Interesting Eco Books for Our Reading Pleasure

Here are some books available at the local library that I’ve found most interesting reading this summer:

Edward O. Wilson, 2016 Half Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life

David Grinspoon, 2016 Earth in Human Hands: Shaping Our Planet’s Future

Auden Schendler, 2009 Getting Green Done: Hard Truths from the Front Lines of the Sustainability Revolution

Jeffrey D. Sachs, 2008 Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet

Independence Day 2017: Irrigation Returns and Enjoying Local Lakes

This morning at 5 am Redlands Water and Power Company began pumping irrigation water after a 4-day shutdown. Crews worked really hard to drive and get repairs performed in Denver. In addition to fixing the 85-year old hydroelectric generator, it appears obvious that the company could provide much more education to water users on their website.

I saw on our Nextdoor neighborhood account people asking if they should turn off irrigation pumps at home during the outage. Yes, when there is no water turn off the electricity to prevent the pumps from burning up before they run dry. Here are some helpful hints from Rain Brothers.

Also, people often do not know when or how much water to apply to grass. As we drove around the community at 4 pm today, we saw many people watering during the heat of the day. The best time to water grass is after the sun goes down when it is cool so the grass does not get burned. Overwatering can also cause grass to die and we see much of the irrigation water going down the drain.

This morning our son caught his first fish, two small mouth bass, at Connected Lakes State Park.  Then in the late afternoon he got to play with a remote control power boat on a pond at Canyonview Park. 

Balancing competing water demands of irrigation and recreation requires better understanding of sustainability and education. 

Happy Independence Day 2017!

 

Our Community Irrigation System Is Broken

Redlands is a community of Grand Junction, Colorado with about 10,000 residents living between the Colorado River and National Monument. Last Friday, a power generator broke down at Redlands Water and Power Company so about 4,500 irrigated acres will go without water for several days. This made front page local news! They report the golf courses have a backup plan to conserve water, limit players, and hand watering from ponds.

The company currently predicts the water will be back by July 4th and states, "We want to fill the ditches as soon as possible because we are not happy unless everybody has good water."

While this shutdown is temporary, we will be watching to see what impact occurs to the local community including peach orchards and lawns drying out.

The risk of wildfire is very high and, even before the irrigation shutdown, fireworks have been banned to non-professionals for the entire Grand Valley during the July 4th holiday.

Abnormally Dry In Western Colorado to Severe Drought in the High Plains

A couple of weeks ago I notice our desert landscaping needed more water. We usually apply drip irrigation for 10 minutes in the morning to keep the variety of flowering plants, shrubs, and trees happy. This worked in April and May. However, June became very dry so we've added another 10 minutes of irrigation in the evening. Right away the plants perked up. I hope it will be enough!

Looking at the U.S. Drought Monitor, Grand Junction area is listed as Abnormally Dry. We are fortunate to have an exceptional snow pack this year. However, the High Plains area of eastern Montana and the Dakotas that depend largely groundwater are not so lucky with experiencing Severe Drought. The drought.gov website states over 15 million people in the U.S. are affected by drought. Severe heatwaves in Arizona even grounded airplane flights!

How Do We Measure Progress and What is the Opposite?

Evolution is a theory that explains how living species change by adaptation. Humans evolved from hominids, that arrived about 15 million years ago, to Homo Sapiens roughly 200,000 years ago with tremendous intellectual progress. Earliest life forms began in the ocean over two billion years ago as single-celled organisms created from building blocks (elements) of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. Evolutionary biologists measure progress in species adaptation to changing environments while extinctions are the permanent opposite. I recall seeing in a German museum an extinct Irish Elk that grew antlers so large that eventually they could not lift their heads. Charles Darwin coined the term "survival of the fittest." Making progress for people may include diet and exercise that makes us healthier as well as improving our safety by making peace with our neighbors. Ironically, too much of anything (food, wealth, sunshine) can be detrimental so we must find a balance in everything.  Western society can greatly benefit through efficient and effective conservation.

So what is the opposite of progress? Considering pros and cons, perhaps it is congress! This is not a political statement on any one legislative body but rather reflective of polarizing partisanship which is off balance, no longer seeking common ground.

Labels have emerged for the “Do Nothing Congress, Gridlock, Nuclear Option, and Drain the Swamp.” Perhaps a deeply divided congress cannot function to make bipartisan decisions. By analogy, if two married people cannot work out their problems then they may need to get divorced. Anyone happily married knows it takes a lot of give and take, forgiveness, and compromise by putting the other person first!

