Romancing the River: Thinking Like a River

George2024, Sibley's Rivers7 Comments

Romancing the River: Thinking Like a River

Greetings in 2024, which promises to be an interesting year, along the Colorado River and beyond it too. May we come out of it affirmed nationally in our commitment to democratic governance, and improved in our execution of it on our river. Back in the earlier part of the last century, the great conservationist and ecologist Aldo Leopold advised us to ‘think like a mountain’ – a large entity occupied by many life forms working together, sometimes cooperatively, sometimes competitively, but keeping the whole system in a living, dynamic balance. Remove any part – the wolves, in his story – and something else would start to go out of balance (the deer) and a kind of disorder would spread through the whole system. When intruding on an ecosystem, he was saying, tread carefully and move incrementally, stop often to observe your unfolding consequences…. Were Leopold here today, as we undertake the sobering Anthropocene task of more effective management strategies for … Read More

Romancing the River: Sun and Water

George2023, Sibley's Rivers15 Comments

Romancing the River: Sun and Water

I was planning for this post to be tip-toeing into a conversation about the prior appropriation doctrine, a conversation which we badly need to have throughout the interior West, but which will likely be vigorously, even violently, opposed by those holding senior water rights in every western watershed. But instead of that – I’ve been captured by the season, the dark season of long nights and short days that has made us – all the way back to our distant ancestors living in stick-and-mud wickiups (maybe especially them) – want to take a break from the daily round, and instead contemplate the larger problem of helping the sun return. So – a short break here, from worrying about the water we don’t have, or about 2026 and a new set of bandaids and splints for dragging into the future the Marley’s Chain that we call the Law of the River. No big bonfire either, or Saturnalia or Christmas or Kwanzaa … Read More

Romancing the River: What Am I Talking About?

George2023, Sibley's Rivers7 Comments

Romancing the River: What Am I Talking About?

Romancing the River – I am aware, as you are probably aware, that when I title these posts ‘Romancing the River,’ I am talking about the life work of the kinds of people who do not usually think of themselves as ‘romantics,’ or of their water-related work as ‘romancing the river.’ Engineers, lawyers, politicians, managers, career bureaucrats, scientists – they all see themselves as rational beings just doing what must be done to rationalize a random force of nature, to put the river to beneficial use feeding, watering, powering and even entertaining us. That’s ‘romancing the river’? It’s almost an insult to call these serious public servants romantics, a term which resonates with most people today as not really very serious, just ‘love stories’ – so unserious it’s hardly worth them answering me when I call them romantics (which they don’t); easier for them to just dismiss me as some kind of nut (which they might). So let me try … Read More

Romancing the River We’ve Created

George2023, Sibley's Rivers15 Comments

Romancing the River We’ve Created

We are no longer developing the resource; We are learning how to share the developed resources. – The Late Justice Greg Hobbs   Colorado Supreme Court The graph above may look familiar; I used it in a post last summer (June 27, ‘Beyond 2026’). It illuminates a study by three ‘Colorado River elders’: hydrologist Jack Schmidt, retired river manager Eric Kuhn, and USGS scientist Charles Yackulic. I personally think that every meeting convened on Colorado River issues should have this graph projected on the wall until we all grow to accept it as the reality of our past, present and future situations. Certainly it should be illuminating the meetings currently in process, as representatives of the seven Colorado River Basin states, and its 30 First People tribes, sit down to figure out how to ‘reoperate’ the river after the current ‘Interim Guidelines’ expire (guidelines now modified twice, with increasing urgency) in 2026. The graph is a record of the flow … Read More

Romancing the River: The First Peoples, Part 1

George2023, Sibley's Rivers8 Comments

Native reservations map

We’re seeing not just being at the table, but actually having an influence on the agenda. We’re looking at the next step – because you can have a seat at the table, but not be taken seriously. And tribes, especially now in regards to water, we have to be taken seriously. – Stephen Roe Lewis, Governor Gila Indian River Community If you are following the ever-unfolding sagas of the Colorado River in the 21st century, the Early Anthropocene, you are probably aware that there are water-related issues with the 30 remaining First Peoples living within the Colorado River Basin. I’ll say, to start, that I don’t like to call the 574 recognized First Peoples in the United States and Alaska ‘Indians’ (colonizing and homogenizing term, inaccurate too), ‘American Indians’ (two Eurocentric colonizing words), or ‘Native Americans’ (anyone born here is a ‘native’). I prefer to think of them as ‘First People’ for a couple reasons. First, because many of the … Read More

Romancing the River: Glen Canyon Dam and Another America

George2023, Sibley's Rivers7 Comments

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’?

George2023, Sibley's Rivers9 Comments


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

George2023, Sibley's Rivers10 Comments

​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

George2023, Sibley's Rivers12 Comments

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’?

George2023, Sibley's Rivers15 Comments

John Locke

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