Trusted Sources


Meet Lorri J. Gray, regional director of the Bureau of Reclamation's Lower Colorado Region.
Corey Cram of Utah didn't think much of Watermark Initiative, a recent source of information on water compacts and how they plan to deal with global warming impacts. A subscriber to Water & Wastewater News e-newsletter, Cram noted that the company specializes in legal work and mediation in water issues, but asserted that the water community is a better source of information to help readers understand these issues.

When I asked Mr. Cram to help me identify those sources, he clued me in on his background:

"I am most familiar with interstate issues associated with the Colorado River. Most people have heard of the 1922 compact that established the basic legal framework for the law of the river. Most don’t know that there have been about a dozen agreements and court interpretations that have further established conditions on the river for water sharing and droughts. The lower basin gets a lot of press because it was always very reluctant to cooperate; there the Bureau of Reclamation is the water master and oversees water distribution and management on the river.

"The upper basin (Wyo., Colo., Utah and N.M.) put an agreement in place in 1948. It established conditions for sharing the upper basin allocation and contemplated drought conditions. The upper basin states have had a pretty good history of cooperation and support each other in developing their allocations. In December of 2007, the Secretary of the Interior and all of the seven basin states signed an agreement which helps address further coordination of water resources in Lakes Powell and Mead, encourages conservation measures, and largely creates cooperation and peace on the river through 2026."

"Compacts are not a dead and lifeless piece of paper … but rather a dynamic process where a law is in place but individuals, states, and parties work together to address issues. A year or so ago, Scripps Institute in San Diego put out an article suggesting that Lake Mead was going to be dry by 2020 based on current water levels, river management as outlined in the compact, and climate change. The Bureau of Reclamation provided Scripps with some comments saying that their approach was nothing new and that they did not take some basic river management facts into consideration—including the December 2007 agreement protocols. Scripps came back with more information saying that Lake Mead looked good until 2050 or something like that. I believe the take-home message is that it is very easy to sit back and project conditions onto a system that most know little about....

"So little is actually known about the real impacts to our river systems as a result of climate change. It’s easy for people to predict warming of a few degrees and preach doom and gloom. But in the case of the Colorado River system, what are the on-the-ground changes as a result of that anticipated temperature increase? Most suggest that it will be more rain in the fall and spring and less snow. Does it hurt the users in the system, if that increased rain and decreased snow can still be captured in the Colorado River Storage Projects? Maybe not. Probably not. I don’t think we know. We know a lot less than we think we know and few are willing to admit that.

"One thing we do know is that water resource managers are among the best in any industry at planning for the unexpected, including drought and change. Is drought a new concept for the water manager? No. Will there be time and opportunities to better understand the impacts and adaptively change? Probably."

Well said, Mr. Cram. And thanks, too, for putting me on the informed path. I will reach out to the Bureau of Reclamation, state water resource agencies, and the Upper Colorado River Commission. What other news sources do you trust?

Posted by L.K. Williams, EPonline on Apr 10, 2009