The ongoing 20-year drought, with the likelihood that climate change is the cause, have diminished the flow of water in the Colorado River by over 20% with even less water predicted in the future.
At the very same time, human population growth in the Southwest U.S. that relies on the Colorado River is booming. California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico have all grown fast, and even Wyoming is inching forward with new people. As just three examples, Colorado gained about 725,000 people between 2010 and 2020, Arizona gained about 760,000, and California gained 2.3 million.
People come from everywhere to move to the Southwest U.S. In Arizona alone, a recent comprehensive study about growth and sprawl showed that 56% of population growth in Arizona over the last decade was due to people moving into Arizona from other parts of the U.S., whereas 44% of the growth was due to people from outside of the U.S. migrating into Arizona.
And all of these people need water, much of which comes from an already tapped-out Colorado River.
In fact, for the last few decades, the Colorado River has been drained dry – all 4.5 trillion gallons per year are drained and diverted out of the river before it reaches the Sea of Cortez. Ninety percent of that water goes to the Southwest U.S. states, and the final 10% goes to northern Mexico just across the U.S. border. Right now, you can watch the reservoirs of the Colorado River shrink over the last few years on the website "Lakepedia."
You don't have to be a rocket scientist to ask, "If the river is already drained dry, from where will growing cities get more water for more people?" The convoluted answer is threefold.
First, almost all cities and states in the Southwest U.S. have been spending a lot more money on water conservation, water reuse, and water recycling. As just two examples, both the metropolitan areas of Los Angeles and Las Vegas have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in water conservation mostly by paying homeowners to install drought-tolerant landscaping (xeriscaping) in their yards. Thus, by spreading the water thinner and reusing/recycling it, you can spread what water is available to even more people.
Second, many cities in the Southwest U.S. continue to propose new water projects that try to 1) get more water out of the Colorado River, or 2) transport water into their city and state from far-away places, or 3) desalinate ocean water. All of these proposals are very expensive and complicated. For example, Pima County, AZ, (Tucson) is proposing a $4.1 billion desalination plant at the Sea of Cortez in Mexico, and then proposes to pipe the water north to Tucson. As another example, Washington County, Utah, is proposing a multi-billion dollar pipeline out of the Colorado River at Lake Powell. This list of these plans and proposals goes on and on. Thus, with all of these proposals, more water can theoretically be supplied to a growing human population but the cost of water for ratepayers in cities gets a lot more expensive.
Finally, about 70% of all of the water that is currently drained out of the Colorado River is sent to farms in the region. Every state in the Southwest U.S., and even in northern Mexico, have vast acreages of farms that receive Colorado River water. Millions of acres of crops are grown – some of that is vegetables for people to eat, much of that is hay for cows to eat, and even rice and cotton – all with water from the Colorado River. That water can, and often is, sold by the farmers to cities because the cities can pay a high price for the water making it a lucrative business for farmers to stop farming. Thus, by farmers selling water to cities, the human population can grow as the number and acreage of farms decreases.
So yes, even though there is less and less water in the Colorado River, more and more people can theoretically be supported in the Southwest U.S. with what water is available. The tradeoff is that urban landscapes get dryer and more xeriscaped, water gets more expensive in cities, and a lot fewer farms will be growing food in the region.
All of these issues and tradeoffs bring up a lot of questions, for example:
- Does it make any sense to be promoting population growth – from both inside the U.S., and internationally – into our already parched Southwest U.S. desert?
- Should the U.S. even be growing crops in the desert which already causes the complete destruction of the Colorado River?
- Will the Southwest ever reach a point where no more water can be bought, piped, or pumped, and growth will actually be stopped due to a lack of water?
Population growth is often thought of as a "third rail" in American politics – an issue so controversial that no one wants to talk about it or try to solve it. It didn't used to be that way. In fact, in the 1990s, President Clinton appointed the "President's Council on Sustainable Development" that included a "Population and Consumption Task Force" that recommended "stabilizing the U.S. population." Even here in Colorado where I live there's a history of confronting population growth. Former Governor Dick Lamm made controlling growth the centerpiece of his races, and victories, for governor in the 1970s and 80s.