I attended Guilford College, a liberal arts school founded by Quakers who strove to achieve consensus in decision making. Guilford’s website states the school provides, “a challenging academic program that fosters critical and creative thinking through the development of essential skills: analysis, inquiry, communication, consensus-building, problem-solving and leadership.”

Maybe all of us can work harder to understand diverse view points and strive towards building consensus by focusing on our commonalities rather than our differences.

Celebrating Mother's Day including Mother Earth

Today we celebrate our Mother's for giving us Live,Love, and Protection. My Mom, like many other's, took care of our home, the children, family finances, and shared strong moral values. Her career was never more important than spending time with us to make sure we stayed safe and thrived. She took the most interest in our education and school, relationships with friends, and eating healthy. She shared her wisdom and passion for nature by growing roses and other flowers.

Celebrating Mother's Day can include our gratitude towards Mother Earth for providing us with Life, Love, and Protection. We will always depend on our Mother Earth for all that we have in this World. Our Earth is the only place we know of that supports life.  May we share our love and respect for all that gives Life on this Mother's Day!

 

The First Earth Day Walk for Science

On Saturday April 22, we celebrated worldwide the first Walk for Science along with Earth Day that began in 1970. Ironically, the tremendous progress that scientists have made continues to be challenged for numerous reasons. To me getting scientists to emerge outside their comfort zone of the field, office or laboratory and be willing to publicly express their views is a tremendous leap in courage. What is causing scientists to emerge and unify their message?

Here in the small town of Grand Junction, Colorado we saw an estimated 750 people including doctors, paleontologists, ecologists and political scientists walk a few blocks to the city park and celebrate Earth Day. I've felt proud to choose a career in earth science to hopefully make improvements in our environment for current and future generations. I saw many people who've worked hard in school to get great educations and careers to make a difference. I also felt proud to see my son wear his Walk for Water tee shirt and be really interested in the people coming out to support science.

So that is what this first Walk for Science was all about: expressing the rights of scientific freedom to pursue the truth based on inquiry, evidence and peer review. How can we survive a pandemic without scientists developing effective vaccinations? How will we remove contamination from a water supply which could cause cancer if we fail to test and obtain the results? Protecting our air, food and water from natural and human events is a matter of national security. The climate is changing whether we like it our not and we better get moving on solutions rather than bury our heads in the sand! Most people are very grateful for our National Park system and the great natural environments that is such a treasure for Americans and tourist from around the world. Allowing nature to produce wildfires is beneficial to forest ecology as well as reintroducing predators like the wolf controls overpopulation of deer and elk that also benefits habitat for other species.

Despite current threats of funding cuts for scientists to perform unbiased work, I believe challenges to scientists and scientific evidence is not really a new fight with current politicians but rather the ongoing search for truth that has always been a struggle -- probably even before the seventeenth century time of Galileo. His evidence that the Earth was not in the center of our universe based on observation of planetary motion challenged conventional wisdom held by religious leaders. 

I heard speakers during the Walk for Science mention the U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8: "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." 

I recall in high school being fascinated by the weather and how we could take simple measurements of barometric pressure to see if storms were coming when pressure dropped. This is before satellites and doppler radar revolutionized weather prediction including storms or droughts. Think for a moment how NASA, NOAA, USGS, and many other government scientists have benefited all of us for our food and water supplies! Why should our children be forced to return to primitive uncertainty?

One of the biggest changes occurring in science over the past couple of decades is the multidisciplinary collaboration required to solve complex, interrelated problems. Scientific education traditionally forces us into very narrow specialization with unique vocabularies. Luckily groups like the American Geophysical Union do a great job of promoting world-class science for all the disciplines to merge and became a big supporter of the Walk for Science. See the joint statement by over 25 scientific societies on the results of the Walk for Science.

Unshakeable Sustainability

A great new book by Tony Robbins -- Unshakeable: Your Financial Freedom Playbook, Creating Peace of Mind in a World of Volatility.

The book is filled with inspiring wisdom from some of the most and least famous investors showing us how to create an all-weather portfolio. I mentioned this book to my stock adviser who said I should think about applying this approach to my passion for environmental sustainability!

In coming blogs, I will take on this exciting challenge to see what we can do to create PEACE OF MIND for current and future generations in terms of ensuring adequate supplies of air, energy, food, water, and other essential resources that are being extremely exploited.

