The Bureau of Reclamation today received a proposed set of common-sense solutions to solve the imbalance between supply and demand for water in the Colorado River Basin, where the Bureau projects river flow will decrease by an average of about nine percent over the next 50 years due to climate change. The proposal by Environmental Defense Fund—which includes ideas by other conservation groups and stakeholders—was in response to the Feb. 1 deadline for public input of “options and strategies” for a study to define and solve future imbalances in water supply and demand in the basin through 2060.
“Our proposed solutions don’t include expensive new infrastructure and diversions that threaten the health of the Colorado River and the recreation and tourism economy of the region,” said Dan Grossman, Rocky Mountain regional director for Environmental Defense Fund and a former vice chairman of the Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee in the Colorado Senate. “Instead, we are focusing on common-sense ideas—including water banks, water re-use and municipal and agricultural efficiency—to solve the imbalance between supply and demand, while protecting the healthy flows of the river.”
Water banks are institutional mechanisms that can be set up in one state, or by multiple states, to use existing storage in a more flexible manner—particularly during drought—by holding “deposits” of water leased or purchased from existing users. For example, they hold the potential to be a cost-effective way of preventing the chaotic effects of a “call” on the river under the Colorado River Compact. The compact stipulates that when river flows are insufficient to satisfy the Lower Basin states’ water entitlement on the river, the lower basin can place a call on the river water, forcing upper basin states to stop diverting water until the lower basin’s water entitlement is satisfied.
“Managing the Colorado River in a hotter and drier west requires bold and innovative thinking,” added Grossman. “We can’t continue to adhere to the dogmas of the 19th and 20th centuries and expect to solve this impending crisis.”
The Colorado River Basin is one of the most critical sources of water in the western U.S. and Mexico, providing water to 30 million people in seven states—Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming. The Colorado River Basin Water Supply & Demand Study—due to be completed in June by the Bureau of Reclamation and agencies from the seven basin states—is focusing on the needs of basin resources that are dependent upon a healthy river system. They include:
- Water for municipal, industrial, and agricultural use
- Hydroelectric power generation
- Fish and wildlife and their habitats
- Water quality including salinity
- Flow and water-dependent ecological systems
- Flood control, all under a range of conditions that could occur over the next 50 years.
“As we begin forging a new path forward for managing the Colorado River in the age of limits, we need to think about the impacts of our actions on future generations in the west,” concluded Grossman. “Current demands from residential development and agriculture are overtaxing a river that is diminishing because of a changing climate. We need flexible, market-driven solutions that will protect the river and the ecosystems and western economies it supports.”
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Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org), a leading national nonprofit organization, creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. EDF links science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships
Save The River, The Nature Conservancy and World Wildlife Fund—Canada (WWF) offered their organizations’ support for the International Joint Commission’s (IJC) new approach to water level regulation in Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River Jan. 30. The three organizations are encouraged by the proposed Plan BV7 which, if appropriately implemented, will take steps to restore the lake and river after 60 years of environmentally damaging regulation.
Save The River, The Nature Conservancy and WWF-Canada look forward to learning more about Plan BV7 throughout 2012 and urge citizens and national, state, and provincial governments to support the IJC moving this forward-thinking approach from plan to action over the course of the year.
Jennifer Caddick, Save The River executive director said, “Save The River applauds the IJC’s new approach for water levels regulation on the Lake and River. Plan BV7 will begin to reverse damage caused by years of destructive regulation, and allow the lake and river ecosystem to once again thrive. The plan will also enrich the quality of life for citizens living in these areas, as the balanced proposal protects property owners and has clear benefits for recreational boating, hunting, fishing, shipping, and clean hydroelectric production. Save The River urges its adoption.”
The proposed plan represents an innovative approach that delivers environmental improvements along with substantial benefits for the regional economy and property owners.
Jim Howe, The Nature Conservancy’s Central and Western New York Chapter executive director, remarked, “This plan strikes a balance between people and nature. Plan BV7 is a common-sense proposal that benefits hydropower, shipping, hunting and fishing, recreational boating, and shoreline property, while focusing on the health of the Lake Ontario—St. Lawrence ecosystem as a whole. The result will be a thriving lake and river system that enhances property values by generating more fish, more wildlife, more tourism, and better recreation opportunities for people.”
