Water principles of the West begin with blaming California

  • Ed Quillen

 

Like the rest of the West, Colorado is suffering from a multi-year drought. Drought, in case you’re curious, is one of those technical terms for what happens when you have enough water for 1 million residents, but not enough for 4 million, let alone the 10 million that the developers would like to see.

What might be even worse than the lawn-watering restrictions, though, is the plethora of proposed solutions, which range from cloud-seeding to importing trainloads of water from the Nebraska Sandhills.

Among those proposals is a set of “water principles” adopted by a group called “Colorado 64,” which is a consortium of outfits like Club 20, Action 22, and Progressive 15, which are in turn associations of neighboring counties which select delegates who convene every so often for lobbying, socializing and other noble purposes.

The new water principles, codified earlier this year after lengthy discussion, contain all the proper modern buzzwords, like “consensus” and “respect.” Who could find fault with “the implementation of consensus-based water resource solutions that respect local authorities”? Or with “maintaining the proper stewardship of the land”? Or with “earnest efforts to find water supply answers that benefit all Coloradans, for this and future generations”?

In other words, these principles are about as controversial as safe streets and neighborhood schools. But there is a problem, and that is that they ignore the traditional principles that have, for the last century or so, pretty well defined water policy in the West.

Thus it only seems proper, if we’re going to adopt some New Water Principles, to remember our Traditional Western Water Principles:

Whenever there’s a water problem, it is always the fault of California. When mountain streams are flooding, it’s because California won’t let new dams be built in the Rockies. When the mountain reservoirs are shrinking, it’s because California keeps taking water it is supposed to get under the 1922 Colorado River Compact. California is a safe party to blame, because it’s so big and rich that nobody there needs to care what we say about it. Besides, it’s a Democratic domain, and our Republican officials need to blame somebody.

In all water development, the federal government should cover most of the cost, and preferably the entire tab. After all, the Winning of the West has been a national priority since about 1777, and there’s no reason to stop now.

No water project is ever built to assist developers and subdividers.Even if they’re the ones who will benefit the most, the official purpose will be to benefit hardscrabble farmers, struggling ranchers or Native Americans.

If there’s not enough water to serve new developments, then current users should make sacrifices. In other words, the more water you conserve, the more water that will be available for big-box stores, shopping malls and sprawling suburbs. These developments generally increase your cost of living and reduce your quality of life, but you will be told that “we’re all in this together” and you’ll be seen as rather churlish and mean-spirited if you object to killing your last tree so that Vista Heights Gated Golf Course Community can continue selling lots.

Any solutions to water-supply problems should feature new structures (dams and reservoirs are best, but canals and tunnels are acceptable) which can be named after their political sponsors — i.e., Hoover Dam in Nevada, Alva Adams Tunnel in Colorado, Theodore Roosevelt Dam in Arizona. Water projects need political support, and it’s easier to get it with the imposing Sen. Josiah R. Claghorn Dam and Reservoir than with the Claghorn-Smith Instream Flow Protection Act of 2003. Construction can confer a degree of immortality on a public servant. It also shows the constituents that they’re getting their fair share from the pork barrel, and that’s important, especially in election years.

These are the principal principles that have guided Western water development over the years, and it seems odd that they were not addressed by the people who came up with the new and improved water principles.

But on the other hand, that could be because no one has ever figured out how to repeal the supreme law of our hydrology, first articulated by John A. Love, a Republican who served as governor of Colorado from 1963 to 1973: “Water flows uphill to money.”

Ed Quillen publishes Colorado Central in Salida, Colorado.

High Country News Classifieds
  • BACKCOUNTRY FILM FESTIVAL MANAGER
    Boise-based Winter Wildlands Alliance is looking for an experienced and highly motivated individual to organize our annual Backcountry Film Festival and Tour and coordinate additional...
  • LAND CONSERVATION MANAGER
    SUMMARY Leads, administers and manages the land conservation, conservation easement stewardship, and property management activities of the City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Department within...
  • CLEAN ENERGY PROGRAM ATTORNEY, NEVADA
    Position Summary: Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is seeking a Staff Attorney who is passionate about Western communities and the protection of the natural environment to...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Deschutes River Conservancy in Bend, Oregon
  • WATER POLICY ANALYST WITH WRA (BOULDER)
    Position Summary: Western Resource Advocates seeks a passionate Water Policy Analyst with knowledge of western water issues to join our Healthy Rivers Team to strengthen...
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST
    9+ acre inholding. Passive solar strawbale off the grid and next to the Continental Divide Trail in ponderosa pine/doug fir forest at 7400.
  • HIRING BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER DIRECTOR
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring an Education Center Director to oversee the operation of the Bears Ears Education Center....
  • PROGRAM MANAGER, SUSTAINING FLOWS
    Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • PROGRAM ASSOCIATE - VERDE RIVER EXCHANGE
    Verde River Exchange - Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • CODE COMPLIANCE OFFICER
    Teton County Planning & Building is hiring! Our ideal candidate is a team-player, a problem-solver, pays attention to detail, and can clearly communicate technical material...
  • ARCHITECTURE DRAFTSPERSON/PROJECT MANAGER
    Studio Architects is seeking a full time Architectural drafts-person/project manager with1-3 years of experience to join our firm. At Studio Architects our mission is to...
  • ASSISTANT MANAGER/TRAINEE, COLORADO RANCH
    needed for 16,000+ acre conservation property in south central Colorado. Qualified candidate would have experience working on a ranch or wilderness property, general forestry/fire management...
  • FARM HAND &/OR NANNY IN ESCALANTE
    Nanny for 18-mnth-old. Yearly salary, vacation, health insurance. Spanish/other foreign-language native spkr prefrrd.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Washington Association of Land Trusts seeks an ED to build on WALTs significant success & to lead the association to new levels of achievement. See...
  • BEAUTIFUL CUSTOM STRAWBALE HOME IN WESTERN COLORADO!
    Secluded, energy efficient Southwestern home on 40 wooded acres. Broker - Rand Porter - United Country Real Colorado Properties. 970-261-1248, $425K
  • FORMER RETREAT CENTER/CONSERVATION PROPERTY FOR SALE
    57 acres in Skull Valley, AZ, 17 miles from Prescott, year-round creek, swimming holes, secluded canyon, hiking/meditation trails, oaks, pines, garden, greenhouse. House, office building,...
  • HISTORIC RANCH HOME W/ 20 ACRES
    Historic 1893 Ranch Headquarters. 4 Bdrm, 3.5 Ba, 4000 ft2. Remodeled 2002. Includes 2 studio apts, stables, arena, workshop, 5 RV hookups. Chirachua & Peloncillo...
  • VICE PRESIDENT OF RETAIL OPERATIONS
    The Vice President of Retail Operations will provide overall leadership and accountability for purchasing, product development, merchandising planning, visual merchandising, retail operational excellence, oversight and...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners seeks an experienced fundraiser with excellent communication and organizational skills.
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    position in Phoenix with the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy.