooper.

Thank you for your support!  It matters!

PRESS RELEASE: Denver Water’s Moffat Project FEIS Released — a Lose-Lose Boondoggle

For Immediate Release
April 22, 2014

Gary Wockner, Save The Colorado River Campaign
McCrystie Adams, Earthjustice
Chris Garre, The Environmental Group of Boulder County
Geoff Elliott, Grand County scientist/hydrologist

Denver Water’s Moffat Project FEIS Released — a Lose-Lose Boondoggle

Denver, CO –  Today the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers made available online the much-awaited Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System Project (Moffat Project).  The FEIS is available here.  The Moffat gross-damProject proposes to drain even more water from the headwaters of the already endangered Colorado River, including the Fraser River, and pump that water through a tunnel under the Continental Divide from Grand County to the Denver area.  The siphoned flows would flood unique natural areas of rural Boulder County in a greatly enlarged Gross Dam and Reservoir before being piped to the sprawling lawns and suburbs in Denver Water’s service area.

The FEIS may be the public’s best opportunity to understand the costs and impacts of this massive scheme and to make their voices heard. The $360-million, 18,000-acre-foot project has so-far faced a headwind of controversy through the multi-year permitting process and is likely to be contested for years into the future.

Statements from opponents of the project:

“Denver Water proposes to spend an extraordinary amount of money to further drain the Colorado River and destroy the quality of life in rural Boulder County, all to slake the thirst of Kentucky Bluegrass in our semi-arid climate.  Instead of raising water rates to perpetuate this unsustainable behavior, let’s ditch the Moffat Project and focus on a real and collaborative solution: conservation.” – Chris Garre, Director of The Environmental Group of Boulder County and a resident near Gross Dam

“Denver Water’s Moffat Project is a gross disappointment — it’s bad for the river, bad for West Slope ranchers and farmers, and bad for Grand County.  Our headwater rivers and streams are already severely depleted and will not survive more strangling by Denver Water.  This project should be stopped in its tracks.”  — Geoff Elliott, Grand County scientist and resident

“The Moffat expansion is far from a done deal.  This project should not be approved unless the long-term health of the river is assured and our nation’s environmental standards are met.  We and our partners are committed to keeping the Colorado River flowing.” – McCrystie Adams, Senior Attorney, Earthjustice office in Denver

“The Colorado River is endangered from the source to the sea – its flows are depleted or drained, its habitat is suffering, its endangered fish are on the brink of survival – this river has already given more than it can.  The extremely controversial Moffat Project will face intense scrutiny and analysis in the coming months and years.”  — Gary Wockner, Coordinator for the Save The Colorado River Campaign.

The Army Corps of Engineers is expected to open an official public comment period starting Friday, April 25, 2014.  A full scientific review of the project by opponents is forthcoming.


From Denver to LA: Colorado River EARTH DAY Update!

Hello Friends of the Colorado River!  

Happy EARTH DAY!  We hope you get outside and enjoy yourself today, maybe near your local river or stream!

What’s new along the Colorado River?  First, we are working to hold Denver Water and other Front Range Colorado cities accountable!  Unfortunately last week, the CEO of Denver Water, Jim Lochhead, sent a letter to all of lochheadthe water planners in the state saying that Denver and other Front Range cities must have another large “Trans Mountain Diversion” from the Colorado River.  He said that this type of diversion — like the much maligned Flaming Gorge Pipeline proposal — should be a “fundamental part” of the Colorado Water Plan process.  Well, we lambasted this proposal with a press release here, which generated this story in the Grand Junction Sentinel here.  As Colorado moves forward with its water planning process, it must focus on conservation and efficiency, water reuse and recycling, and water-sharing agreements with farmers, not pipe-dream boondoggles proposed by Denver Water.  We will keep working hard to protect the Colorado River and hold water managers accountable!

Second, we have great news about our petition to “encourage” the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to focus more on water conservation and recycling — we’ve hit 5,000 signatures! brown-la Woop!  Thank you for your support and signature on this petition!  Los Angeles and all of California is still mired in this extensive drought, and there’s no better time to double-down on conservation and recycling as the path forward for the future.