Right now in Colorado, we are experiencing all three of the tradeoffs of population growth and water in the Denver area:
1. Most cities have enacted water conservation programs that spread water even thinner, allowing more growth.
2. Many cities are raising water rates to pay for new expensive water projects.
3. The agricultural landscape is being devoured by growth and disappearing as thousands of acres of subdivisions replace farms around the metastasizing Denver megalopolis along the mountains.
If we do nothing in the Colorado River basin, we will get more people, fewer farms, higher prices for water, as well as fewer green and lush landscapes. Further, and solely from my river-conservation perspective, with more people and the need to stretch that water even thinner, the Colorado River – and all the rivers in Colorado – will likely continue to have every single drop of water drained out of them with little hope for a river's ecological health or potential restoration.
Is that the really Southwest U.S. – and the America – we want to live in?
Gary Wockner is a river-protection activist in the Southwest U.S. Contact: GaryWockner.com
- Drought-Stricken Colorado River Basin Could See Additional 20 ... ›
- Interstate water wars are heating up along with the climate ›
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.
I warned that the plan was too heavily focused on draining and damming rivers rather than protecting and restoring them.
Now, two years out from that unveiling, I take no solace in being right. In fact, the Colorado Water Plan has become the "Colorado Dam Plan."
If you look at the sheer amount of money so far spent and supported, the state's endorsements and loans for dams have outsized water conservation and river restoration by a margin of at least 50 to 1. Before the ink was dry, Hickenlooper used the plan to endorse the $350 million "Moffat Collection System Project," which would be a massive enlargement of Denver Water's "Gross Dam" in Boulder County. In fact, it would build the tallest dam in the history of Colorado and fill it by draining another 4.5 billion gallons of water every year out of the already severely degraded Upper Colorado River in Grand County.
If that wasn't enough, Hickenlooper then used the plan to endorse the $380 million "Windy Gap Firming Project," which would take another 9 billion gallons of water every year out of the same Upper Colorado River, reducing its flow to a small fraction of its natural beauty. To add insult to injury, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (all appointed by Hickenlooper) then ran a bill through the Legislature to loan that project $90 million to give it financial legs because it couldn't stand on its own two feet.
And there's more.
The "Basin Roundtables," which are made up of self-appointed "stakeholders" around the state, have used the plan to get funding from the Colorado Water Conservation Board for more planning and scheming about dams in northern Colorado on the Cache la Poudre River, in the southwest corner of the state on the San Juan River, and in the northwest corner of the state on the White River.
At the same time that all of that money and planning has flowed toward dams, the alternatives to dams and river protection have gotten extreme short shrift, just as I predicted two years ago.
Despite all the rhetoric, a pittance of money has been allocated to water conservation, water recycling and reuse, and the highly touted "alternative transfer mechanisms" to share water with farmers.
On that last note, the Colorado Water Conservation Board has promoted a few small "pilot" alternative transfer mechanisms, including one larger one in Weld County which wasn't to increase water supply for growing cities—it was created to share water between farmers and frackers. Implementation of the plan has also allocated a tiny amount of money for "Stream Management Plans," but such little money has yielded a similar result.
Here in Fort Collins along the Cache la Poudre River, we just found out that Hickenlooper endorsed "Fish and Wildlife Mitigation Plan" for a massive proposed $850 million dam project called the "Northern Integrated Supply Project."
Despite complete scientific opposition from actual wildlife scientists, the mitigation lan unanimously sailed through the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission and the Colorado Water Conservation Board, both appointed by Hickenlooper.
Let's just say Hickenlooper's never seen a river-destroying dam he didn't like.
When the Colorado Water Plan was proposed four years ago, it was perceived by many educated onlookers as an effort by the Front Range growth machine to push through policy and funding to further dam and drain rivers to fuel and subsidize growth.
Two years down the road, that perception has become complete reality.
I'm no longer skeptical about the Colorado Water Plan; I'm now working to stop it.
Wherever you are in the state, if you hear someone touting the Colorado Water Plan, don't take the bait, again—we need to stop it before every beautiful river in our state is drained and destroyed.
Author Gary Wockner, Ph.D., directs two river-protection groups, "Save The Poudre" and "Save The Colorado."
