Walking and chewing gum: mixing crisis narratives and messages of optimism

Not gonna lie – watching Colorado River reservoirs decline so precipitously has been painful.

But it is important to cultivate optimism, and there is, in fact, reason to be hopeful about our ability to deal with the challenges. That’s the message the University of Arizona’s Bonnie Colby and I shared in a recent conversation with Sarah Bardeen at the Public Policy Institute of California:

Bonnie Colby: Everybody knows we’re moving into a serious situation. State and federal officials have been tracking reservoirs and groundwater levels, and tribal nations are involved in a way that they never have been before. That’s much needed, from a social justice perspective, and because they’re holders of the most senior rights in the system. In Southern California, 20 years ago, all the water users were much more likely to lean on their legal entitlements and litigation. We see much more flexibility nowadays—there’s been big progress.


  1. Would it be reasonable to assume that some of the current Colorado River flow should be stockpiled in aquifer replenishing? Replacing that which was pumped out in the past. Not doing so is like spending principal and interest.
    If this is a valid and accepted interest, then the current shortfall, which is lowering the reservoirs, ought to be a larger figure.
    When do the overseers of the basin plan to gather to start negotiations? After Powell is too low for hydro?

  2. Patrick – Aquifer storage/replenishment is underway, and has been for decades across the lower basin. In the case of Southern California, active aquifer replenishment has been practiced for more than a century. Arizona has banked something like 4 million acre feet of water, Nevada has put away a million acre feet, and MWD routinely banks water in aquifers.

    Negotiations have, for all intents and purposes, but underway continuously for more than a decade. The don’t have a magic “start” where everyone gathers in a room and begins a formal process. They are ongoing (though it’s been harder for obvious reasons the last 18 months).

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