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Did the Bureau of Reclamation just announce that the first domino had toppled toward water shortages in the southwestern United States? Here’s the seemingly innocuous language only a water engineer could love:
“[I]f the August 24-Month study projects the January 1, 2014, Lake Powell elevation to be less than 3,575.0 feet and at or above 3,525.0 feet and the Lake Mead elevation to be at or above 1,025.0 feet…the water year release volume from Lake Powell will be 7.48 [million acre-feet (maf)]. This August 2013 24-Month study projects that…the January 1, 2014, Lake Powell elevation [will] be 3,573.69 feet and the Lake Mead elevation [will] be 1,107.39 feet. Therefore…the Lake Powell operational tier for water year 2014 is the Mid-Elevation Release Tier with an annual release volume of 7.48 maf.” – August 24-Month Study (emphasis added)
Let’s back up a moment before answering that.
Sitting at either end of the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell and Lake Mead are the two primary storage reservoirs on the Colorado River. Lake Powell, the upstream reservoir, sits on the border between Arizona and Utah. Lake Mead is in the southeastern corner of Nevada about 35 miles east of Las Vegas and supplies water to Arizona, Nevada and California. The Bureau of Reclamation, which operates both reservoirs, tries to equalize the amount of water in each reservoir to maximize their combined storage capacity. However, this goal becomes difficult to achieve when there simply isn’t much water in the river, which is the case right now.
The southwestern United States is suffering through an extreme drought. The last 14 years have been the driest period in the last 100 years. Both Lake Powell and Lake Mead are less than half full. The elevation of water in Lake Mead is 120 feet below its maximum, leading to the infamous “bathtub ring”.
Fortunately, the seven states in the Colorado River Basin – Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, Nevada and California – and the Bureau of Reclamation saw this coming. They came together in the early 2000s to reach an agreement for how to share the pain during times when water is scarce. Their agreement is known as the 2007 Interim Guidelines. Among other things, it specifies how much water Reclamation will send from Lake Powell to Lake Mead based on the water levels in each reservoir. Historically, this amount is 8.23 million acre-feet.
However, when the water level in Lake Powell gets low enough, Reclamation will send less water downstream. This month – for the first time ever – Lake Powell crossed that threshold.
So in 2014 Reclamation will release 7.48 million acre-feet of water to Lake Mead, a decrease of 750,000 acre-feet from the historical amount and the lowest amount ever released since Lake Powell filled in the 1960s. This doesn’t mean that 6 million fewer people in Arizona, Nevada and California will get water next year. (An acre-foot of water is approximately as much water as two families of four will use in a year.) It does mean there is about a 50 percent chance these states will get less water from the Colorado River by 2016. (Circle of Blue has a good description of how this supply reduction will likely play out in practice.)
What Reclamation’s announcement makes clear is that we have entered a new paradigm in the Colorado River: Water shortages, which never have occurred before on the river, are not something that may happen sometime in the distant future – they are on the doorstep. Population growth and climate change will put more demands on the river and make droughts more frequent and more severe, ensuring that managing water in the face of shortage will only get harder from here.
The Colorado River Basin states and Reclamation are making decisions now about how to live in this new paradigm. There are ways they can keep the southwestern United States vibrant for the next 50 years, but if sportsmen don’t engage in those decisions, making their preference for strong habitat and species protections known, water for fish and wildlife could be the first to go. That’s why the TRCP is working to conserve and improve water resources management for hunting and fishing areas. Sign up to become part of this effort. (Bob Marshall at Field & Stream makes an impassioned case for why sportsmen need to get engaged.)
The goal for sportsmen should be to keep Reclamation’s announcement from becoming the first domino toppling toward a tragic, inevitable conclusion. Rather, we should take it as a call to action to ensure the Colorado River – and other critical waterways – is managed for the 21st century and beyond.
Have you heard this one lately? “Recs just play with their food.” This has been a common misconception put out there by some who simply wanted more from any allocation of the resource between the recreational and commercial user groups. The idea was to make sure that those making the allocation decisions looked at the recreational user as simply someone who was having fun, but creating nothing. On the other hand, the image of the commercial user was someone who was feeding a hungry nation and by doing so, created jobs and economic activity. Unfortunately, as wrong as the image is, it has had some real traction since day one. How is that possible? Let’s look at several factors.
