I’m headed up to Boulder this week for the University of Colorado Natural Resources Law Center’s “Navigating the Future of the Colorado River” conference (more from John McChesney here), then off from there to Sacramento and the Bay Area (with the kind support and assistance of Stanford’s Lane Center) to learn more about California’s water problems.
The two sets of problems – the Colorado River supply-demand imbalance and the political and policy mess that is the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta – are closely linked because of Southern California’s dependence on imported water from both. “We’re all interconnected,” a Southern California water manager told me the other day. “A problem on the delta eventually means a problem for Vegas and Phoenix.” Or vice versa, as I noted last month with respect to Southern California’s increased use of Sacramento Delta water as its Colorado River supplies declined.
But there are huge differences in the institutional frameworks for dealing with the political and policy problems faced by the two systems. Despite the grim scenarios painted by some with respect to the Colorado River (including, frankly, me), the Law of the River has proven robust in the face of problems on the Colorado over the last decade. California was successfully forced to reduce its diversions from the Colorado – to stop depending on surpluses and live within its means. With that agreement in place, we weathered the biggest decadal-scale drought on the Colorado River since record-keeping began more than a century ago, and no one had their water supplies reduced any further than that.
Rob Davis is right that we lack a plan for what happens next, which is a big part of what I hope to get out of the Boulder conference – given the framework now in place that allowed us to weather the drought of the ’00s, what do we do next? There is no guarantee that we’ll succeed in creating the additional framework necessary to deal with greater problems in the future, but at least I can see a path forward.
As for California, I’m still scratching my head, trying to understand what the framework might be that would allow the sorting out of competing/conflicting demands on the delta.
Stay tuned here, and over at the work blog. I also hope to file several pieces for the newspaper over the next few weeks trying to explain to the Albuquerque audience why they should care.
I also hope to get out on a boat. On the water. And I’m taking my binoculars, because I hear the Delta has some great birds.