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August 2017 eNews

Western Water: Lessons Learned from Tom and Brad Udall (continued)

The Udall family settled in St. John’s, Arizona in the 1880s. The family farmed for generations, and “water was the lifeblood of that community,” according to Brad. Growing up in the Southwest in the 1950s and ‘60s in political families, Tom and Brad described how they learned first-hand about the water supply challenges our region has faced.

Although he is remembered for his great conservation legacy, Mo first made a name for himself in Congress in the 1960s with the authorization of the Central Arizona Project (CAP). A 336-mile diversion of Colorado River water that fuels Arizona with 1.6 million acre-feet annually, CAP has been instrumental in Arizona’s growth over the last several decades. As Tom put it, “you just couldn’t get elected in Arizona” in the 1960s unless you supported CAP.

Under his tenure at Interior, Stewart oversaw the completion of the Glen Canyon Dam and creation of the Lake Powell reservoir. This Bureau of Reclamation project provides water and low-cost electricity for the Southwest – but it came at a substantial environmental cost. Tom recalled that his family rafted the Colorado River in 1967, just before the dam was shut, and that his father began to develop regrets about the dam project.

Around that time, Mo had even championed damming the Grand Canyon. But after Stewart’s raft trip ‒ and with the growing awareness of the environmental issues ‒ Mo and Stewart’s thinking evolved. They sought to better research and understand the environmental consequences of big projects ‒ and they concluded that filling the canyon and forever changing its ecosystem would be too great a price to pay.

Tom said he brings this approach to the Senate ‒ balancing economic development in New Mexico with conservation of our natural and cultural resources. He is a leader in Congress, fighting for smart water strategies, policies to harvest and develop clean energy, and to prevent global warming.

Brad studies the Colorado River, and recently published a paper with climate scientist Jonathan Overpeck in Water Resources Research, assessing the impact of climate change on the approximately 20 percent reduction in flow of the river between 2000 and 2014.1  They conclude that the reduction cannot be explained entirely by drought, and that the 2 degree Fahrenheit increase in temperature in the region accounts for 30 percent of the reduction. They project a further 20 percent temperature-induced reduction in flow by mid-century, and 35 percent temperature-induced reduction by the end of the century.

Brad’s proposal: Go to zero greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible.

According to Tom, there was political will in Congress at the beginning of President Obama’s first term to address climate change. The House passed a cap and trade program, but it could not pass the Senate. The White House dropped its push for climate change policy and prioritized health care instead. And after the 2010 election, Congress had become so divided, there were no longer enough lawmakers dedicated to tackling major legislation to prevent global warming.

Tom and Brad agreed that our campaign finance system – which allows super wealthy individuals and corporations to contribute unlimited and undisclosed or “dark” political contributions – has significantly blocked efforts to pass major climate legislation, and that part of the solution is to reform campaign finance laws to prevent special interests from dominating elections. Tom said he has fought the influence of big “dark money” since he first was elected to office.

Tom ended by paraphrasing Aldo Leopold’s observation: “When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” And Brad followed with an observation from Stewart: We need to understand that, “. . . we are not outside of nature, but are part of it.”

The presentation was a lively and informative dialogue from two cousins who have the benefit of decades of their fathers’ experience and decades of their own.

1Udall, B. and J. Overpeck (2017), The twenty-first century Colorado River hot drought and implications for the future, Water Resour. Res., 53, 2404–2418, doi:10.1002/2016WR019638.