Tag Archives: Law of the River

Sketching Out the Ending

We live in interesting times─ lucky you and lucky me─ whoopie. I keep scratching my head and am left wondering how gripping a less action-packed present might be. In the next few days data will get crunched and we’ll know if December 2021 was or was not the hottest of all Decembers on record. That should generate a collective disengaged yawn from the overworked and underpaid. Thwaites’s glacier is the cheery doomsday topic in a recent Rolling Stone article, and this Antarctic calamity is preternaturally destined to be a conversational gamechanger in the months ahead.

June 2021 just west of Las Vegas

Forecasters told us that Bidens victory would lead to a collapse in viewership on cable news outlets. To the surprise of exactly zero still clean and sober people, it turns out that casting out a mendacious psychotic con man from the Oval Office would be followed with a fall off in viewers exhausted from worrying about the immediate collapse of civilization. Viewership decline seems almost humane, the circumstances the nation is confronting happens to be a nasty bit of duplicitous populism. I decorate my language with terms like treason, tyrant and Nazi─ I salt and pepper my speech like I was working at a mistletoe testing facility inside a wax lips factory. When you get to live in interesting times you will find as I have that they come with sloppy wet kisses.

Journalism and capitalism make for an unhealthy pairing of mistaken bedfellows. There was a time where a contented citizen meandered the pages of a local newspaper perusing the want-ads trying to find a steal on a used car with a radio that still works─ those were the days─ In this era we click on items on our computer screen and read from the Guardian, Atlantic Monthly, or Buzzfeed. Far off scribes treat us to a veritable tsunami of seditious Republican sycophants all gushing with envy over Viktor Orbán’s iron fist rule of Hungary.

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, I hike each day trying to release as many endorphins as my body can produce to quell my anxious mind. All that up energy is used to fend off all this Debbie-downer news we are surrounded by. Recent survey has found that 4 in 10 Americans live in a county that has been hit by some kind of extreme climate event. I don’t know what those other 6 Americans are doing but it appears near as sure a bet as a sure bet can be that their long put off extreme weather event experience is just ahead. Life is nothing but tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and wildfire  While we’re here be sure you refresh those batteries in your portable radio.

Swimming Pools are Nice

No wonder everyone has tuned out the news and instead has gone hog wild for water skiing and topless dance watching. If you look around, you’ll find this concept that’s been tattooed into our citizens consciousness, it is the concept of American Exceptionalism. It was the year 1963 when western state water managers feeling so exceptional that they began filling Lake Powell─ at the time they were warned it would be one of the most environmentally destructive events ever to befall the American West─ those sounding the alarm have turned out to be more than just a little lucky in their prediction, they are absolutely right. As horrific an act as building this dam was, literally drowning the wilderness from the Colorado River, the very next year in 1964 by some form of legislative miracle the Civil Rights Act was passed, then one year later in 1965 Congress dragged kicking and screaming passed legislation guaranteeing all citizens the right to vote. Furthermore, Congress agreed that the citizens votes would count, and that─ we the people─ would conduct free and fair elections. I promise you the spirit of Jefferson Davis would take great exception to America’s exceptionalism. America isn’t even half century out from having passed the Voting Rights Act. It was only two years later that Democrats would lose the southern vote for generations. Can you imagine─ a whole House and Senate, a fungible majority of vote coddlers that back in the 1960’s had the unmitigated gall to fortify self-governance laws. They must have been high on something.

No sooner had Lake Powell been filled than this gargantuan mistake began going dry, today it is barely one-quarter full, it’s been drying up over the last 22 years─ tragic doesn’t begin to capture the destruction this dam has caused.

This whopper of a reservoir was never a good idea, this boondoggle was just the next western water mirage to seize the minds of the dam building obsessed engineers working for the Bureau of Reclamation. Talk about the dunderheaded faux pas─ what I call the decision of no return.

Some water goes, never enough goes west

Because it is slightly hotter and slightly drier─ climate change effects─ there is less water coming down the Colorado River to fill Lake Powell and what water does arrive, well too much ends up being evaporated off the lake’s surface before the water can be used for its intended purpose. We lose 386,000-acre feet of water per year off Lake Powell, Lake Mead is estimated to give back 600,000. Turns out the two reservoirs are a water resource managers worse nightmare.