Most importantly, the overall economic statistics show a completely different picture. These may vary from region to region and fishery to fishery, but lets look at the numbers in aggregate. Recreational anglers comprise about 97% of the resource users and take about 3% of the resource. However, from that 3% they generate substantially more economic activity than the 3% of commercial users do from the 97% of the resource. Given those numbers it is amazing that every single allocation decision does not go to the recreational user. But they don’t because “recs just paly with their food”. But that message has not seen a lot of promotion.
Saltwater sport fishing makes up a substantial portion of the overall numbers. In 2011, about 9 million salt water anglers fished for almost 100 million days. This activity generated about $13.5 billion in retail sales, over $32 billion in economic activity, about $10 billion in wages, and almost 250,000 jobs. While we are not a big fan of taxes, when they are used to enhance the activity that pays them, they are beneficial. Marine anglers generated $2.3 billion in federal tax revenue and almost another $2 billion to the states. Wow! If the sport fishing industry were a single business, it would be ranked 51st on the Fortune 500 ™ list. If that is the benefit of “a bunch of guys playing with their food,” bring it on.
The economic activity generated by sport fishing does not just benefit the manufacturers of tackle, marine electronics, boats, and motors. It supports many rural communities along our coasts. Fishing is part of their heritage. More than most, they understand the need to maintain healthy ecosystems and sustainable resources. Those two things have formed their history and will maintain their future.
Sport fishing participants love to catch fish both for fun and for a healthy source of protein. They also understand the need to protect and enhance the environments that support fish. They realize that no fish means no fishing.
Anglers contribute to the funding of our nation’s fisheries conservation and environmental improvement in a number of ways. This past year, 2012, marked the 75th anniversary of a conservation funding system that is envied throughout the world. The Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund in 2010 generated $390 million from excise tax on fishing tackle and from the transfer of boat fuel tax back to the trust fund. This money is apportioned back to states by a formula based on metrics of fishing activity. License sales in 2010 also generated $657 million used by states to operate their fish and wildlife agencies. Beyond all of that, anglers annually donate over $400 million to a variety of conservation and fishing organizations. That is an impressive tally and one of the reasons that the US has maintained generally robust fish populations and quality habitat.
Okay so the participation and economics should be a slam dunk. There is still the issue of how recreational users are compared to the commercial user. It is an unfair comparison that the recreational user will lose every time. The angler is the end user on the recreational side. They are compared to the commercial user who is one rung up the ladder. The commercial user employs people and sells a product, albeit a product that is given to them. Never is the recreational user compared to the person who walks into the supermarket to buy seafood, but that would be the correct comparison. Conversely, never is the commercial user compared to the tackle shop owner or marina owner, but that is the correct comparison. Those folks employ people and produce a product or service. They are the engine that helps generate the socio-economic benefits from the recreational use of fisheries resources.
This image has to be changed if the recreational industry wants to get its fair share in the allocation battles. So when you hear someone saying, “recs just play with their food.” You can say that recreational users are the ones who pay to play and thereby support the economy and the resource.
Make sure that your Congressional delegation and fisheries managers understand this value!
For more information:
North Dakota, with all of the attention it has been getting because of the energy boom, low unemployment rate and the resulting financial boon, will be getting national coverage of a different kind.
During Sept. 9-12, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership is hosting a Western media summit in Bismarck.
The summit will be headquartered at the Ducks Unlimited Great Plains regional offices.
The TRCP group has been around about 10 years, with offices in Missoula, Mont., and Washington, D.C.
Katie McKalip, director of media relations for the group, said one of the missions of the TRCP is to provide a voice for sportsmen and sportswomen in policy making decisions that affect the outdoors — and to ensure they have a place to hunt and fish in the future.
McKalip said the summit will bring writers and reporters from publications such as the Washington Post, Sports Afield, Field and Stream, Outdoor Life and others.
She said the idea is to give an up-close look at the changing landscape that is much of North Dakota, and the resulting challenges not just for outdoor enthusiasts, but for farmers and ranchers.
“Their (sportsmen and women) voice has been historically underrepresented in the law and policy-making process,” McKalip said.
The precipitous drop in hunter participation should be a call to action for all sportsmen and women, because it will have a significant ripple effect on key conservation funding models.Learn More