 

Consumers in the 1960’s Dictated Frugality to Detroit

My first car that my parents let me drive in High School and College was a 1964 Ford Galaxie 500 convertible. The vehicle was already 15 years old when I started driving -- the 8 cylinder, 289 hp engine got about 10 -15 miles per gallon of gas and burned a lot of oil as observed by the blue smoke. So how did American cars companies in the 1960’s adopt to the megatrend change of smaller more fuel efficient cars?

Recall the counterculture hippy popularity of the VW Beetle and other small cars being made in Europe and Japan? For current fuel efficient vehicles, check out this DOE publication. The Toyota Rav 4 Hybrid that we purchased 14 months ago leads the small SUV category averaging 32 mpg.

The book Business Adventures: Twelve Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street by John Brooks originally published in 1959 and updated yearly for another decade describes in one chapter “The Fate of the Edsel.” Ford Motor Company used public-opinion polls and motivational research to define what they thought American consumers wanted at the time. Ford invested over $250 million costing more than any consumer project in history (at least at that time). Brooks wrote, “…the fashion of the day…were cars that were long, wide, low, lavishly decorated with chrome, liberally supplied with gadgets, and equipped with engines of a power just barely insufficient to send them into orbit.”

The first Edsel’s came out in the fall of 1957 and just a few months later Consumer Reports published articles that were not complementary calling it “more uselessly overpowered…more gadget bedecked, more hung with expensive accessories than any car in its price class…The luxury-loaded Edsel…will certainly please anyone who confuses gadgetry with true luxury.” The 1958 Edsel E-475 V-8 contained 345 hp in a 410 cubic inch engine.

Brooks citing Consumer Reports concluded that the “car seemed to epitomize the many excesses with which Detroit manufactures were repulsing more and more potential buyers.” Many of the Edsels had serious quality control problems causing frequent breakdowns.

To break even, Brooks said Ford needed to sell 200,000 Edsel vehicles but after about 2 years sold only about half that number which was less than 1% of all passenger cars sold in the US during that period. Ford discontinued the series losing about $350 million. See Business Insider for details.

Brooks quotes Time Magazine: “The Edsel was a classic case of the wrong car for the wrong market at the wrong time.” The Wall Street Journal stated, “Large corporations are often accused of rigging markets, administering prices, and otherwise dictating to the consumer.” WSJ commented on lack of consumer support for the end of the Edsel after only two years, “When it comes to dictating, the consumer is the dictator without peer.”

Per Hennings.com, Ford made up for its losses with the frugal Falcon, a mega-hit that became the Mustang's springboard. Its sibling, the Comet, became a Mercury instead of an Edsel.

Battery Re-volt-lution

Oh, or should I say Ohm (a measure of electrical resistance), what would Mr. Volta be thinking now? The 18th century Italian inventor of the battery certainly would be 'excited' to see the 'current' revolution occurring in fuel cells.

Think of the various ways we need batteries to store direct current (DC) to power our cars, portable radios, flashlights, laptops, and cell phones. Popular types of batteries use heavy nickel-cadmium (NiCd) or lighter weight lithium ion (with carbon as the anode). Li-ion batteries are currently being used to power electric cars. You've probably heard about construction of Tesla's Gigafactory near Reno to build Li-ion batteries for the next fleet using a solar roof top capable of generating 70 mega watts!

But what if someone could invent a solar panel that also stores electricity? Oh yes, it's being done by researchers at Ohio State University!

Are there alternatives to Li-ion batteries that do not explode? Aquion Energy is making salt-water batteries available to home owners. Vionix Energy is using vanadium redox chemistry for grid scale applications. Some day we will be able to capture some of the wind or solar energy in batteries to use when the wind is not blowing or the sun is not shining. The world's largest battery uses hydropower turbines to generate electricity and recycle water for balancing peak demand.

We are living in exciting times with all of the technological innovations! You say you want a re-volt-lution...?

Living in the Now and Planning for More than Just Today

I've heard a famous spiritual teacher say the past is like a cancelled check and the future is not here yet. We can live with our full awareness on the present moment while at the same time consider living our lives for more than just today. Anyone who wonders where their next meal will come from or where they will sleep at night is living day to day. Most people with jobs are living month to month and spending most of what they make on expenses and saving very little if anything. Getting a financial education for most of us is learning by the school of hard knocks and there is also luck involved - who could have predicted the housing market crash? My parents taught us to be generous while also being aware of how to make and keep a buck. For years I've said at work - another day another dollar!

