Kenney on the West’s water problems

The University of Colorado’s Doug Kenney, who tends to be pessimistic about the Colorado River Basin’s water management problems, did find something optimistic to say in a Guardian op ed today:

The situation isn’t hopeless. In Southern California, for example, the massive Imperial Irrigation District transfers water to drought-stricken communities in Los Angeles and San Diego. And on the Colorado River, the states today seem much more inclined to bargain than to litigate as some states run short while others are fine…. There’s just enough flexibility in the system, and just enough financial incentives, to allow some water to be reallocated through water markets, but such efforts are slow, costly and controversial. And political leaders have been given just enough rope to speak of modest reforms, but only if they can guarantee no reduction to their constituent’s current water supplies. (Emphasis added, that last point seems really important.)

Doug’s not as optimistic as I am about the potential for progress down this path:

[I]n a region facing drought, climate change and population growth simultaneously, the pace of change and the ambition of the proposals are too modest to head off some needless pain and suffering.

The full piece, which explains the roots of the mess, is worth a read, as is Doug’s work with the Colorado River Research Group and the Colorado River Governance Initiative.

(Disclosure: Kenney and the University of Colorado Getches-Wilkinson Center at which he is based have twice covered my travel expenses to participate in their annual summer conferences, including a really great one last week.)

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