Current Events

World Economic Forum Ranks Climate Change as Top Environmental Risk

The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) recently released Global Risks Report has for the first time ranked climate change “as the most severe economic risk facing the world.” The WEF’s report indicated that climate change is compounding and intensifying other economic, humanitarian, and social stresses such as mass migration.


CRRG Reports: Lake Mead Structural Deficit and a Call for Unified Management of Colorado River

A December 2015 report by the Colorado River Research Group (CRRG) calls for enacting strategies to deal with the structural deficit in Lake Mead. The lower basin reservoir of Lake Mead receives about 9 million acre-feet (AF) of water annually primarily the upper basin state’s Lake Powell. However, when evaporative losses are factored in, Lake Mead loses 10.2 million AF each year. This annual shortfall of 1.2 million AF of water has come to be known as the structural deficit. According to one of the report authors, Doug Kenney, while this is primarily a lower basin issue, the faster the structural deficit pulls down Lake Mead, more legal and political pressure will be on the upper basin states.


Colorado Water Plan and Growth

In an effort to better prepare for an estimated doubling of its population by the year 2050, from approximately 5 million people to an estimated 10.5 million, Colorado released their first Statewide Water Plan last November.


New Federal Natural Resource Investment Center Established

A mid-December U.S. Department of the Interior press release indicated that they plan to spur investment in water conservation and infrastructure in the West through public-private collaborations. The release indicated the department is establishing a Natural Resource Investment Center (NRIC), with the goal of involving the private sector to help identify innovative ideas and financing options for projects aimed at conserving western water. Ideas could include facilitating water transfers in the West, protecting habitats and species, and replacing aging infrastructure. The NRIC is part of President Obama’s Build America Investment Initiative, which calls on federal agencies to increase investments in broadband networks, ports, roads, water and sewer systems, and other infrastructure projects. The NRIC is also part of the president’s Pay for Success Initiative that employs market-based management tools to ensure government services produce intended outcomes. Martin Doyle, professor of river science and policy at Duke University, has been appointed the Senior Conservation Finance Fellow at the new NRIC. 


Speaker at 70th Annual CRWUA Conference Indicated: “Water cuts could create economic 'tsunami' for Colorado Basin”

According to an Arizona Daily Star article, economic analyst Jeremy Aquero had this to say at the recent Colorado River Water Users Association 70th Annual Conference in Las Vegas: “To understand how a future Colorado River water cutback could hurt the economy, start with this fact--the seven river basin states, by themselves, make up the fifth largest economy in the world. Then, consider that the economic output of the areas within those states that depend on the river for water equals that of Australia. So if this region doesn’t adapt to a cutoff with significant conservation, acquisition of new supplies or both, the economy will implode on itself. The effect will look more like a tsunami than ripple on a pond.”


Silverton and San Juan County Officials Authorize NPL Discussions

In response to the recent Gold King Mine incident on the Animas River, in November, Silverton and San Juan County officials participated in a tour of several Superfund sites in Colorado. Since then, both governments have authorized their representatives to meet with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, as well as the U.S. EPA to discuss what would be involved if the area were to be given a National Priority Listing (NPL) under the Superfund program. These discussions are preliminary and no decisions have been made, though one of the conditions desired by the local governments is that money be made available now to address the mining drainage in Upper Cement Creek.


Water Emergency Staved at Lake Mead

With unusually high rainfall in May and June, the second-highest level of precipitation during that period in the past 108 years, trailing only 1983, Lake Mead water levels were boosted thereby averting a possible water emergency that would have triggered cuts in water allocations next year. Officials had warned as recently as June that there was a 33 percent chance of a “Tier 1” water shortage in 2016, which occurs when the water level in Lake Mead drops below an elevation of 1,075 feet. A Tier 1 declaration would result in a cut of 320,000 acre-feet to Arizona’s share of Colorado River water, about an 11 percent reduction. In August the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) reported that there would not be an emergency declaration. Lake Mead’s elevation was at 1,078.24 feet at the end of August. In addition to dropping the chances of a Tier 1 declaration to zero for 2016, the BOR lowered predictions for 2017 from the 75 percent chance it was looking at this summer to just 18 percent in the latest report. While the findings are good news for all seven states in the Colorado River basin, the drought is definitely not over but this will buy time to find more collaborative solutions.


Colorado Water and Growth Dialogue

Whose job is it to worry if a city, town, or rural area's water supply is sustainable? Some believe it’s a planner’s obligation to consider the long-term security of water supply, while others contend that securing a sustainable water supply too overarching for a single planner and department. Complicating the issue is the fact that not everyone who deals in water supply and land use is on the same page. Land use planning is typically a local governmental concern, while water planning and allocation occur on multiple local, state, and federal levels. The traditional disconnect between planning and land use decisions and current and future water supply realities can preclude a sustainable balance between water supply and growth. To-these-ends, the Colorado Water Institute and the Keystone Policy Center have joined forces for a two-year project to tackle what they call the “dilemma” of water use in Colorado. The project, referred to as the Colorado Water and Growth Dialogue, is an attempt to explore and demonstrate how the integration of water and land use planning should be utilized to reduce water demand from the development and re-development associated with the projected population increases. This approach to planning aims to direct and incentivize smart, water-wise growth in lieu of allowing pure market conditions to guide how Colorado grows. 


Recreation Work at Lake Nighthorse

According to Ed Warner, Area Manager of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s (BOR) Western Colorado Area Office, the BOR is working with all the Animas-La Plata Project partners and stakeholders to reach consensus regarding development and management of recreation at Lake Nighthorse. Current recreation work includes: working on a recreation lease and annexation agreement with the City of Durango, developing a cultural resource management plan for the reservoir area in accordance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, preparing National Environmental Policy Act documents, and finalizing construction plans and contracts for the Lake Nighthorse entrance area and aquatic invasive species inspection station to be constructed this fall and winter. The proposed recreation concept plan prepared by the City of Durango, is available on the City’s website at http://co-durango.civicplus.com/DocumentCenter/View/4358.  


At the Margins

Across the Colorado River Basin precipitation has been well above average, and while it has not been enough to make up for a weak winter snowpack, it has been enough to improve things significantly at the margins, at a time when “at the margins” is where the basin’s managers have been eking out a nerve-wracking existence. In particular, a 2016 Lower Basin shortage declaration, which would have mandated reduced water deliveries to Central Arizona, seems a lot less likely.


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