Concerns over rising waters as Colorado River negotiations continue – The Rocky Mountain Collegian


Ivy Secret, Life and Culture Director

Hot, dry air settles over a small suburb of Fort Collins. The heat pushes residents inside to turn on the air conditioning, and the constant spurting of sprinklers is the only sound that breaks the midday silence.

This is a common case of exceptional waste that may need to become a scene that exists only in memory, especially for states like Colorado.

Colorado has had drought conditions on and off for decades. And tackling the region’s water scarcity problem has been a priority for states that depend on Colorado’s water resources.

“As an upstream state, we’re a really critical place in terms of the different rivers that originate in Colorado,” said Melinda Laituri, professor emeritus of ecosystem science and sustainability at Colorado State University.

One of these rivers is the Colorado River, the sixth longest country’s river, which serves almost 40 million people. It is an essential resource for the southwestern United States and Mexico.

“The lower basin and the southern half of the upper basin had been in drought for 22 years,” said Steven Fassnacht, snow hydrologist and professor at CSU.

The Colorado River Compact of 1922 has been a priority because the rights set out in the covenant are renegotiated to protect the river.

Much of this access to water depends on snowmaking. From the flow of the Colorado River to groundwater resources, snow is integral to access to water, and Colorado just isn’t getting the amount it was getting before.

“From the mid-1930s to the mid-1970s, snow accumulation actually increased,” Fassnacht said. “And since then, the trend has been towards a reduction in the snowpack.”

This is of particular concern when resources are used to make snow for skiing or water lawns that are not beneficial to local ecosystems. The larger ecological impacts that Colorado has faced, such as fires and overuse of resources, need to be considered.

“If you burn the side of the hill, you really increase the likelihood of having precipitation causing erosion,” Fassnacht said. “You have a lot of sediment that ends up in the river. Ash is terrible for sewage treatment plants.

Think about what it would mean to have ash in your drinking water or even just damage water treatment facilities. This reality means that the way we interact with water may need to change dramatically in order to protect it.

“We expect that we can go to the tap and turn it on and the water will be there,” Laituri said.

Even running your sprinklers in the middle of the day or overusing natural resources by running your air conditioner all the time can have serious impacts on the water resources and ecosystems they serve.

“It also depends on education, because not everyone is a watershed scientist,” said Eric Williams, president of the Watershed Science Club at Colorado State University.

Williams said lawns and developers should be concerned about water use.

“I think if we’re going to point fingers at something, it should be all these lawns we have,” Fassnacht said. “I’m not saying you have to get rid of every last piece of grass, but let’s be much more strategic.”

It’s not a new idea. Nevada began to remove lawnsand the city of Fort Collins has an initiative to encourage xeriscapereplacing the lawn with local plants that are more resistant to drought conditions.

Participating in these programs and educating yourself, Williams said, are some of the best ways to get involved. However, the average person can’t just stop watering his lawn and expect the drought to be over.

“I don’t know if it can really be driven on an individual level,” Laituri said. “Yes, it makes us feel good to do things that we think contribute. … Will that be enough? It’s the big water users who will really have to come to the table.

We cannot continue to live in a world where wealthy citizens big celebrities may abuse their water allocations while others have no access to clean water at all. The issue of water scarcity is an elaborate entanglement of social justice and environmental concern, which means that the resource must first be treated as a necessity before it can be allocated for luxury.

“There are 30 federally recognized (native) tribes in the lower basin that should have access to water, and many other reservations actually don’t have running water,” Laituri said. “Ensuring they have access to this resource is part of that conversation.”

Native groups were not included in the Colorado River Compact, and like some of the most prominent advocates water rights, they have much to add to the conversation.

Indigenous groups are not the only people to consider when water rights are negotiated. Laituri stressed that new populations coming to Fort Collins should be considered.

Laituri said if we want to conserve water, we must consider state capacity when developing. We have to ask ourselves if we can house more people and if it is responsible for continuing this population growth.

Although the concerns around the river are complex and still poorly understood, that does not mean action is not being taken. And that doesn’t mean there aren’t solutions.

“Please be curious,” Williams said. “No question is (a) stupid question.”

Contact Ivy Secret at [email protected] or on Twitter @IvySecrest.


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