Over the course of a career, we've learned to spend no more than 25% of our income on housing and find ways to pay off loans as quickly as possible. I always prefer a 15 year over a 30 year loan for the lower interest rates and total savings. The real estate industry may want us to buy a larger home and spend more than we really need as they get paid by commissions. Living within our means, separating our wants from our needs, and conserving resources works for our family; however, this is not typical in the consumer society where we always seem to want more. Consider we bought our 42" flat screen TV nine years ago. It is the only TV in our home. We've been admiring all the fancy new sets with 70" curved screens as a major want but not a need - only when our TV stops working can we justify getting a new one as we are content and grateful for what we have now. One financial planner said to consider not only the present cost but also the future compound interest. For example, investing instead of buying that $1,000 TV today results in about doubling the amount at 5% interest over 30 years. 

By analogy, how do we want (or need) to save and spend our natural resources? Do we want to search for water and food supplies on a daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly basis? Sustainability is really all about wise planning so we do not waste what we have and need now and not forsake our future. Perhaps society focused on consumption rather than saving for the future is great for corporate profits but not so great for future generations as populations increase and natural resources diminish. A great book on the topic is by E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation who advocates we must save half of the Earth to protect many species from extinction and ultimately if we are to save humanity as well. The Hopi society promotes the idea of considering how a decision we make might affect the next seven generations. I think about all the great civilizations that have come and gone including the Puebloans, Greeks and Romans and wonder if global consumerism promoting wants will eventually be extinguished by sustainable survivalists, like the Hopi, who are careful to control what they really need.

 

2016 Year in Review of Conserving and Pro$pering

We’ve made great progress in our family lifestyle this year by conserving energy, food, and water to become more healthy, wealthy, and wise. This website blog exercised and demonstrated our sustainability mindfulness to:

·         Doing more with less – becoming more efficient!

·         Improving our diet, exercise, mediation, prayer, and balancing use of technology

·         Discovering benefits of acupuncture, massage, and confronting/reducing stressful situations

·         Learning to make our own meat jerky that is less expensive and delicious without preservatives

·         Growing and eating inexpensive, organic vegetables by volunteering at a community garden

·         Adding a HVAC electrostatic air filter to improve indoor air quality

·         Saving drinking water supplies with drip irrigation landscaping

·         Drinking mostly water or milk and no soda pop drinks

·         Attending conferences and workshops on water sustainability

·         Speaking to school groups about natural resources and conservation

·         Conducting a home energy audit that allowed patching of leaks and better air circulation

·         Driving a Toyota Rav4 hybrid as the only family car which saved about $650 in fuel costs, 6,000 pounds of carbon dioxide not emitted to the air, and much improved safety and power features

·         Reading many books on sustainability as reviewed in several blogs

·         Becoming more aware of risks and threats to our lifestyle such as overconsumption, population growth, food and water scarcity, ignorance and denial of scientific evidence, and needless wasting of precious resources in a “use it or lose it” mentality

Without sounding too self-righteous, we still have many more opportunities to improve our lifestyle in 2017, such as becoming more self-sufficient by adding solar panels to our home or maybe supporting newer technologies like community modular nuclear reactors; purchasing an electric vehicle; becoming less dependent on banks, credit cards, or investing only in the stock market by building a variety of diverse assets; collecting rainwater (legalized in Colorado this year); planting fruit trees and stocking up on long shelf-life food supplies. Please let me know if you have comments or suggestions!

Happy New Year!

Keeping an Eye on Our Taxes, Spending and Fiscal Sustainability

In the year 2000, I had the great fortune to spend a week on Capitol Hill for a seminar to learn about the federal government and legislative process. The big news we heard discussed was what should the U.S. do with the annual budget surplus? Here is an interesting summary of what happened to the surplus.

See what Paul Krugman (2008 Nobel Prize for Economics) said in 2011 about fiscal irresponsibility and deficit spending as well as many of his poignant current blog posts. He cites the Bush tax cuts, wars, and the recession for our budget deficit problems.

I felt surprised in 2000 that many in Congress were not happy with the budget surplus and more comfortable with the government being in debt. Did they forget what happened in Japan in the 1990's? These factors are still observable today on the World Debt Clock.

