Merriott column: Water, water everywhere

Frosty Merriott
Frosty Merriott

Don’t know about you, but I am hearing and reading a great deal about water (or the lack thereof) a good bit recently. So much so, I decided I better find out what the heck is going on.

For years, I have had attorneys who were way smarter than me say, “water law is so complicated, no sense trying to understand it … just take our advice and you will do fine? You just stick to debit on the left and credit on the right, and every once in a while throw in the ‘right of equitable recoupment,’ and you will be a success in your chosen profession.”

That said, it seems like just yesterday I remember W’s Secretary of the Interior, Gail Norton, saying the next big problem we will face in the West is a water shortage. In fact, I think she even threatened to declare one even way back in 2001.

Looks like we might have paid attention, but we are a stubborn people. I remember thinking to myself, well that is a strange thing for the Secretary of Interior to mention in a conservative administration not known for attention to environmental matters. Why would they say anything that would bring attention to an environmental problem? And then, for years, nothing, ’til only recently.

Turns out for those of us who have not paid much attention, we have been basically in a drought for about 20 years. Lake Powell and Lake Mead, where the Colorado River water is stored, are more than half empty. Why is that important you might ask?

At Louisiana Tech in a Business Psychology class I memorized something called Maslow’s Need Hierarchy. On the bottom of that pyramid of human needs, it names food and water. The person sitting next to me I remember added on his test, “sex and beer?” He did not get extra points as I recall.

We have to have water to survive — it’s a basic human (and all life forms) need. And now the proverbial chicken has come home to roost! I’ll be durned if we didn’t just barely dodge the bullet of another “water shortage declaration” on the Colorado River.

So, why haven’t we learned anything in 20 years? I think I’ll just blame it on reality TV. Debit on the left, credit on the right.

So, here’s just a part of the deal. In 1922, seven states in the Colorado River Basin divided up the river’s water and signed it into an enforceable Federal agreement at Bishop’s Lodge near Santé Fe. Seems somewhat presumptuous.

Until recently, there has been enough water. But keep in mind, in 1922, there were about 1 million people in Colorado and now there are 5.7 million of us thirsty folks! That’s not counting the other six states involved, including California.

Guess what, the population is not projected to go down. What is expected to go down are the levels of water in Lake Powell and Lake Mead, and quickly. Lake Powell is 48 percent full and Lake Mead is 38 percent full. We can only let so much water out, or we lose the ability to make renewable hydroelectric power for almost a million homes instantaneously.

So, what can we do?

In Carbondale last September we did a VCAPS (Vulnerability, Consequences, Adaptation, Planning Scenarios) workshop. Some of the findings are disturbing and probably prophetic.

Like, “There has been a strong upward trend in temperatures over the last 40 years that stands out from the year to year variability. The average temperature since 2000 has been higher than the 20th Century average, with four of the five warmest years coming in the 21st century: 2000, 2012, 2017 and 2018.

Extreme drought events, like 2002 and 2018, will occur more frequently and persist longer. A result of this will be that the fire season will become longer the severity will increase, as will the area burned by wildfires increase significantly.

Hmm, you mean like the Lake Christine Fire? The one where I almost lost a good friend when the dozer he was driving rolled over him while cutting a fire line and he had to be airlifted out?

At any rate we can’t keep it up with what I like to call the “ostrich syndrome.”

Or, there may not be the proverbial drop to drink.

Frosty Merriott is a CPA in Carbondale and refills his reusable water bottle with good old Carbondale tap water (which is better and much cheaper than the bottled water you can buy) Remember, if you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem.

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