Collecting stormwater, and then recycling and purifying it, is an excellent choice for cities on the Southern California coast — doing so can create new drinking water as well as protect beaches and oceans from dangerous stormwater runoff.  Conservation and recycling offer a path forward for cities in Southern California and around the entire Colorado River basin.  If you haven’t signed the petition on, you can click through here and do so.

Third, the water is still flowing in the Colorado River Delta!  Amazing photos and stories continue to flow out of the Delta right along with the water.  Click here to see some of the canoe-deltarecent photos on facebook.  Our friends at Canoe and Kayak Magazine took a trip down the river in the Delta and also created this short and wonderful video — click through here to Youtube to watch the video.

News reports continue to document how the water is rejuvenating wetlands and restoring the ecosystem in the parched Delta.  Here’s a story from National Geographic that also shows several videos of the restoration process.  As the water returns, wildlife is again visiting the area, and the ecosystem is beginning to repair itself.  As Jeff Moag of Canoe and Kayak Magazine said, “They say it’s an experiment, but it feels like a river.”

Finally, we were delighted to help co-sponsor Los Angeles Waterkeeper’s Stand Up Paddleboard race last weekend near Malibu (photo below).  LA and Malibu receive and use Colorado River water — we are all in this together.  Summer’s almost here!  Grab your paddleboard!  Stay tuned for more updates! Thank You For Your Support!


Will Denver and the Front Range Drain the Colorado River and the West Slope?

For Immediate Release
April 16, 2014
Contact: Gary Wockner, Save The Colorado River Campaign

Will Denver and Front Range Water Providers Drain the Colorado River and the West Slope?
Denver Water CEO Lochhead says large new Colorado River project must be “fundamental part” of State Water Plan

Denver, CO:  An April 3rd, 2014 letter written by Jim Lochhead, CEO of Denver Water, and representing the “Front Range Water Council,” has sent shockwaves through the Colorado Water Plan process (the letter is posted here).  After a year of discussion, meetings, state legislation, and negotiations to try and find common ground for how the entire state of Colorado should move forward with water planning, the Lochhead letter states:

“…the planning process should begin with the assurance, and not simply a hope, that a new supply project [from the Colorado River] will, in fact, be a fundamental part of the ‘filling the gap’ package.” (page 2)

The letter comes on the heels of two efforts to derail this exact kind of massive water-diversion project and controversy in the Colorado Water Plan process.  First, on March 28th two Western Colorado State Senators, Gail Schwartz and Ellen Roberts, pushed through Senate Bill 115 to get more public participation in the Colorado Water Plan process so that all Coloradans could have a bigger voice in the decision-making to protect the economy and the state’s rivers.  Second on April 10th, due to the threat of this type of massive project, the national river conservation organization, American Rivers, identified the Upper Colorado River as one of its “Most Endangered Rivers in America” and asked Governor Hickenlooper to intervene and make sure this kind of project is not included in the Colorado Water Plan.

The April 3rd letter from Lochhead, which was written on stationary of the “Front Range Water Council” – thus representing the majority of water agencies from Pueblo to Denver to Fort Collins – brings out the worst fears of the Colorado Water Plan process, that it will devolve into a massive water fight attempting to drain and destroy the Colorado River to slake the never-ending growth of cities along Colorado’s Front Range.

“This proposal for a large new Colorado River ‘Trans-Mountain Diversion’ would further drain the river and the West Slope economy,” said Gary Wockner, coordinator of the Save The Colorado River Campaign.  “The future of water development along the Front Range should be in smart 21st Century solutions like conservation, recycling, and water-sharing with farmers, not in multi-billion-dollar river-draining boondoggles.”

