“A river, to be sure, is a means to economic production, but before that it is an entity unto itself, with its own processes, dynamics and values. In a sense it is a sacred being, something we have not created, and therefore worthy of our respect and understanding. To use a river without violating its intrinsic qualities will require much of us. It will require our learning to think like a river…” – Donald Worster, Rivers of Empire
Do you know where your water comes from? Do you know what happens to our rivers and streams when they become “plumbing”?
Much has been said and written lately about the Colorado River and efforts to rectify the near century of abuse we have heaped upon it. There is some hope, especially for the lower reaches and the Delta, but much work remains if we are to truly restore the Colorado, the Columbia and other rivers across the West that have been dammed, ditched and diverted to the point where they exist only as plumbing, not rivers.
To make this happen will not be easy. We have a massive structure and culture controlling Western waters that is founded on, and still works within a 19th century system of values, laws and administration. Wade Davis, in his recently released book “River Notes: A Natural and Human History of the Colorado” (2013), asks at the end “What would it take to make this happen? Simply the will of the people…”. This is true, and it won’t happen with out “the will of the people”, but its not that simple
The goal of The Western Rivers Institute is to create the changes in Colorado water law, traditions and uses that bring a 19th century system into line with 21st century values. Only through an informed and engaged population, the will of the people, will we create the solutions and changes needed to succeed in developing a future of healthy rivers and communities. We also need to work with the existing water culture of the West, to help pull them out of the 19th century and see what can be done now with less water, less abuse of rivers, and still preserve both an economy and a way of life.
The Western Rivers Institute’s mission is to inform the media, public, and opinion leaders such as city councils and civic groups that Colorado’s rivers will suffer severely or even die in the face of our projected population doubling, energy development, and climate change. The overarching message is that while we need water for our homes and economy, rivers need water too, and not as an afterthought.
Today the vast majority of otherwise well-educated citizens in Colorado and the West are ignorant of where their water comes from and the real costs incurred to bring it to their homes and return it to the river. Water is removed from rivers in negotiations conducted far from public view, often with utter disregard for the cumulative impact to river health. Local agriculture accounts for most of Colorado water use, yet so much growth is anticipated that up to 70% of Colorado agriculture will be dried up by 2050. If we don’t publicize this now, especially with the current pause in growth in this economic downturn, it really will be too late. Agriculture will effectively cease to exist in Colorado.