Checkout the public debt to Gross Domestic Product ratio (Debt/GDP). This is basically looking at how much is being spent compared to earned by each country. The U.S. is at 71%, China 23%, Japan 256%, Germany 62%, and Russia 24%. Based on these numbers it appears that the strongest economies have the lowest percentages including China and Russia. The huge public debt for Japan is still very concerning. It is amazing to see that the US debt is outpacing GDP while in China they are far ahead in making much more in GDP than they owe.

The U.S. Debt Clock indicates that on average the federal budget deficit is growing at the rate of about $7,500 per minute! This is the difference between money spent by Congress and received through taxes. The total U.S. debt is approaching $20 trillion and growing at $6 trillion per year. Since the year 2000, the federal government increased spending by 118%!

There are various opinions about fiscal sustainability and debt. Some say it's healthy to maintain debt at low levels (see this May 2016 article in theweek).

As I've previously blogged about my upbringing by parents who grew up during the 1930's depression, we've always wanted to save more than to owe the banks! I wonder by analogy if countries that hold U.S. Treasury bonds, including China and Russia, can influence on our economy and standard of living?

Heavy Snow is Coming to the Rockies!

While we've seen exceptionally dry conditions so far this Fall, we can prepare for heavy snowfall due to a polar vortex coming to much of the northern U.S. according to the National Weather Service. About two feet of snow is being predicted for the northern and central Rockies. However, the drought monitor still is showing abnormally dry to extreme drought conditions in the southern U.S. as predicted by NOAA for the 2016-2017 outlook of a weak La Nina system. 

 

Easy Drive to Aspen's Maroon Bells

Last Saturday, November 19th, we traveled to visit one of our favorite places -- the town of Aspen including the John Denver Sanctuary where we could all proudly sing 'Rocky Mountain High.' We heard the road to Maroon Bells  closes every year on November 15th. So we walked over to the Hotel Jerome for a tour of the beautiful European style hotel built during the silver rush in 1889. The concierge said the road to the Maroon Bells is still open even after the half foot of snow that fell two days before! We found the road to be dry all the way up until the Forest Service parking lot at an elevation of about 9,500 feet with only a few inches of wet melting snow in the afternoon sunshine. The 14,000 foot peaks only showed a dusting of snow. The lack of snow is of great concern to the ski industry which must open later than planned and for water managers to forecast adequate supplies.

Warm and Dry Fall

In Grand Junction, Colorado and most of the Rockies we are enjoying an Indian Summer with dry cool nights and warm days. We've turned off our irrigation water last week and the landscaping plants are going dormant for the winter. We will still need to water weekly to monthly during the fall and winter seasons. The ski industry is already concerned as it is so warm they are not able to begin making snow yet they planned to open in less than one month!

According to the Drought Monitor: "Changes in the West this week were mixed. Abnormal dryness (D0) expanded westward in the Upper Colorado River Basin over western Colorado, eastern Utah, and south-central Wyoming in response to warmer-than-normal temperatures and short-term precipitation deficits. Colorado also saw a south and southwestward expansion of moderate drought (D1) due to the continued dryness in the region and impacts on soil moisture and vegetation. A re-examination of data due to rains over the last 30 days resulted in a trimming of moderate (D1) and severe (D2) drought over northeast California and northwest Nevada. These rains have been enough to improve long-term rainfall deficits, streamflow, and soil moisture. Likewise, a one category improvement was made in drought conditions over western Wyoming."

The long term trends indicate we need to continue our efforts to conserve limited resources and find ways to be more efficient and prosperous! One way is for expanding partnerships to share common interests - we need to plant more native trees everywhere to make up for many lost to logging, beetle infestations, and clear cutting. We can take positive steps to reverse the impacts. We are donating to several organizations that support planting trees and people living in the Rain Forest so contact us if you are interested in a list of great organizations!

Seven Principles for Sustainable Water Management

Now that you've passed the test (or checked out the answers) to the the Chasing Water book that I reviewed in my previous blog post, here are Brian Richter's ideas for water sustainability. So what does water sustainability really mean anyway? He cites Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute who offered this definition: "the use of water that supports the ability of human society to endure and flourish into the indefinite future without undermining the integrity of the hydrological cycle or the ecological systems that depend on it." For example, Richter suggests extracting more than 20 percent of a river's daily flow can lead to ecological harm to fish, turtles, frogs and other sensitive species. Lakes and aquifers may be even more sensitive to withdrawals due to slow replenishment.