Arizona’s Water Bank Authority─ nothing but the nicest people have been assigned this grim duty─ knowing all there is to know about evapotranspiration─ because that’s what our states water boards are trained by banishment to do─ this elite brigade of experts, this gang of water tortured souls are trying their damnedest to pump as much water into underground aquifers as water allocators will allow. If you can get water stored underground, it will eliminate losses from evaporation. This of course runs smack into the face of farmers and ranchers pumping every drop of water out of the ground as quick as their unmetered pumps will allow. If you want to point to a teachable moment this is where paradox and absurdity meet at the gates to what is left to the Garden of Eden.

Lake Powell just 27% full

There are plenty of good ideas, and every reason to have hope, but we’ve also got one of the most convoluted water rights systems in the world. Byzantine doesn’t do this tangled mess justice. What appears to be afoot is that everyone and everything is going back to court. You have never seen a worried look like those on the faces of the water managers from our seven western states. The Colorado River Compact of 1922 – The bedrock of the “Law of the River”, this disputatious Compact was negotiated a century ago by the seven Colorado River Basin states─ by 2025 so will begin the Great Disentanglement. You do not need to guess what will happen, we can know the scale of the situation by looking at snow and rainfall totals.

Water rights will have to be reassigned, those losing access to water will sue, those gaining access to water will complain, stakeholders in the water grabbing racket seldom to never get enough to make enough to feel like they’ve got enough. This will be one of the most litigious events of this new century, and as new century’s go a good many have strong feelings about this newfangled mark on time. A lot of folk’ want a do-over, but you know as time goes, all those ticking seconds flow in one direction─ present moment to uncertain next fateful moment. A great unraveling of agricultural interests will be delayed as long as is judicially feasible, residential water users will stave off the worst of the cuts, lawyers will get wealthy, and many expert state water resource managers will likely suffer from heart problems and seek the sanctuary of early retirement so they might spend more time with their families─ this is perhaps the last handful of people they still know that does not hate their water reneging guts.

Starter home, bring your own water

Reallocating water from the Colorado River has to happen, picking new winners and losers is unavoidable, I’d recommend we laser paint the intake tubes that power the electric turbines on Glen Canyon Dam send a couple of guided missiles into these choke points and put this mother of all water blunders out of its misery. (Plot point to story/screenplay I’m writing) Turns out when you run the numbers the dam isn’t doing a damn thing.

The FBI back in 2002 said environmental activists represented “the most dangerous domestic terrorist threat to the country.” Eco-activism in the best sense describes a cohort of likeminded souls trying to come up with fixes to the problems mankind is having with the natural world. Some folk’ trying to defend their turf even if they are guilty of squandering our natural resources like to paint eco-activists as hairbrained and a danger, they’ll call them radical environmental activists, and if and when they get out of line these do-gooder’s will become destructive. These imagined maniacs earned top billing on the FBI’s wanted posters, by the time the Glen Canyon dam at Lake Powell had been filled water resource managers had successfully painted opponents to the dam as radical environmental terrorists.

Glen Canyon Dam already 90*F at 8AM

What we can know now that we pretended not to know then was that the dam at Lake Powell is a mistake, that there is every reason to believe this dam needs to be removed, that it should never have been built and taking it down will not be anything but the right thing to do. Look people we tried it and it didn’t work. Let’s put things back the way they were before we got here and started messing with this primordial forces of nature. We’re going to have to learn how to get along with this world or this hotter and drier world is going to get along without us.

Come on now, it’s going to be fun─

American West Trickle Down

Dead Horse Point, Utah

Colorado River runoff is in climate change induced decline, Lake Powell is at 38% of capacity. Here is what is at risk. “Spanning parts of the seven states of Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming (Basin States), the Colorado River Basin (Basin) is one of the most critical sources of water in the West. The Colorado River and its tributaries provide water to nearly 40 million people for municipal use, supply water to irrigate nearly 5.5 million acres of land, and is the lifeblood for at least 22 federally recognized tribes (tribes), 7 National Wildlife Refuges, 4 National Recreation Areas, and 11 National Parks.” All of the water allocations are regulated by the Law of the River.

Up in the Klamath River Basin there is a different drought dynamic. Both the Klamath and Colorado rivers because of the megadrought have allocation agreements that are impossible to meet. There has long been tension on the Klamath, this latest drought is just the most recent trouble. Because of the much more complex water law on the Colorado it is difficult for a disgruntled water user to put a face on their water crisis.

In Klamath Falls there are several convenient faces pointed out for blame. Top of the list are the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Oregon Water Resources Board. Then predictably there are the indigenous people that have long lived in this basin, the tribes consist of the Modoc and the Yahooskin-Paiute people, known as the mukluks and numu. Non-indigenous citizens frustrations boil over, local sovereignty movements emerge, states rights advocates get their dander up, and talk of secession is floated in community meetups.

