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You'd have thought the earth moved exactly two years ago with all the ballyhoo at the State Capitol when Gov. John Hickenlooper unveiled the final Colorado Water Plan. I stood in the west foyer of the Capitol as every TV camera in the city pointed at Hickenlooper and his then-Colorado Water Conservation Board director, James Eklund. Bold promises were made that the plan was going to save our rivers, farms, cities, and the whole state from the coming catastrophe of population growth.
I was deeply involved in the Colorado Water Plan process, and at the time I issued a big word of caution in the form of a newspaper column that was printed in seven outlets across the state.
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The devastating defeat of Hillary Clinton and the environmental agenda we hoped she would support has given American environmentalists a key opportunity to remake the movement and create a "Bernie Sanders Revolution" that will help stop Donald Trump in his first 100 days in office and lead us into a greener future.
Here are three key steps we must take right now:
1. Do everything possible to stop Donald Trump.
In terms of administrative action, expect Trump to try to gut the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, push an intense fossil-fuel agenda through the Departments of Energy and Interior, and over-ride federal laws whenever possible.
To fight these actions, environmental organizations will need to take to the streets and the courts—non-violent direct action as well as lawsuits will help slow or undermine Trump's agenda and draw media and public attention to our side.
In terms of congressional action, we should expect the worst from Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress. Remember all of those radical anti-environmental bills that were pushed forward when the Tea Party seized control of the U.S. House in 2010? They will come back to haunt us. So too will all of the bills that a Democratic Senate and Obama vetoed over the last 6 years.
Expect an attempt to radically gut the Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Water Act and other federal laws. We will need a united Democratic Party in the U.S. Senate—including some filibusters—along with a couple key moderate Republicans who don't trust Trump. We must work in Washington, DC to make that happen.
2. Ignite and reform the mainstream environmental movement.
In the same way that the Bernie Sanders Revolution is igniting and reforming the mainstream Democratic Party, so too must we ignite and reform the mainstream environmental movement. We need to sweep out the old tactics and ideas and sweep in a bunch of new aggressive people that have fire in their belly.
Over the last 8 years, we've watched much of mainstream American environmentalism become way too soft as it tried to nudge Obama forward rather than lead with an aggressive agenda. That nudging tactic hardly worked before, and now with Trump in power it must be completely discarded.
The environmental movement needs a new independent voice that is not beholden to a political party, or to major funders and purse strings. We can't speak truth to power if those in power are providing the paycheck. Environmentalists need to be guard dogs, not lap dogs. We need to speak for people and our environment, and not be greenwashed mouthpieces for any institutional or corporate agenda.
3. Engage local people and local politics.
If there's one thing the 2016 election taught us, it's that people matter and populism is alive again in America. Sanders' populism almost unearthed Clinton's political machine. Trump's populism de-throned two huge political powers—Clinton's Democratic Party and Bush's Republican Party.
We need to end the top-down focus of environmental organizations where a handful of mainstream groups and funders define the environmental agenda, and we must re-focus on local people and local communities. The American people want clean air, clean water, and protected landscapes and wildlife, but will only support those issues if they feel deeply connected to them. We need to support thousands of small and grassroots groups protecting local wetlands, parks, wildlife and rivers. We need to de-centralize environmentalism and connect it to where people live, work and play.
The first 100 days of the Trump administration must be the first 100 days of a new agenda for the health of our planet.
Sanders proved that the American public is thirsty for change. Stopping Trump, reforming mainstream environmentalism, and engaging local people and politics must be our agenda to create a "Bernie Sanders Revolution" for the environmental movement.
Over the last two years, I've written four articles about the massive problem with methane emissions from hydropower dams and reservoirs. Finally, the mainstream media covered this story Thursday after an international team of scientists released a new study that synthesizes more than 100 scholarly articles on the topic.
President Obama made a historic announcement Wednesday, saying that the federal government is considering investing in the geothermal power in the rock formations under the Salton Sea in Southern California. Considered to be "the most powerful geothermal reservoirs in the world," the Salton Sea announcement could play a critical role in the future management of the Colorado River.
Mud flies as carbon dioxide gas from deep underground fissures escapes through geothermal mudpots or mud volcanoes, over the southern San Andreas earthquake fault near the Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge near Calipatria, California. David McNew
Fifty years ago, Glen Canyon Dam was built above the Grand Canyon, and the Colorado River was enslaved to generate electricity to feed the hunger of the booming southwestern cities and suburbs. The Colorado's pulsing flows had carved and nourished the Grand Canyon for millennium, but that came to a crashing halt when the gates were closed and the water was ponded in Lake Powell. The environmental damage and steady decline of one of our nation's crown jewels has led to many calls for restoration of the natural system through the removal of Glen Canyon Dam.
The dam's ability to provide power has shielded it from any serious attempt to bring it down. Times change though and, over the last 16 years, the historic drought in the Southwest U.S. has drained Lake Powell to historic lows, severely diminishing the potential to generate hydroelectricity from the massive turbines encased in Glen Canyon Dam. Water and electricity managers are scrambling to come up with a plan to prop up the lake above what's called "power pool" so they can continue to generate and sell power. Any such solution is, however, clearly a stop-gap measure to keep the dam operational and is doomed to fail when confronted by the realities of climate change.