Tony Maas, WWF-Canada’s freshwater program director said, “As a science-based organization, WWF is working to protect and restore environmental flows—the quantity, quality and timing of river flows—in Canada and around the world as part of our freshwater conservation program. The St. Lawrence is one of North America’s most important and most threatened rivers. Restoring more natural rhythms of water flows is fundamental to improving the overall health of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence ecosystem and the communities and economies that depend on it. The integration of environmental flow in BV7 will help to make this possible and I look forward to the realization of environmental, social and economic benefits coming out of this effort.”
Sixty years of regulation forcing unnatural flow conditions and water levels has caused damage to the lake and river environment and the livelihoods and well-being of the people who rely upon it. The approach contained in Plan BV7 shows that benefits for the environment, the regional economy and property owners can go hand-in-hand.
Plan BV7’s approach will create the conditions for:
A healthier lake and river, as evidenced by the following:
- Increased populations of Northern Pike, Black Tern and other marsh-nesting birds. Northern pike, the top predator in coastal marshes, have declined by 70 percent since regulation began. Populations of the Black Tern have declined by more than 80 percent in coastal marshes, and are now on the list of threatened species in New York and designated as species of Special Concern in Ontario.
- A 40 percent increase in wet meadow habitats, which are vital to native fish and wildlife. Since regulation began this entire class of coastal wetlands has declined by more than 50 percent and been replaced by dense stands of cattails.
- Return of a cornerstone mammal. The muskrat is an essential habitat engineer whose year-round grazing on cattails creates openings on which other animals and plants depend. Muskrats have almost disappeared from Lake Ontario coastal marshes since regulation began, and their beneficial effects will nearly quadruple under Plan BV7.
- Significant economic investment. The economy of the Great Lakes depends on the health and beauty of the lakes and their ecosystems. A 2007 cost-benefit analysis by the Brookings Institution demonstrates that each dollar of restoration brings two dollars of benefits to the economy of the Great Lakes region.
- Improved conditions for recreational boating and commercial shipping. For the vast majority of years, Plan BV7 will extend the season for recreational boating by avoiding the rapid draw-down of the Lake and upper River as under the current plan. Plan BV7 would also improve conditions for commercial navigation in the River by reducing shipping delays.
- Additional recreational opportunities. Healthier Lake and River wetlands will support stronger populations of native fish and wildlife, improving the area’s hunting and angling, and strengthening the recreational economies that rely upon them.
- Less flooding and more hydropower. Plan BV7 would slightly decrease the risk of flooding in the lower River while enhancing hydropower production in Canada and the U.S.
- Protection from flooding. Plan BV7 will ensure water levels are managed in ways that will minimize the risk of flooding to shoreline property.
- Continued protection for property owners. Plan BV7 is estimated to save property owners on the lake and upper river $24 million dollars a year by reducing the cost of maintaining shoreline properties when compared to no regulation. This may be 12 percent lower than the current level of support offered to shoreline property owners, but it is still a significant benefit.
- Rebuilt shorelines. Restoration of low water to Lake Ontario will help rebuild shoreline property. In some areas, once sandy beaches have been replaced with rocks and cobbles, a result of the current plan’s absence of naturally occurring low water conditions.
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Save The River and The Nature Conservancy represent more than 17,000 homeowners living on the lake and river, business people, environmentalists, hunters, anglers and recreational users of the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario. The groups have a combined 85 years of experience conserving and advocating for these bodies of water and the people who use them. Save The River was formed in 1978 to protect and preserve the ecological integrity of the Upper St. Lawrence River through advocacy, education, and research. The Nature Conservancy’s mission is to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends.
WWF is creating solutions to the most serious conservation challenges facing our planet, helping people and nature thrive.
Plan BV7 has been formulated over the course of ten years with the input of more than 180 stakeholder representatives, experts, and scientists from government agencies, academia, NGO’s and industry in New York, Ontario, and Quebec.