Fixing the Perfect Storm on the Colorado River
"Fix your eyes on perfection and you can make almost everything speed towards it." -- William Ellery Channing
Over five trillion gallons—that's how much water is drained out of the Colorado River every year leaving it bone stinkin' dry.
I know, I was there.
A couple months ago I stood in the sand about 75 miles south of Mexicali, Mexico and scanned the horizon—sand and barren dirt as far as the eye could see. It's a startling sight, not so much for what you see, but for what you don't. Many decades ago that scene was one of the largest wetlands in North America, nearly two million acres of water and grass and one of the largest desert migratory bird oases on the planet.
We humans, busy as beavers, have dammed, diverted, and drained the Colorado River until there ain't nothing left. The river starts high in the mountains of Colorado and Wyoming, but just feet away from its headwaters also starts the dams and diversions. Of the five trillion gallons, cities and farms in the U.S. take the vast majority of it. A small portion, 10 percent, still flows into Mexico, but then is quickly diverted for cities and farms south of the border.
Please look at this photo. It's real. That's what the majestic Colorado River looks like right now, today, where it used to meet the Gulf of California.
Okay, enough of the doom and gloom, now what can we do about it?
Good news: We can begin to fix this massive ecological problem and your voice will make a difference.
Over the next few months, the United States and Mexico are negotiating a shared agreement so that a very small amount of Colorado River water may once again reach the Gulf of California and help restore the wildlife and economy of this important region. This agreement will respect the rights of all water users, respect the heritage of U.S.-Mexico border relations, and create an extraordinary opportunity to restore the ecology of the Colorado River Delta.
The agreement between the U.S. and Mexico is being negotiated by the International Boundary Waters Commission (which is under the U.S. State Department) and will be administered by the U.S. Department of Interior. Therefore, Secretary Hillary Clinton (State Department) and Secretary Ken Salazar (Interior Department) need to hear from you soon.
I have been working with 25 regional, national, and international conservation organizations up and down the Colorado River basin and put together an online petition we have all signed on to where the public can take action. The petition, hosted by Change.org is here. Please read and sign it today by clicking here.
The bone dry river is real. The potential agreement between the U.S. and Mexico is also real. And the petition will really make a difference -- I have been in contact with the International Boundary Waters Commission, they are aware of the petition, and we will deliver the petition signatures to the commission and respectfully request that they also take action.
With your help, we may all soon be able to stand in the sand 75 miles south of Mexicali and see something different -- a thin line of water, alive and real, racing towards the sea with perfection in its eyes.
Let's begin to fix it. Please sign the petition today -- Click Here.
The following conservation organizations ask for your signature and support: Save the Colorado River, Sierra Club - Rocky Mountain Chapter, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Living Rivers: Colorado Riverkeeper, The Environmental Group, Western Rivers Institute, Alexandra Cousteau: Blue Legacy, The Ocean Foundation, Clean Water Fund, San Diego Coastkeeper, Save the Poudre: Poudre Waterkeeper, American Whitewater, Waterkeeper Alliance, Food and Water Watch,Colorado Ocean Coalition, Glen Canyon Institute, Save the Colorado River Delta: Sonoran Institute,Sheep Mountain Alliance, Grand Canyon Trust, American Rivers, Citizens for Dixie's Future, Great Basin Water Network, Redford Center: Red River Film, Planning and Conservation League of California, and Defenders of Wildlife.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
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