Lochhead’s letter also flies in the face of recent climate change science and ongoing negotiations throughout the Southwest U.S. on how to address dwindling water supplies and growing populations.  The levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead – downstream along the Colorado River – are at their lowest point in history as federal water managers scramble to create a “contingency plan” for diminishing river flows.  In fact and ironically, at the very same time that Lochhead wrote the letter, the State of Colorado government has started discussions about a contingency plan to divert even less – not more – water out of the Colorado River so that water can run downstream to Lakes Powell and Mead to protect Colorado’s future allotment (that “contingency plan” memo is here and has generated significant concern in news stories here and here in Colorado).

“This letter flies in the face of science and economics,” said Wockner.  “At the exact moment in history when we need to focus on cost-effective and sustainable water supply solutions, this attempt to derail the Colorado Water Plan with a last-ditch and exorbitantly expensive water grab further threatens the Colorado River’s health and ratepayers’ trust.”

One of the massive proposed projects that has been considered is the Flaming Gorge Pipeline, which could cost up to $9 billion, pipe water 500 miles across Wyoming and Colorado, and remove up to 240,000 acre feet of water out of the Green and Colorado Rivers.  Signaling that this type of project should be discussed in the Colorado Water Plan, Lochhead’s letter states, “We also agree that some of the concepts discussed during the Flaming Gorge Task Force effort may be valuable in fashioning a workable solution.” (page 1)

The negotiations for the Colorado Water Plan are ongoing.  Each basin is supposed to have a draft available in July, with a first draft of the statewide plan expected in November of 2014.


Feinstein’s California Drought Bill Eyes Colorado River and Lake Mead

For Immediate Release
April 14, 2014
Contact: Gary Wockner, Save The Colorado River Campaign

Feinstein “California Emergency Drought Relief Act” Eyes Colorado River
Bill proposes to increase storage in Lake Mead

Denver, CO:  With the drought intensifying in California, and with a prolonged 15-year drought in the Colorado River basin, a new version of a U.S. Senate bill proposes to rearrange water storage in the Colorado River.  The bill, titled the “California Emergency Drought Relief Act,” originally was solely focused on drought problems in California, but at the beginning of April, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) reintroduced the bill with a new “Section 111: Colorado River Basin System Water” that would “…increase Colorado River system water in Lake Mead and the initial units of the Colorado River Storage Project reservoirs…”. (See news story here.)

The new version of the bill aims to get the support of Senate President Harry Reid (D-NV) and a few Senate Republicans to ensure a filibuster-proof passage.  In an April 10th news story Feinstein is quoted as saying, “We are very close to 60 [votes], but we’re not there yet.”  Las Vegas is almost solely reliant on the Colorado River for water.  Over the past decade the level of Lake Mead has continued to drop and has threatened Las Vegas’ water supplies as well as those in other parts of the Lower Colorado River Basin.

“As this bill moves forward, it is extremely important to consider the impacts on the health of the rivers in California and the Colorado River basin,” said Gary Wockner who coordinates the Save The Colorado River Campaign.  “Moving water downstream along the Colorado River and storing it in Lake Mead could have environmental and economic benefits for all the people of the Southwest U.S. while helping to ensure water supplies for Las Vegas, Arizona, and drought-stricken Southern California.”

Wockner continued, “We will continue to monitor the progress of this bill and we encourage other stakeholders to engage in a robust public debate about how to protect our economy and environment from drought.  As the effects of climate change continue to be felt across California and the Southwest U.S., all users of Colorado River water will need to adapt to what Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell as called a ‘new normal’ of water management in the basin.”

The bill proposes to increase storage in Lake Mead and other CRSP reservoirs through “pilot projects” funded by grants from the Secretary of Interior to “public entities….for municipal purposes,” and for “renewing and implementing water conservation agreements.”  The exact details how these grants would help deliver and store water in Lake Mead and other reservoirs are not specified in the bill.

The initial version of the bill received lukewarm support from California environmental groups, 11 of which signed a letter saying they supported the bill but proposed amendments.  The new version of the bill has not yet been similarly vetted and will likely intensify the discussion about how to manage less water and more demand in the Colorado River basin.  The Save The Colorado River Campaign and other environmental groups have consistently argued that water conservation is the easiest, cheapest, and fastest way to get more water to cities while protecting rivers.