When it comes to daily hygiene products, it's important to be comfortable with each ingredient in the bottle. Whether you have sensitive skin or if you're just tired of reading chemicals you can't pronounce, natural face washes can leave you with a clean and soft feel without the worries of unnecessary additives and irritants in the formula.
We've sorted through the best natural face cleansers on the market so you don't have to. In this article, we'll be discussing the benefits that organic face washes can give your skin as well as reviewing the top products in different categories.
Our Picks for the Top Natural Face Cleansers
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. Learn more about our review methodology here. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn a commission.
- Best Overall: Ursa Major Fantastic Face Wash
- Best for Sensitive Skin: True Botanicals Renew Nourishing Cleanser
- Best Cleansing Oil: One Love Beauty Vitamin B Cleansing Oil
- Best for Acne-Prone Skin: OSEA Ocean Cleanser
- Best Plastic-Free Face Wash: Kiss My Face Pure Olive Oil Vegan Bar Soap
- Best Makeup Remover: Farmacy Green Clean Makeup Meltaway Cleansing Balm
- Best Budget Cleanser: Honest Beauty Gentle Gel Cleanser
Why Switch to Natural Face Wash?
Natural face wash isn't just beneficial to those with sensitive skin. Anyone can benefit from the fact that they don't contain toxic ingredients like sulfates and parabens that have been found in traditional skincare products. These synthetic materials are harsher on the skin and have been linked to triggering breakouts and irritations.
Even though additives such as artificial fragrances and color dyes make traditional face washes more palatable, they can create the possibility of worsening your skin over time and aren't necessary for a successful product. While some may think simple and natural skin care products don't work as well compared to harsher ones, natural face cleansers cut out possibly harmful ingredients and still maintain an effective formula that will keep your skin glowing and healthy.
7 Best Natural Face Washes
When choosing our top recommended natural face cleansers, we looked at factors including:
- Ingredients: Harsh sulfates, parabens and unnecessary fragrances aren't needed in your cleansing routine. Natural ingredients such as lemon and jasmine oil are just as effective without the possible irritation.
- Certifications: We've made sure the products listed below are honest in their missions and credible in their formulas, looking for certifications from the Environmental Working Group, MADE SAFE®, Credo and other certifying bodies.
- Sustainability: The skincare companies listed below use recyclable packaging, non-toxic ingredients and continue to explore eco-friendly options in order to better their products and customers.
- Customer reviews: We consider what verified customers have to say about the effectiveness of the skincare products and how they can help benefit you.
Best Overall: Ursa Major Fantastic Face Wash
We named Ursa Major's Fantastic Face Wash as our best overall product because of its simple yet effective ingredients, great smell and sustainability. This natural face wash is perfect for cleansing normal, oily and combination skin types. Verified customers have even mentioned how well it works on their sensitive and acne-prone skin.
This cleanser's ingredients include lemon for exfoliation, aloe vera for hydration, sugar maple for brightening your skin and white tea for natural antioxidation. The gel foaming cleanser is also infused with cedar, spearmint and other essential oils to create a rustic aroma. And its AHA (alpha-hydroxy acid) exfoliating factor allows for a non-drying yet clean and healthy look every time you wash your face.
Customer Rating: 4.6 out of 5 stars with over 1,000 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: Ursa Major is a B Corporation that's Leaping Bunny Certified cruelty-free and plastic-negative, which means it offsets more plastic than the company produces. The Fantastic Face Wash is vegan and made in the U.S.
Best for Sensitive Skin: True Botanicals Renew Nourishing Cleanser
This gentle cleanser is perfect for normal to dry sensitive skin. True Botanicals' cleanser formula includes white and green tea to wash away dirt and grime without stripping away protective outer layers of the skin, as well as organic ingredients such as soothing aloe vera and glycerin for everyday skin hydration.
Grapefruit and citrus additives provide a mildly acidic factor to thoroughly cleanse your pores without causing inflammation. The nourishing cleanser also contains lavender and jasmine flower oils that tighten and leave a luxurious natural scent on the skin.
Customer Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars with over 25 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: Certified non-toxic by MADE SAFE and cruelty-free to Leaping Bunny standards, this sustainably-made product works best for dry, cracked and sensitive skin. Whether you're looking for an everyday cleanser or an anti-aging product to tighten fine lines and wrinkles, it is a solid choice.