Fortunately, Obama's announcement offers a true path to the future.
The Salton Sea announcement could create an opportunity to replace the hydroelectric power generated at Glen Canyon Dam and a path forward to restoring the Grand Canyon. The geothermal reservoirs under the Salton Sea are an untapped resource that could add power to the grid as Lake Powell is slowly drained and Glen Canyon Dam is removed. Lake Powell's water could be put into Lake Mead, its downstream sister, thus keeping one fully functioning hydroelectric facility on the grid. Further, this "geo-hydro power trade" could keep the federal government solvent in its current financial contracts to provide electricity to the Southwest U.S.
The idea has already generated a bit of a buzz when Geothermal Resources retweeted this tweet:
Climate change scientists have painted a bullseye on the Southwest U.S. and the Colorado River, indicating the area will become warmer and dryer with even less flow in the Colorado River. Hydroelectricity is threatened at both Lakes Powell and Mead, as well as reservoirs in California. Salton Sea geothermal power could be a breakthrough in building a climate change-resistant Southwest while also preserving and restoring the lifeblood of the region—the Colorado River.
The 16-year drought on the Colorado River has drained Lake Mead and Lake Powell to their combined lowest level in history. But that's nothing compared to what could happen, according to a new study from the State of Colorado.
The study indicates that a drought like the one that happened in 2000 – 2006 "would empty Lake Powell," according to the Aspen Daily News. "Another potential conclusion from the risk study is that any new trans-mountain diversion would only make it more likely that Powell would go below target levels," the publication noted.
And, whether you want to believe it or not, water agencies in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah are proposing to do just that. In fact, Denver Water, Northern Water (in Colorado), and the states of Wyoming and Utah are all proposing even more dams and diversions of water out of the river and its tributaries that would accelerate the draining of Lake Powell and cause serious legal consequences for the entire Southwest U.S.
Further, climate change scientists have painted a bullseye on the Southwest U.S., indicating that it will get hotter and drier, with even less flow into the Colorado River. The lead investigator in the in-progress Colorado report has even said, "I haven't shown the climate change hydrology because it just scares everybody."
Save the Colorado has formally opposed all new proposed dams and diversions out of the river or its tributaries. We believe climate change is real and will have a serious impact on the Colorado River. The solution proposed by the State of Colorado is to buy massive amounts of water from farmers in Colorado, and then let that water run downstream to Lake Powell to keep the water level high enough to produce electricity at Glen Canyon Dam.
This plan is very unlikely to be successful. There's just not enough farmers who would want to sell massive amounts of water in order to keep the hydroelectric turbines spinning. Further, it could cost hundreds of millions of dollars every year to buy out those farmers even if they would sell.
What makes more sense is a responsible, planned effort by the government to drain Lake Powell, rather than letting drought and climate change do it in a haphazard way.
Lake Powell's days are numbered. The lake was a mistake, it's time to forsake.
News reports over the weekend confirm what we Coloradans have been hearing for months, that our Governor, John Hickenlooper, is on the short list for vice president by presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Having suffered through six long years of Gov. Hickenlooper here in Colorado, I offer these top five reasons why Clinton should not pick him as her vice president:
1. Climate Change
When Hickenlooper got in office, one of his first quips was about how he wasn't sure climate change was real. Throughout his tenure he's maintained an arm's length to the issue and when, in 2015, he finally released a "Climate Action Plan," it ensured that emissions would continue rising and the issue would not be taken seriously during his tenure.
As Governor, Hickenlooper gets to appoint the Public Utilities Commission in Colorado which oversees the electricity industry. Hickenlooper's appointments have been pro fossil fuel (the chair of the commission used to work for a fossil fuel company). In addition, he's repeatedly spoken in favor of the coal industry and even supports opening up roadless areas for more coal mining in Colorado.
3. Water and Rivers
To much ballyhoo, Hickenlooper launched the Colorado Water Plan which missed the mark and is an "all of the above" approach to water supply in Colorado. Further, no sooner did the ink dry, than he endorsed two controversial new dam and diversion projects that would further drain and destroy the already beleaguered Colorado River.
If there's one thing Hickenlooper will be known for, it's his support of fracking and the oil and gas industry. He's drank Halliburton's fracking fluid, sued cities that voted to ban fracking and he's stood arm-and-arm with Tea Party Republicans in his support for the fracking industry. He didn't get—he earned—the nickname "Frackenlooper."
5. Population Growth
During Hickenlooper's tenure, population growth has boomed in Colorado at a faster clip than at any time in history. He has lured, subsidized and promoted population and business growth which has had a devastating impact on our state's air quality, water supplies and road congestion. From mountains to plains, our state's landscape is being devoured by population growth.
Many folks in the environmental community in Colorado think we should all stay silent—after all, if Clinton picks Hickenlooper, he will be gone from here and we'll have a new dawn to try and get a new governor who respects and protects the environment. But I see it differently.
Under Hickenlooper's regime, the environmental community and the progressive base of the Democratic Party in Colorado has been split, scorned, marginalized and eviscerated. I do not want to see that happen to the U.S. by a person who could be a heartbeat away from the presidency.