Will Congress Act to Prevent Mega-Drought in Colorado River Basin?
With a mega-drought potentially looming over the Southwest U.S. that could reduce flows in the Colorado River up to 45 percent, on July 16 a U.S. Senate Subcommittee will discuss and consider the Colorado River Basin Study (CRBS). Initiated by U.S. Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO), the hearing will offer testimony that mirrors the makeup of the “work groups” in the Department of Interior’s “Next Steps” process of the CRBS which was released in November 2012 by former Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar. In May, the Department of Interior announced the “Next Steps” and convened the work groups–the testimony before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee will discuss municipal water conservation, agricultural water conservation and maintaining healthy flows in the Colorado River.
The hearing comes on the heels of a scientific paper published in June in the American Meteorological Society that discussed the wide predictions in variability of flows in the Colorado River basin due to a potential mega-drought. Such a mega-drought has occurred in the past and could last decades and reduce flows in the river by as much as 45 percent according to the paper. The CRBS also indicated that, due to population growth and climate change, demand for water in the Colorado River basin–which currently serves 35 million people–has already outstripped supply with the imbalance increasing dramatically over the next few decades.
Further yet, on July 10, the Bureau of Reclamation released their most recent 24-month study of Colorado River operations which predicted a slightly greater than 50 percent chance that the amount of water flowing out of Lake Powell in 2014 would be at its lowest point since the reservoir was constructed. The study also indicated that the inflow into Lake Powell in June 2013 was just 35 percent of average.
“Congress needs to take this issue seriously now,” said Gary Wockner of the Save The Colorado River Campaign. “We need to make sure the Colorado River Basin Study is used to combat this imbalance and potential mega-drought–we can hope and pray for rain, but we need to plan for a worst-case scenario that supplies water and protects the river in the 21st Century.”
Throughout the CRBS process, environmental groups have championed water conservation as a key strategy to help address the imbalance of supply and demand in the basin. Environmental groups believe that increased municipal and agricultural water conservation could supply up to 2 million new acre feet of water. In addition, water reuse and recycling in Southwest U.S. cities could create another new million acre feet, for a total of 3 million acre feet created through conservation, reuse and recycling.
“If you’re in an oil crisis, you don’t build more gas-guzzling hummers,” said Wockner. “The Southwest U.S. is entering a potential severe water crisis and we can’t build dams and pipelines to fix it–we need to develop a new economy in water conservation and river protection that meets this challenge.”
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Hundreds of endangered sea turtles were stranded on beaches after suffering "cold stunning" in the waters off Cape Cod, Mass. Local rescuers and wildlife rehabilitators stabilized the turtles at the New England Aquarium (NEAQ) and National Marine Life Center and began treatment. Many of the sea turtles were transported by land or air to partner facilities around the Eastern Seaboard for longer-term care to make room for more incoming, cold-stunned animals.
Rehabilitators at The Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys assess critically endangered, cold-stunned Kemp's ridley sea turtles flown in after rescue in New England. The Turtle Hospital<p>NEAQ and local rescuers begin seeing turtles every fall when water temperatures drop to that 50 degrees F threshold, and typically expect to find them into early January. After that, <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/sea-turtle-cape-cod-weather-2621527394.html" target="_self">temperatures are so cold that any animals found are usually no longer alive</a>.</p><p>Merigo estimated that this year's cold season "looks very busy" and noted that local rescue efforts had already surpassed 400 turtles.</p><p>"It is a lot of animals. They're still coming in," she told EcoWatch as she surveyed 39 rescued turtles that day and 20 the day prior. "So far, this is a huge year."</p><p>At NEAQ, the turtles are gradually warmed up about five to 10 degrees F a day. More aggressive warming can cause serious damage and the turtle might not survive, Merigo said. Emergency treatments also include providing replacement fluids, balancing electrolytes and addressing pneumonia. Assessments take place for other serious problems too, such as shell or limb fractures, frostbite, emaciation and eye damage.<span></span></p><p>As local aquariums don't have the capacity to care for all the injured turtles, a group of private pilots called <a href="https://www.turtlesflytoo.org/" target="_blank">"Turtles Fly Too"</a> donated planes, fuel and time to transport some to various partner facilities around the country. Other turtles were driven to closer care facilities.</p><p>"We have a huge network of really great partners working with us, so if we can spread out the care, we can give better care to all the animals," Merigo said.</p><p>The 40 Kemp's ridley sea turtles recovering in The Turtle Hospital will continue to be treated and rehabilitated anywhere from 30 days to a year, depending on the severity of injuries, Zirkelbach said.</p><p>The turtle expert noted that while she's treated cold-stunned turtles from the north before, the newest arrivals were the most cold-stunned Kemp's ridleys ever received at one time.</p>
After rescue, cold-stunned sea turtles received immediate emergency care and assessments at the New England Aquarium. Caitlin Cunningham / New England Aquarium<p>In the past decade, the Gulf of Maine, which spans from Cape Cod to Nova Scotia, has warmed 99 percent faster than the rest of the ocean, Zirkelbach said. The warm water encourages turtles that migrate north along the Gulf Stream in warmer months to stay in the bay longer.</p><p>"Turtles that fail to migrate south get stuck in the unique horseshoe-shaped topography of the Cape Cod peninsula, and when temperatures drop, the bay becomes a death trap," she added.</p><p>Before ocean temperatures warmed, the waters of Maine were too cold for many of these sea turtles, Merigo echoed. Now, with warming sea surface temperatures, Maine can reach the high 70s to low 80s, which is "perfect turtle temperature," she said. The potential for more turtles getting trapped in the bay and then cold-stunned is nerve-racking for Merigo.</p><p>In addition to shifting habitats as waters warm, warming global temperatures also disrupt natural gender balance in sea turtles, Merigo warned. Gender is determined by the temperature of eggs in nests, and as the planet warms, it will result in all females at some point, she said.</p><p>"The turtles we work with are all endangered and threatened," Merigo said. "For sea turtles in general, the future is a little grim. Climate change is real; it does impact them."</p>
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