Best Cleansing Oil: One Love Beauty Vitamin B Cleansing Oil
With the One Love Beauty Vitamin B Cleansing Oil, you can remove your makeup and cleanse your face in a single step. Designed with sensitive, dry skin in mind, the cleansing oil is non-stripping and is a perfect alternative to traditional makeup removers that can dry out your skin. The vitamin B effortlessly lifts away impurities and tones while fruit enzymes derived from papaya work to provide a light exfoliation.
The cleansing oil can be used alone or combined with other products in your daily routine. To use, pump the oil one to two times and massage in your hands until it becomes milky, then apply in a circular motion. If you want a deeper cleanse, apply the cleanser and then place a warm washcloth on top of the area for a few seconds. This will open up your pores and let the natural oils seep into your skin for a beautiful glow.
Customer Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars with over 50 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: This organic face wash is Amazon's Choice for makeup cleansing oils, and it meets the Credo Clean Standard and PETA's Global Beauty Without Bunnies certification. Each ingredient is organically farmed and designed with dehydrated skin in mind but is concentrated enough to be applied to all skin types.
Best for Acne-Prone Skin: OSEA Ocean Cleanser
This natural face cleanser creates an oceanic experience with ingredients like algae and seaweed. Seaweed has amazing natural minerals that smooth and soften the skin, while algae is famously known for its hydration and toning properties. Acne is commonly caused by excess oils and dirt build-up in pores. The OSEA Ocean Cleanser's pH-balanced formula is able to target these impurities and gently clarify your skin for a clean and clear complexion.
The gel face wash works best for normal, combination and acne-prone skin, but it also is known to work well as a shaving product, allowing for a close and silky shave without the fuss of razor bumps or irritation. Be sure to wash your face with this cleanser in the morning as well as at night and follow with a moisturizer for the best results.
Customer Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars with over 35 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: OSEA is Climate Neutral Certified, vegan, Leaping Bunny Certified cruelty-free and uses recycled glass packaging. The company is devoted to producing clean and efficient products powered by the sea.
Best Plastic-Free Face Wash: Kiss My Face Pure Olive Oil Vegan Bar Soap
Keep your skin healthy and naturally revitalized with this sustainable and simple product. The Kiss My Face Pure Olive Oil Vegan Bar Soap is made of just three ingredients: olive oil, sea salt and water. The olive oil soap is blended, crafted and cold-pressed in Greece using traditional methods. The best-selling natural soap bar is composed of 86% olive oil and is loaded with nourishing antioxidants which leave the skin feeling soft, revived and well-hydrated.
You can purchase the fragrance-free face bars individually or in a set of either three, six or 12. This organic soap has been used by customers as a face wash, body wash or even a natural shampoo for the most sensitive skin.
Customer Rating: 4.2 out of 5 stars with over 3,300 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: Vegan, cruelty-free, Non-GMO Project certified and completely plastic-free, not only does this natural face wash come at a more affordable price and lower environmental footprint, but bar soap also is known to last much longer than liquid soaps.
Best Makeup Remover: Farmacy Green Clean Makeup Meltaway Cleansing Balm
This cleansing balm works to remove makeup and keep your complexion glowing without irritating or over-drying your skin. The Farmacy Green Clean Makeup Meltaway Cleansing Balm is formulated with only natural ingredients, like sunflower seed and ginger root oils, to properly remove even the toughest of makeup and leave a silky smooth look.
Apply the balm by taking a small scoop and massaging it in circular motions on the skin. Focus on areas with heavier makeup, such as the eyes, before rinsing with a damp washcloth. Once the makeup is melted away, papaya-derived fruit enzymes naturally exfoliate while moringa extract helps cleanse the skin. The organic facial cleanser will pull away all of the impurities and prepare your complexion for a new day.
Customer Rating: 4.8 out of 5 stars with over 3,500 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: Not only are Farmacy products naturally free of sulfates and parabens, but they're also devoted to a sustainable future. The company is Leaping Bunny Certified cruelty-free, uses recycled materials and soy-based inks, and is committed to being waste-free by 2022.