Here are seven principles to consider for sustainable water management:

1. Build a shared vision for your community's water future.

2. Set limits on total consumptive use of water.

3. Allocate a specific volume to each user, then monitor and enforce.

4. Invest in water conservation to its maximum potential.

5. Enable trading of water entitlements.

6. If too much water is being consumptively used, subsidize reductions in consumption.

7. Learn from mistakes or better ideas, and adjust as you go.

Western water law based on prior appropriation (first in time, first in right) allows control of senior to junior water rights for people but priorities for sustaining natural ecosystems depends on people advocating for the environment. Obstacles to water conservation cited by the author include challenging social norms (people love green grass even in the desert), water providers whose receipts depend upon sales, spreading fear of shortages, and political will for unpopular projects such as dams. 

Richter explains how he learned through personal connections that Australian landowners fought for the environment even during severe droughts to keep water flowing and prevent additional fish kills. A cap-and-flex system adopted in the Murray-Darling watershed enabled setting limits to priority distributions for consumptive use accounting for protecting ecosystems and being flexible with supply during wetter years. The government stepped in to purchase 400,000 acre-feet at a cost of $700 million to store and distribute water where needed for ecological preservation and areas significant to Aboriginal people. 

Australia set up a market-based system to trade water rights which improved accounting systems for water management such as adding efficient technology that can measure the hydrologic cycle and consumptive use. 

Ultimately, there is great power in creating partnerships that can transcend institutional bureaucracies - individuals in local communities and grassroots organizations can network with public and private groups to share in a common mission to find solutions to these challenging problems.

 

Test Your Knowledge of Chasing Water

Brian Richter (President at Sustainable Waters, adjunct professor at the University of Virginia, and Director of Global Freshwater Strategies for The Nature Conservancy) authored a wonderfully interesting book called Chasing Water: A Guide for Moving from Scarcity to Sustainability - Island Press, 2014.

Test your water knowledge by taking this fun quiz with five questions:

1. What is the last state in the U.S. to take up arms against another state over water rights?

2. How much money did Texas lose in revenues from the 2011 drought?

3. How much money is needed to upgrade drinking water systems in the U.S. over the next twenty years?

4. About how much Colorado River water is consumed by agriculture?

5. What is the easiest, most cost efficient way we can increase water supplies or reduce consumptive use?

Before I provide the answers that will hopefully 'wet your appetite' to read this book, many important reflections and impacts come from this book that are really helpful to me. These include Brian Richter's optimism that we all can and must do our part to make a difference, that we cannot leave our future up to dysfunctional organizations including governments, and we can learn from many individuals who've successfully dealt with issues including extreme droughts in Australia, environmental change in China, and improved irrigation technology in Israel.

Ok, now for the answers to the quiz:

1. In 1934, the Arizona governor sent 100-man state militia to stop California from completing Parker Dam on the Colorado River. The Interior Secretary intervened to enable federal funding for irrigation that created the Central Arizona Project in exchange for Arizona signing the Colorado River Compact in 1944. 

2. Texas lost an estimated $9 billion due to the 2011 drought mostly from losses on irrigated farms.

3. An estimated $384 billion is needed to repair the drinking water infrastructure in the US according to the EPA in 2013. Of course, in my opinion the amount could be much higher after revelations about issues like the lead pipe problems in Flint, Michigan which is an issue in many locations.

4. About 50% of the water taken from the Colorado River is consumed by agriculture.

5. Given the inefficiencies in using water by agriculture, such as with flood irrigation or growing unsustainable crops like cotton, we can make the biggest impact by helping to change farm practices such as by using drip irrigation and respecting the capacity of our natural environment to support us.

 

National Environmental Policy Act: A Citizen's Right-To-Know Law

Public disclosure of plans that affect all of us can lead to better decision making and ultimately save tax dollars. A major event that led Henry "Scoop" Jackson, a Senator from Washington State, to write new national  legislation was the Santa Barbara, California oil spill in 1969. The federal government provides oil drilling permits so more transparency, coordination, and public involvement was needed on all federally-permitted or funded projects. 

President Richard Nixon, a Republican, signed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in 1970. The law established the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) located in the Executive Branch to set policy for federal agencies. The first test of the law came by citizens living near the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant in Maryland who sued the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). AEC required utilities to prepare environmental reports but did not plan to consider the document unless issues were raised to the licensing board. The Supreme Court in 1971 sided with the citizens requiring federal agencies to consider NEPA to the "fullest extent possible." The new NEPA law allowed citizens to tell the federal government that environmental impacts or protection of cultural resources must be evaluated before projects are approved.

