A short post, to catch up on Colorado River current events. As you probably know, if you haven’t been living in a media-free cave, the three Colorado River states below the canyon region have proposed another alternative plan for saving the River’s reservoir system. Their proposal, for answering the Interior Department’s call for cuts of at least two million acre-feet (maf) of water annually, is to cut three maf total over the next three years – and they want 1.2 billion dollars from the federal government to execute their plan. Their plan is basically to pay farmers to voluntarily fallow some of their land. They say they will do half of the cuts – 1.5 maf – in 2024, the remainder over the following two years. Beyond that, there are no firm details at this writing as to how much of the cuts will come from each state, how much they will be paying farmers, et cetera. Basically, what it … Read More
Romancing the River: Glen Canyon Dam and Another America
We’re in a bit of a holding pattern along the Colorado River today, at least in the Upper Basin: on the one hand, waiting for the Bureau of Reclamation to weigh the options for big cuts in Lower Basin use; and on the other hand, seeing the Lower Basin states trying to come up with a less painful set of big cuts to impose on themselves over three years, taking advantage of the big snow year that relieves a little (but just a little!) of the immediate pressure. At any rate, it’s an opportunity for me to step back a step and try to restore something of the perspective with which I started these posts – ‘learning to live in the Anthropocene.’ I’ve been calling the posts ‘Romancing the River,’ wanting to work in the spirit of Frederick Dellenbaugh in his book The Romance of the Colorado River: making the story of the First River of the Anthropocene something to … Read More
Romancing the River: Is Glen Canyon Dam an ‘Antique’?
Yes, that diagram again. I was chastised by readers last week for using it – partly for the ‘Antique’ in the diagram’s title, but also for not adequately explaining what the diagram shows. I apologize for the latter. These posts tend to run long and demand a lot more of readers than the 15-second attention span for which Americans are derided. But just to keep them down to a couple thousand words or so, I find myself having to go through some things too quickly in order to get to whatever point I was aiming for. Brevity unfortunately is not the soul of my wit. But having a sense of the structure and infrastructure of our big dams is critical to understanding what is going on along the Colorado River these days, where it is easy to confuse the river itself (which is experiencing chronic low flows but is not ‘drying up’) with the ‘river management system’ (which really could … Read More
Romancing the River: Beginning to Face Reality
As you no doubt already know, if you follow Colorado River news, the Bureau of Reclamation and Department of Interior have issued a ‘Near-term Colorado River Operations: Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement’ (SEIS) analyzing two alternatives for making massive cuts in the consumptive use of the Colorado River’s waters, beginning in 2024. The SEIS analyzes strategies for cutting use by two million-acre feet (maf) next year, with cuts up to four maf in following years if the water supply in storage continues to decline – roughly a third of the total volume of the river as it has run since the turn of the century. The alternatives discussed in the SEIS will look familiar to those who have followed the river news for the past couple months; they are similar to the plans for large reductions created by the seven River Basin states: one plan by six of the states, the other by the seventh, California. One of the Bureau’s ‘action … Read More
Romancing the River: Tragicomedies of the Commons
In my last post, I was questioning the process of allowing the privatization of the commons through individual appropriations – in our specific instance here, privatization of the ‘water commons,’ but also of the land, and all of its living systems and the raw resources that must feed, water, shelter not just us but all life on the planet. Every living thing that requires food, water, air or virtually anything at all ‘appropriates it from the commons,’ and probably in the strictest sense we all ‘create a property’ in the apples we pick to eat, the water we dip out of the stream to drink, the oxygen in the air we suck into our lungs. But we have not always gone on to claim personal ownership of the tree that produced the apple, or the land the tree grows on, the stream that waters the tree. That is a relatively recent invention of modern cultures – the agricultural and the … Read More
Romancing the River: Is Appropriation from the Commons ‘Natural’?