Best Budget Cleanser: Honest Beauty Gentle Gel Cleanser
The Honest Beauty Gentle Gel Cleanser uses a dermatologist-tested, gentle formula that removes makeup and leaves your skin feeling soft and refreshed. This gel foaming cleanser works to remove excess oil and sweat in the mornings and makeup impurities during your nightly routine.
Chamomile and calendula extract act as powerful antioxidants, creating a calming effect on the skin when you use this product. Radish root extract cleans clogged pores while yucca root, an ingredient high in vitamin C, brightens your complexion. This cleanser is free of synthetic fragrances and can be used on all skin types, including sensitive skin.
Customer Rating: 4.6 out of 5 stars with over 2,700 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: Honest Beauty's cleanser is EWG Verified, PETA-certified cruelty-free and uses packaging made from recycled materials as well as tree-free paper.
Frequently Asked Questions: Natural Face Wash
How should I clean my face naturally?
When looking for natural skincare, it's best to avoid ingredients such as sulfates, parabens, synthetic fragrances and dyes. If you wear makeup, it's important to include a makeup remover such as Farmacy's Green Clean Makeup Meltaway Cleansing Balm as the first step of your routine if your face wash isn't designed to break down cosmetics.
After using a natural face cleanser, make sure to always rinse with warm water and a non-abrasive cloth (we like reusable cotton rounds) unless directed otherwise by a product's label or a dermatologist. Following with a natural moisturizer like coconut oil and a reef-safe sunscreen will complete your routine.
Which is the best natural face wash?
There are many high-quality natural face washes on the market, but we recommend the Ursa Major Fantastic Face Wash because of its premium natural ingredients and its effectiveness for all skin types. When it comes to skincare, every person's skin reacts differently, so stick to an ingredient list you can trust and try different natural products until you find whatever works best for you.
Which is the best face wash without chemicals?
Natural skincare can be just as effective as traditional beauty products but without the risk of damaging your skin long-term. Face washes such as Kiss My Face Pure Olive Oil Vegan Bar Soap contain only plant-based oils and sea salt to clarify your skin without the worry of harsh chemicals.
Daniel Dale, Washington correspondent for the Toronto Star, tweeted what Trump had to say:
"Hydropower is great, great, form of power—we don't even talk about it, because to get the environmental permits are virtually impossible. It's one of the best things you can do—hydro. But we don't talk about it anymore."
But, once again, Trump is dead wrong.
Here are the problems with hydropower worldwide:
Trump's statement that "we don't talk about it anymore" is ridiculous. In fact, there are hundreds of massive hydropower dams under construction across the globe, and thousands being planned.
Clearly, Trump doesn't know a damn thing about dams.
"The Trump Administration will make America energy independent. Our energy policies will make full use of our domestic energy sources, including traditional and renewable energy sources. America will unleash an energy revolution that will transform us into a net energy exporter, leading to the creation of millions of new jobs, while protecting the country's most valuable resources—our clean air, clean water, and natural habitats. America is sitting on a treasure trove of untapped energy. In fact, America possesses more combined coal, oil, and natural gas resources than any other nation on Earth. These resources represent trillions of dollars in economic output and countless American jobs, particularly for the poorest Americans.
"Rather than continuing the current path to undermine and block America's fossil fuel producers, the Trump Administration will encourage the production of these resources by opening onshore and offshore leasing on federal lands and waters. We will streamline the permitting process for all energy projects, including the billions of dollars in projects held up by President Obama, and rescind the job-destroying executive actions under his Administration. We will end the war on coal, and rescind the coal mining lease moratorium, the excessive Interior Department stream rule, and conduct a top-down review of all anti-coal regulations issued by the Obama Administration. We will eliminate the highly invasive 'Waters of the US' rule, and scrap the $5 trillion dollar Obama-Clinton Climate Action Plan and the Clean Power Plan and prevent these unilateral plans from increasing monthly electric bills by double-digits without any measurable effect on Earth's climate. Energy is the lifeblood of modern society.
"It is the industry that fuels all other industries. We will lift the restrictions on American energy, and allow this wealth to pour into our communities. It's all upside: more jobs, more revenues, more wealth, higher wages, and lower energy prices.
