Stuff I Wrote Elsewhere: Bending the Law of the River

I’m excited to join an “I’m not worthy” sort of group at Stanford’s Lane Center who share a common interest in our changing West. My piece of the problem is water management. My initial contribution touches on my cautious optimism about long term institutional management issues on the Colorado River – some success in recent decades, questions about whether that success can be a model for future progress on harder problems:

The hard negotiations among the federal government and the seven basin states that led to agreements rather than litigation means the Colorado no longer deserves the title Marc Reisner bestowed on it a quarter century ago of the “most litigated river in the entire world”, said Mike Connor, who worked on river issues as counsel to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and now heads the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

But the problems ahead clearly could dwarf those that triggered the deals Mulroy and Connor are so fond of. Jeff Lucas of the University of Colorado’s Western Water Assessment, in a pre-conference presentation to the Upper Colorado River Compact Commission, laid out the problem – climate change, driven by rising greenhouse gases, is likely to sap the river’s flow, he said. Terry Fulp of the Bureau of Reclamation put numbers to the problem with a newly released Bureau climate change scenario suggesting 9 percent less water in the river, on average, by 2050.

If there’s less water in the river, who will come up short?