Though the water running in the fountain be every one’s, yet who can doubt, but that in the pitcher is his only who drew it out? His labour hath taken it out of the hands of nature, where it was common, and belonged equally to all her children, and hath thereby appropriated it to himself. – John Locke, from Second Treatise of Government Decision-making about the parlous Colorado River situation is currently somewhat hung up in a surly debate about the absolute ‘rule of law’ versus the kind of equity and fairness most laws are created to further. Six of the seven Colorado River states are willing to take proportional shares of the pain for some major cuts in water usage that must happen for the river system to remain functional. But the seventh state, California, insists that the pain be administered strictly according to the foundational law of the river basin, the appropriation law, whereby junior water users bear … Read More
Romancing the River: Meanwhile Back in Central Arizona
There’s a bit of a lull in the multiple conversations up and down the Colorado River Basin, with some positions staked out, while the Bureau of Reclamation initiates an ‘emergency environmental impact statement’ to ascertain, supposedly by late summer, what resolution it will either accept from the seven Basin states, or impose on the states, to reduce consumptive use throughout the Basin by two million acre-feet or more. All of this is of course being covered in the mainstream media as a ‘water war,’ in their constant efforts to pump any cultural exchange up to a ‘let’s you and him fight’ situation. To call cultural negotiations a ‘war,’ even noisy negotitions among parties with interests at stake, both trivializes the terrible nature of ‘war’ and casts the exchange in an often exaggerated aspect of belligerent violence. If you want to read about a Colorado River water war – fictional of course – pick up a copy of The Water Knife … Read More
Romancing the River: Caliphobia and the Colorado River
‘Caliphobia’ is a cultural germ that infects many Americans everywhere. ‘Caliphobia’ is fear and loathing of the State of California, the state that always seems to be ahead of everyone else in everything, bringing us everything from new entertainments and toys, to new laws on cultural frontiers the rest of us know we ought to be brave enough to embrace ourselves. I’m thinking of things like auto emission standards where the size of the California market brought the automobile industry to heel, with the nation eventually falling in line too. We hate them when they’re right. Californians also occasionally take a big step backward in a deliberate way, and the nation eventually falls in step there too – remember ‘Proposition 13,’ California’s 1978 property tax revolution to protect existing homeowners at the expense of community health, a battle which ultimately generated the national ‘Tea Party’ and the Trumpian ‘I’ve got mine Jack’ culture. We hate them when they’re successfully wrong. … Read More
Romancing the River: Deja Vu….
Unless you’ve been living in a media-free cave somewhere, you are probably aware that the Colorado River is again prominent in the news. What’s not really noticed, but ought to be, is the extent to which we find ourselves today almost exactly where we were 101 years ago this winter, with six of the Colorado River states in tension with the seventh state over basically the same topic: the appropriateness of appropriation law as the only legal means for allotting use of the river’s water. The line of conflict today is being drawn over the increasingly depleted state of the two big storage reservoirs on the Colorado River’s mainstream, Mead and Powell Reservoirs. The Bureau of Reclamation, the ever-optimistic manager of the river’s storage and distribution system, has finally acknowledged that its reservoirs are getting uncomfortably close to a ‘dead pool’ situation whereby it would not only be unable to generate electric power, but would even be unable to get … Read More
Romancing the River: Quo Vadimus 2
…the fabled Hassayampa… of whose waters, if any drink, they can no more see fact as naked fact, but all radiant with the color of romance. – Mary Austin, ‘Land of Little Rain’ That fabled Hassayampa is in the news these days, down in Arizona. The Hassayampa River does exist, by the way: an intermittent stream that flows off the south slopes of the Colorado Plateau, and down through a desert valley west of the sprawling phenomenon of Phoenix, where it joins the Gila River, which in turn joins the Colorado River down near Yuma and the Mexican border. A new development has been proposed for the lower Hassayampa Valley, catering to those trying to stay out ahead of the sprawl: the Howard Hughes Corporation wants to turn 37,000 acres of Sonoran desert land there, just west of the White Tank Mountains, into a new development, Teravalis, with 100,000 homes for maybe 300,000 people, and 55 million square feet of … Read More