"The Trump Administration is firmly committed to conserving our wonderful natural resources and beautiful natural habitats. America's environmental agenda will be guided by true specialists in conservation, not those with radical political agendas. We will refocus the EPA on its core mission of ensuring clean air, and clean, safe drinking water for all Americans. It will be a future of conservation, of prosperity, and of great success."
With his climate denying cabinet—including Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, Rick Perry for Secretary of Energy, and Cathy McMorris Rodgers or U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-MT, in the running for Secretary of Interior—and a fossil-fuel friendly U.S. House and Senate, it is no understatement to say the Trump is preparing a fossil fuel takeover of the U.S. economy. But the economy won't be the only thing that's taken over. Our public lands, clean air and clean water will face a withering assault.
"Observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research demonstrates that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver."
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.
By Gary Wockner and Lydia Bleifuss
Hydropower, falsely sold to the public as a source of "green" or "clean" energy, is expanding at an alarming rate in many of South America's beautiful and ecologically pristine rivers.
In line with a global trend, many South American governments—backed by multi-national hydropower corporations, international financiers and profit-motivated corruption—continue to endorse hydropower developments as "renewable" sources of energy despite public opposition and dramatic negative environmental impacts.
Hydropower destroys rivers, often forces the relocation of local communities, increases the spread of vector-borne diseases, and disrupts local cultures and ecologies that have evolved together for thousands of years. Perhaps even worse, methane emissions from hydropower reservoirs are making climate change worse.
Here are seven incredible rivers flowing through South America that are currently threatened:
1. The Beni River
Beni River, Bolivia.Havelock13 / Deviant Art
The Beni River in Bolivia is a tributary to the Madre de Dios which flows into the Amazon. The Beni is threatened by the proposed Bala Hydropower Plant, which would be constructed in the Bala Gorge. The reservoir would flood up to 2,000 square kilometers, including a great portion of the Madidi National Park, jeopardizing tropical forests and biodiversity. Like many hydro developments in South America, the Bala's electricity production estimations are based off of limited hydrological data and accuracy is unreliable.
2. The Jondachi River
Jondachi River, Ecuador.Abraham Herrera
The Jondachi River in Ecuador is a tributary of the Napo Basin which flows into the Amazon. The "La Merced de Jondachi" hydroelectric project would divert the majority of the river's water, which provides world renowned whitewater paddling. Although Ecuador seeks energy independence, development of the Jondachi has been met with fervent resistance from organizations like Ecuadorian Rivers Institute. The massive hydroelectric dam would cause a dramatic decline in the local eco-tourism industry, in addition to ecological degradation, both of which contradict the developer's "clean" and "sustainable" energy platform.
3. The Maipo River
Maipo River, Chile.Paulo Urrutia
The Maipo River in Chile, a whitewater destination and also Santiago's main source of drinking water, is threatened by an internationally financed hydropower tunneling system that is siphoning away the majority of the water of its tributaries—the Volcán, Yeso and Colorado rivers. The hydropower project has met sustained local opposition because it would cause drastic ecological shifts in the valley and has already caused groundwater contamination due to tunnel construction. The proposed electricity production is compromised by drought in the region and isn't reliable. Further, the electricity would be largely funneled to the private mining industry or exported to Argentina for profit.
4. The Marañón River
Maranon River, Peru.Gary Wockner
The Marañón River in Peru is the Amazon River's largest tributary. On the grounds of "national interest," the construction of approximately twenty internationally financed dams have been proposed. Four projects are currently in the permitting process, although none have begun construction. The projects—which would devastate the river's ecological health, fragment nutrient flow and flood local communities—are meeting increasing local, national and international opposition.
5. The Ñuble River
Ñuble River, Chile.Paulo Urrutia
The Ñuble River of Chile runs through the Bío Bío Region and is currently slated for two hydropower projects. While the Chilean government claims the electricity is needed for public use, private mining corporations appear to be the biggest supporters of the projects. Beyond the The Ñuble's amazing scenery and sections of class III/IV whitewater opportunities are jeopardized, as are local farms that would be drowned. While some nearby agricultural communities once recognized the benefits of increased irrigation access the reservoir would provide, the realities of human relocation and an overwhelming focus upon energy production have generated increasing resistance to the developments.