The way the process typically works is that each agency follows CEQ policy and develops their own regulations to comply with NEPA. The agency must conduct an environmental assessment (EA) -- if the proposed action is considered a "major federal action" then an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) must be prepared that allows for public participation with obtaining scoping and draft EIS comments. The EA may determine a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) is warranted. 

In 2007, I dedicated some time between paid consulting projects to research and publish an article on the NEPA process by examining methods to extract uranium needed for nuclear power. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission released a Generic EIS for in-situ uranium mining -- the industry advocated that site-specific EIS reports would not be needed because the technical processes would be similar at each site. However, to keep citizens informed in the areas of the mining, I advocated and NRC agreed that site-specific EIS reports would be needed. Here is a link to the article.

 

Colorado River Water Conference: Assigning Blame for Lost Opportunities to Take Meaningful Action

The annual Colorado River water conference held in Grand Junction, CO yesterday brought together outstanding speakers and a fully engaged audience of several hundred “experts” who shared diverse messages about our looming water crisis – as if we do not have one already but we don’t want anyone to panic – some want to blame the droughts which may get worse, or climate change and rising temperatures, and future population increases for declining water supplies. Many are focused on future risk scenarios on how the economies and livelihood of farmers will be destroyed and who or what’s to blame.

The state of Colorado can keep about 1/3 of the river supply while 2/3’rds are required to be delivered downstream based on current agreements between seven Western states. We heard that people who live in the desert are growing unsustainable crops like alfalfa and cotton that get huge federal government subsidizes due to our broken political system. No surprise there as it’s been going on for many decades. The state of Arizona may put an end to all farming and focus on the four million water consumers of the Central Arizona Project. Plans being discussed in Arizona are forcing them to reduce their water dependency on the Colorado River by about 20 times the amount for Nevada due to priority rights.

We heard that the beneficial use doctrine in Colorado permits no wasting of water -- that the “use it or lose it” mentality is hysterical thinking -- others who said in reality much water is being wasted and not put to beneficial use which is illegal but not enforced. We heard that on average each American consumes an equivalent of 300 gallons per day of Colorado River Water (based on food consumption). Given that California has the largest population in the West with significant senior rights on the River and provides a majority of food for the World, imagine how they are feeling and when push comes to shove everyone will need to become more aware of the urgency.

The Colorado Water Plan completed one year ago provides for great ideas spread over several decades and is moving into the implementation phase. The plan is currently an unfunded mandate for the most part and money is needed to take action. Here is the Grand Junction Sentinel article that focused on the taxes issue.

We heard that water efficiency for farmers is better than conservation and others said both are great as long as people get compensation for their loss of rights. Some said Americans want more with more, and efficiency is doing more with less while conservation is doing less with less -- so conservation to some almost sounds unAmerican! Arguments were made for which method is more appeasing to various interest groups.

I thought the talk by a local Hotchkiss farmer, Tom Kay of North Fork Organic Farm, provided the best example of someone taking action that we all need to learn from. He converted his farm to sustainable practices by going organic which on average pays three times higher for crops; created a storage pond to capture two million gallons of storage from his water right on the Gunnison River that can be used all year; built a storage area used by other organic farmers; rotates crops and farm practices to increase yields and maximize profits; and is willing to innovate and test new technology!

Overall, with all the highly qualified speakers and attendees, in my opinion another opportunity was lost for meaningful dialog that could lead to us to taking action. Much too little time for questions and answers was given at the conference and no time made after the final panel discussion, the meeting was very brief (from 9:00 am to 3:30 pm), and seemed to check the box for many groups.

Future meetings held in Grand Junction are needed to focus on ‘connecting the dots’: the issues of the Western Slope including being caught between the power centers on both sides – from Denver to California and including large parts of Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and Utah. The Western Slope needs much more awareness of these issues than only to hear about another fight on taxes as mentioned in the newspaper.

A renewed spirit of cooperation and creating new partnerships is needed for our children's survival - obviously water is connected to everything including the food we eat and supplies are not unlimited. Nature is truly interconnected and we are so dependent on the natural world; we need to find better ways to cooperatively solve problems through effective education and positive actions groups - we can all make a difference and work harder to achieve better sustainable outcomes.