Climate Change and rhetoric on the Colorado River

I could see the reporters at last week’s Colorado River Water Users Association meeting chafing at the rhetoric we were hearing regarding climate change. In my strange new role (kind of a reporter, I am writing another book,  and kind of not – I have this crazy university gig) I was invited into the news events, but tried to hang at the metaphorical back, letting the folks with daily deadlines and immediate needs ask most of the questions.

And regarding climate change, ask they did. Here’s how the Arizona Republic’s Ian James characterized the scene as he explained the comments made by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt:

He didn’t mention the words climate change during his speech at the conference. But during a press conference afterward, reporters asked Bernhardt about the role of climate change.

“I certainly believe the climate is changing,” Bernhardt said. “I spend a lot of time with our scientists, and I spend a lot of time with our models. And you know, what the scientists tell me is that the best thing we can do is make sure that if we’re using a model, we use multiple models and multiple ranges within each model. And so that’s what I’ve insisted on when we’re looking forward to the future.”

In projecting the river’s flows into the future, he said, “we absolutely follow best practices all the time.”

After Bernhardt’s news “gaggle”, I put on my university professor hat, echoing in part an argument I’ve been hearing articulated with increasing clarity by Brad Udall:

John Fleck, director of the University of New Mexico’s Water Resources Program, said Bernhardt’s comments reflect a dichotomy within the federal government in which officials are taking steps on climate adaptation but not on combating planet-warming emissions.

On the one hand, water managers at the Bureau of Reclamation are working with scientists and using climate models to assess risks and project the river flows into the future, Fleck said.

“They’re absolutely taking climate change seriously. It’s built into the modeling work they’re doing,” Fleck said. “You don’t find water managers doubting the reality of human-caused climate change and its effects. They’re seeing it in the flow in their systems, and they’re dealing with it.”

On the other hand, he said, there is a “disconnect” in that the Trump administration isn’t taking steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“So that increases our risk,” Fleck said. “That’s a problem because we need to reduce greenhouse gases to mitigate the effects on the Colorado River.”



  1. “a dichotomy within the federal government in which officials are taking steps on climate adaptation but not on combating planet-warming emissions.”

    Perfect analysis of what is going on.

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