6. The Quijos River
Quijos River, Ecuador.Abraham Herrera
The Quijos River in Ecuador is a tributary of the larger Napo Basin. While one dam already exists on this river (named "Coca Codo Sinclair HPP"), several others are proposed that would slice this once wild and pristine river into an eviscerated tunnel and reservoir plumbing system. The government of Ecuador is endorsing these nationally and internationally financed projects, claiming they will provide "clean" and "sustainable" hydropower, while disregarding the unavoidable environmental degradation and negative social implications that have already started to take hold.
7. The Rocín River
Rocín River, Chile.
The Rocín River in Chile flows from the Andes in the Valparaiso Region. Northern Chile holds some of the largest copper deposits and thus mines, in South America. The privately funded and legally approved hydropower project planned for this river would provide electricity to those mines, which are also held by private companies. Due to the remoteness of the Rocín, relatively little attention has been focused on the development despite local community concerns regarding water access for agriculture and also contamination of both surface and groundwater from mining activities.
Almost all of these seven proposed hydropower projects in South America are being pushed forward to create electricity to be sent to private mining corporations or exported to nearby countries for profit. In most cases, the negative human and environmental consequences are being glossed over, and the "Environmental Impact Assessments" required by governments lack scientific rigor and integrity. Government corruption may also be playing a role as hydroelectric companies are rarely held accountable in permitting processes nor are they required to strictly follow national environmental laws.
Most projects are marketed to the public as "green" energy. In South America's tropical Amazon Basin, for example, methane emitting hydropower reservoirs have been measured to be bigger greenhouse gas polluters than coal-fired power plants of equivalent electricity production. International financial institutions and hydroelectric corporations that fund these projects are distanced from the problems they create, while they continue to push hydro development forward under the guise of "clean" energy mandates that resulted from COP21, the 2016 Paris climate agreement.
It's Official: #Hydropower Is Dirty Energy https://t.co/68RHiviCZA @GaryWockner @Waterkeeper @patagonia @greenpeaceusa @Greenpeace @RAN— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1475254548.0
Layers of different preservation strategies are needed to guarantee any river's safety in South America, and fortunately there are groups who are working on creating and maintaining them. However, these river-protection movements are often isolated from each other and lack funding to help connect and promote their effectiveness. The seven cases above are but a sliver of the threats to South America's—as well as the world's—magnificent rivers. These threats are constantly expanding and shifting, and demand an urgent global response.
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.
The scientific study featured in these news articles will appear next week in the journal Bioscience and is co-authored by 10 international researchers including scientists at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. As reported in the Seattle Times and Washington Post, key findings in the scientific study include:
- Methane emissions from dams and reservoirs across the planet, including hydropower, are estimated to be significantly larger than previously thought, approximately equal to 1 gigaton per year.
- The international boom in the construction of hydropower projects is rapidly accelerating this increase in methane emissions.
- Reservoirs in mid-latitude areas of the planet, including in the U.S., can have as high of methane emissions as those in tropical countries which have been measured to emit as much greenhouse gases as coal-fired power plants.
- The United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) should now better account for these massive methane emissions and include them in climate change scenarios.
In the four articles I wrote:
- Why Hydropower Is Not Clean Or Cheap
- Hydropower Will Undermine COP21 As False Solution To Climate Change
- The Hydropower Methane Bomb No One Wants To Talk About
- Dams Cause Climate Change, They Are Not Clean Energy
I laid out the science behind why dams and reservoirs cause methane emissions. I explained how there are hundreds of dams under construction right now and thousands in the planning process, and I described how the U.S. government and the IPCC need to address this issue because countries around the world are sweeping it under the rug.
Inspiring news & a great example of what a few people can accomplish w/ dedication. https://t.co/ErHTKrTbjF cc: @RobertKennedyJr #Futaleufu— Leonardo DiCaprio (@Leonardo DiCaprio)1473814499.0
Now I'm taking it a step farther. I'm calling for a global moratorium on the construction and permitting of all hydropower projects.
Hydropower is being pushed forward as "clean" and "carbon free" by an industry that is making hundreds of billions of dollars per year building dams. Countries, including the U.S., are in denial about how hydropower is contributing to climate change. Corruption in developing countries is undermining democracy and endangering the lives of local people who are fighting these projects. The murder of dam-fighter Berta Cáceres in Honduras got widespread international attention, but it is only the tip of the iceberg for the human rights abuses faced by local people fighting hydropower across the planet.
