I’m having a bad FOMO day today, watching John Orr’s Twitter feed from the Colorado River District’s fall seminar, being held today in Grand Junction:
@R_EricKuhn : I speak in numbers. Let’s look at the hydrology of rivers. The history is quite important. I worked on the book with @jfleck. #crdas2019 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification pic.twitter.com/A0IIKjq66A
— John Orr (@CoyoteGulch) September 18, 2019
Four years ago, as I was putting together the final bits of Water is For Fighting Over, the River District invited me up to give a luncheon keynote at this same event, a chance at a critical moment to pull together the book’s ideas into a single coherent talk.
I didn’t know Eric well at the time, but a few days after the event he sent me a very nice email gently taking issue with something I had said. I went back to the source material, and of course Eric was right. I went back and rewrote a few paragraphs of the book – a small but critical fix – and sent Eric the revised chapter.
A few months later, at a cocktail reception at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas during the annual meeting of the Colorado River Water Users Association, Eric and I began a conversation that turned into a collaboration that turned into a book coming out this fall on the history of our hydrologic understanding of the Colorado River – Science be Dammed: How Ignoring Inconvenient Science Drained the Colorado River.
The book lives at the intersection of Eric’s deep understanding of the river’s hydrology, understood in a language of numbers, and my desire to tell compelling stories that help productively shape our understanding of water in the west. The book has a repetitive mantra, a motif – “LaRue, Stabler, and Sibert” – three early scientists who tried to warn us that there was less water in the Colorado River than the grandiose plans being laid.
The three – E.C. LaRue and Herman Stabler of the USGS and retired Gen. William Sibert – are crucial characters in the development of the Colorado River who have been largely lost to history because they were on the losing side of important arguments. Eric’s deep fluency with the language of numbers is the key to the book – I was kinda the translator, I guess.
Eric’s on the road this week, talking about the book – today in Grand Junction and tomorrow at a gathering in Santa Fe of the Colorado River brain trust. I’m missing both, enmeshed in some fascinating work in Albuquerque, working with University of New Mexico Water Resources Program students on critical questions involving the Rio Grande. We’re working on how much water it might take to meet shifting values – water for urban trees and their accompanying health benefits, water for the river itself. It was a bad time for Prof. Fleck to sneak away from fall classwork to indulge his Colorado River governance hobby.
I’m trying with our students to put into practice the message of the new book – that it’s important both to be clear and realistic about how our values translate into future water use, while also being clear and realistic about what the science can tell us about how much water we actually have. (In fact, I’ve gotta file this blog post pronto – Prof. Fleck office hours start in four minutes!)
FOMO – some fun party action and important hallway conversations with the Colorado River crowd! But I’m gonna try to get up Friday morning and crash the Santa Fe action, maybe get in an afternoon bike ride with Eric before he heads back to Colorado.