From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 6, Number 41 - January 4, 2007
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Cooperate, not litigate, on Colorado River

by Cat Urbigkit

Calling it a critical time for the Colorado River Basin states, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne recently told members of the Colorado River Water Users Association that the region and the nation have a sacred obligation to care for the Colorado River through more effective management actions, as the states continue to benefit from its water and power.

“You and I are entrusted with a national treasure – the Colorado River – and the decisions we make about this river affect the lives and future of millions of people – of an entire region of our country,” Kempthorne said. “If we are wise, future generations will benefit. If we are unwise, future generations will suffer. It is incumbent upon us to be wise.”

Kempthorne, whose department manages dams and storage systems on the Colorado River, lauded “the incredible ingenuity” that harnessed the power of the river. He cited Glen Canyon and Hoover Dams and the other engineering triumphs in the Colorado River Basin. These projects make it possible for river water to flow over mountains to people and farms hundreds of miles away.  

“We have turned vast areas of uninhabitable land into places where people live, work, and have full lives,” he said. “Now we have entered an era where progress on the river will not come through Herculean feats of engineering but through more effective management of the river’s water. From a legal and political standpoint, the difficulties we face in negotiating and constructing this future are arguably as daunting as the challenges faced by the engineers who harnessed the river.”

Among these challenges are managing the river during extended drought, protecting endangered fish and wildlife, rehabilitating natural ecosystems and addressing the demand for water development to support growing western communities. Overcoming these will take perseverance and a determination that failure is not an option, Kempthorne said.

Among the principles that should continue to guide these efforts, the first is that cooperation is better than litigation, he said.

“Where there is conflict or potential conflict, there are no true winners unless everyone gets something and everyone gives up something,” he noted. “If we stubbornly force courts and judges to make the decisions that we ourselves should be making in cooperation and partnership, then courts will certainly declare a winner and a loser.  But I am convinced the winner will enjoy only a pyrrhic victory – in which the cost of the battle exceeds the fruits of success.”

“Likewise, faced with the uncertain impacts of managing Glen Canyon Dam, we developed the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program,” Kempthorne said.  “This is a cutting edge solution that provides an effective framework and process for integrating dam operations, downstream resource protection and management, and monitoring and research. We also are able to better safeguard natural resources and improve recreational opportunities at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Grand Canyon National Park.

“I believe it is vitally important to find the proper balance between the operation of Glen Canyon Dam and the requirements of downstream resources,” Kempthorne said.  “The work we set in motion right now will contribute to the growing body of science, which, in turn, will improve Grand Canyon conditions while protecting the long-term benefits of both the dam and the Colorado River Storage Project.”

Kempthorne said river planners need to embrace an old adage, “Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.”

He noted that two years ago, Lake Powell was 117 feet below pool level and federal officials had warned that hydro-power production at Glen Canyon Dam could cease in 2006 and that Lake Powell could reach “dead pool” in 2007. But a wet year in 2005 allowed the avoidance of that worst-case scenario.

“Though 2005 was a wet year, we are now suffering from drought conditions again,” Kempthorne said. “We don’t know how long this drought will last. It is, therefore, vitally important that we continue to make progress in developing the shortage guidelines. I am pleased that we are on schedule to release the draft environmental impact statement early in 2007.”

Kempthorne commended the seven Colorado River states for coming to a consensus on a drought strategy last February and urged them to continue to work together so that a final environmental impact statement can be signed, sealed and delivered by the end of next year.

See The Archives for past articles.

Copyright © 2002-2006 Sublette Examiner
All rights reserved. Reproduction by any means must have permission of the Publisher.
Sublette Examiner, PO Box 1539, Pinedale, WY 82941   Phone 307-367-3203