A moratorium on hydropower is the only just path forward.
As I paddled my kayak amidst the hundreds of people in the Free The Snake flotilla last weekend, I believe Ryan is on the right track. Dams are a 50 to 100 year old technology—it's time to remove even more dams along America's diminished waterways and replace that aged technology with flourishing solar and wind energy systems.
2016 was the second year for the Free The Snake flotilla. Co-sponsored by more than a dozen non-profit groups and organized by Save Our Wild Salmon and Patagonia, the flotilla took place on the Idaho border on the Snake River. Four huge dams on the lower Snake River have contributed to several species of salmon being placed on the endangered species list. Removing the dams would help restore the salmon and a way of life in the Snake and Columbia River basins.
The flotilla included participation from river conservation and fishing groups, native American tribes and local businesses, all who have a stake in seeing the lower Snake River dams removed. Since the dams were built more than 30 years ago, only about 1 percent of salmon return from the sea to their native spawning grounds along the river. Historically, around 8 million salmon would return from the sea, swim up the Columbia River and then up into the Snake. That number is now down to around 80,000. Further, the vast majority of those fish are bred and stocked every year, with few or none being original wild salmon.
"Bigger and better, this year's flotilla underscores the public support for restoring this river and bringing these critical salmon species back to our environment," Joseph Boggard, director of Save Our Salmon, said.
The 300-person flotilla had the wind at its back, literally and figuratively, as it floated down the river towards the Clarkston-Lewiston bridge. In May of 2016, a federal district court judge ruled that the Endangered Species Recovery Program for the salmon was "illegal" and needed to "consider all recovery options" including "dam removal." Save Our Salmon has been litigating on the behalf of the endangered salmon for nearly two decades and is thrilled at the court's decision.
A new recovery plan must be developed by the federal agencies. Conservation groups have vowed to crank up the "dam removal" campaign. Further, the Snake River Waterkeeper recently filed another notice of intent to sue to address the pollution and temperature problems in the river.
"We've opened up another legal front in our fight to protect the salmon and take down these dams," said Ryan.
The crowd chanted and drummed as it floated down the river. Leading the flotilla was a giant inflatable killer whale to symbolize the threat to ocean species from the massive decrease in salmon populations. In fact, the Southern Resident Killer Whales—which live part-time in Puget Sound—are endangered because their food supply has been depleted. This species of killer whale lives entirely by eating fish and migrating along the coast down to northern California and back up to Puget Sound. Historically, this population of killer whales almost exclusively ate salmon, but as the salmon numbers dwindled, killer whale numbers have dramatically decreased as well, down to 82 animals, which has put them on the endangered species list.
"With all the negativity that surrounds trying to save an endangered species, everyone that took part in the Snake River flotilla sent a strong message today that is proof positive that we can right this ship," said Shari Tarantino, director of the Orca Conservancy, which is trying to restore the Southern Resident Killer Whales.
Some of the tribal members at the Free The Snake Flotilla had just returned from the Dakota Access Pipeline flotilla and were excited to keep their boats in the water supporting the cause of justice and environmental restoration. The rainy day deterred no one's enthusiasm, including the five different tribes that participated in the event.
In addition to sending a message to the Army Corps of Engineers and Bonneville Power Administration which now must write a new recovery plan for the salmon, the flotilla also sent a strong message to the local communities that removing the dams would be good for the river and the economy.
"It's great to have hundreds of boaters on the water showing Clarkston and Lewiston that the public supports dam removal," said Samantha Mace of Save Our Salmon.
As the 3-hour even wound down, the chanting and drumming increased and I came to believe that it's not if, but a matter of when, the Snake River dams come down.
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.
Lake Powell: Going, Going, Gone? - EcoWatch https://t.co/qu3xLvqQc7 @ClimateDesk @CeresNews— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1471384872.0
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:
Salton Sea Geothermal power could be used replace Glen Canyon hydropower as #climatechange drains Powell. #CORiver https://t.co/Mk9mtkDffQ— SaveTheColoradoRiver (@SaveTheColoradoRiver)1472665768.0
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.