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Advice for Jewell on protecting Colorado River

Hi Friends of the Colorado River!

Please take a quick read of this editorial that appeared in the San Diego Union-Tribune last week.  Thanks!

Advice for Jewell on protecting Colorado River

By Gary Wockner
March 7, 2013

President Obama’s pick for Interior secretary could be a stroke of genius. Sally Jewell, a former CEO in the outdoor recreation industry, will inherit a job that is one of the biggest recreational employers in the U.S. No, not the Department of Interior, but the recreational industry along the Colorado River.

According to a report released in 2012 by business coalition Protect the Flows, the Colorado River powers a $26 billion recreation economy that employs a quarter-million Americans. Volumes of outdoor lovers flock to the banks of the river and its tributaries each year to enjoy boating, fishing, birding, hunting, hiking and other river-related activities, in turn supporting jobs and local businesses that exist to serve them in their outdoor adventures. If the Colorado River were a company, it would be the 19th largest employer in the Fortune 500.

As Jewell steps into the boat, the mighty Colorado is overtasked more than ever. Here are some of the key actions that must be addressed to keep that job creation – and the river itself – alive:

Make Water Conservation a Priority: Jewell should put the conclusions of the “Colorado River Water Supply and Demand Management Study” into action. Supported by former Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar, the study found that to keep supplying water to a growing population, as well as to protect and restore the river, water conservation is the cheapest, quickest, easiest path forward. By investing in water conservation first and foremost, Jewell can make sure that cities and states throughout the Southwest United States protect the river and the economy that depends on it.

Permanently Restore Colorado River Delta: Secretary Jewell can help implement the significant (but temporary) U.S.-Mexico water agreement signed by former Secretary Salazar that restores a small flow of the Colorado River to its dried up Delta where, drained and diverted upstream, it no longer reaches the Gulf of California. With a modest water supply, the Delta can increasingly thrive, providing respite for migratory birds along the Pacific Flyway and renewing a natural system that supplies life and resiliency to both nations. Secretary Jewell can help to make the agreement permanent for the benefit of future generations.

Reject River Draining Diversions: Jewell can oppose new large-scale diversions and pipelines costing billions of dollars that would further drain and destroy the Colorado River. Projects like the proposed Gila River Pipeline taking water from the Colorado tributary Gila River in Southwest New Mexico, likely to a municipality along the Rio Grande, would create substantial reductions in flows causing monumental losses for communities, tourism and countless businesses whose livelihoods depends on the river.

Make Tough Decisions Dealing with Climate Change: Climate change is already shrinking the Colorado River’s water supply, and predictions are that supplies could shrink further by 9 percent to 20 percent in the coming decades. The Colorado River Basin Study proposed numerous options to address these dwindling water supplies including water sharing agreements with farmers, using groundwater supplies, and retrofitting powerplants. With water levels lowering from climate change induced evaporation in both Lake Powell and Lake Mead, Jewell may need to help make hard choices about which reservoir lives and which gets drained, and “liquidate” resources that are not performing in a climate-changed system.

Keep the River Healthy: Most importantly, Jewell will have to pay close attention to the health of the river itself. Its stream banks, habitats, and species are severely endangered by dams and diversions that continue to drain and manipulate water levels. Newly proposed water supply projects would further imperil environmental resources in the river basin.

Fortunately, outgoing Secretary Salazar has left a commendable legacy by prioritizing the health of the Colorado River, and Jewell can draw on the good will he created among the business and environmental communities. The facts are plain, but daunting: Some 36 million people (and growing) in the Southwest use Colorado River water; at the same time a multibillion-dollar recreational industry powering Southwest communities and cities depends on keeping the river flowing. We urge Secretary Jewell to continue the Department of Interior’s outstanding work, and astutely balance the many needs placed on this “Mother of Rivers” as she takes the helm of the riverboat in March.

Welcome to the Colorado River, secretary nominee Jewell.

Reprinted with permission from the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Gary Wockner is director of the Save The Colorado River Campaign, a project of three sustainability minded companies, New Belgium Brewing, Patagonia, and Clif Bar.


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