Molten Salt Towers Aglow

The problems on both river systems are identical, but on the Colorado River friction is spread out among 40 million. On the Klamath River basin the official population is 114,000, this is one quarter of one percent compared to the Colorado basin.The colossal Colorado’s economic impact on the region is enormous but it is this smaller river system the Klamath where matters other than economic may go off the rails with a bullhorn.

Here is the Law of the River on the Colorado. “The treaties, compacts, decrees, statutes, regulations, contracts and other legal documents and agreements applicable to the The Law of the River consists of allocation, appropriation, development, exportation and management of the waters of the Colorado River Basin are often collectively referred to as the Law of the River. There is no single, universally agreed upon definition of the Law of the River, but it is useful as a shorthand reference to describe this longstanding and complex body of legal agreements governing the Colorado River.”

Water activists on the Klamath who have had all of this years water cut to zero, with roots in ranching and farming need to put a face on their problems. Governors are picked on, Secretary of the Interior is hit, scientists from various agencies, to gain any traction the farmers and ranchers need a target for their frustrations.

The insurrection of January 6th has only cemented the impression something has gone haywire in our country. A few years ago the survival of our democracy wasn’t even on anyone’s radar screen.

What we know with some degree of certainty is that there is enough water out here in the American West for residential use. It is the commercial use of the water, it is the farmers and ranchers that will struggle to thrive and expand as water allocations are reduced year by year, some years by drought, other years by the swelling population.

Demographic projections in decades ahead warn the Colorado River basin population will grow to 79 million by 2070. If you are from Denver, Phoenix, Salt Lake City or Las Vegas firsthand experience with explosive growth tells you this trains coming, no cow- all bull full steam ahead.

What can we done? Laws will need to rewritten. We’re going to need to get with the Department of Agriculture and rejigger crop subsidies, and that’s going to trigger a wave of tantrums. The titans of agriculture will resist but there are no easy outs, this David and Goliath story is an epidemic in our country and time has come to slay the beast. Our century old water laws are outdated, drought and the climate emergency have rendered these rules unworkable. You want a tip? Get a degree in water law.

Where water has been over promised we’ll want to pull acreage out of production. We’ll want federal dollars used to buy back land. We’ll want to rationalize what crops we plant and decrease the total number of acres planted. Regenerative farming methods will become common. Water intensive crops like almonds, alfalfa, and dairy will be relocated to water abundant regions of the United States. Grazing cattle will become impractical as summer temperatures soar. Last weeks heatwave was recording setting. In the Mojave I was driving between Las Vegas and Barstow in 118*F.

June 16, 2021 hotter than blazes

Funding for programs can be solved by use of a carbon tax. Where a rural community has been hit by the decline in fossil fuels we’ll want to develop programs that diversify the economies of these communities.

Differences have grown between urban and rural regions of the American West. Since the pandemic spawned the work from home movement we need to incentivize our digital workers to be sprinkled out across the countryside. Corporations should support their workers spreading out. Pressure on housing would decrease in our urban zones and perhaps prices in our rural communities would benefit from a more robust growing population.

Many pieces of what I am proposing are in the hands of Biden’s Build Back Better infrastructure bill now working its way through Congress.

Factions that move populations by emotion, by fiery rhetoric, by putting an innocent face on this gigantic existential problem only slow down our ability to set our course for survival.

Sunrise over Searchlight, Nevada- Harry Reid’s hometown

I’ve been touring this region of the country since 1974. I’ve lived in the Verde Valley and farmed land in the Willamette Valley. I have hayed my own fields and loaded my own horse into my own trailer. I don’t take no backseat to anyone claiming they’ve earned some special rights or claim to be free to do whatever the hell they want to do. Frontier times are over and we will make do by cooperation and following rules.

My eyes have seen sunrises and sunsets that my camera can’t capture and my novels seldom do justice to, but I’m out here, constantly talking to folk, the janitors, teachers and horse whisperers. I get a fresh faced yo-yo champion to laugh at a trick dog’s stunt. I make camp in the loneliest corners of the Great Basin. I know hay farmers, barrel racers and organic strawberry growers. Much is unsettled and more turbulence is likely than less. Join with constructive groups, urge your political representatives to speak up about these matters, we can do this but not by tempest and tantrum. We’ll get by hard work and compassion. Saddle up partners we have a country to save.